Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J K Rowling
Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), David Thewis (Remus Lupin), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon), Pam Ferris (Aunt Marge), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia), Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley), Julie Walters (Mrs Molly Weasley), Mark Williams (Mr Arthur Wesley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Warwick Davies (Filius Flitwick), Dawn French (Fat Lady), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Julie Christie (Madame Rosmerta) and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew)
Harry Potter is spending a miserable summer with his Uncle Vernan and Aunt Petunia. When he uses magic outside school, he runs away, fearing punishment. He is picked up by the Knight Bus, a magical triple-decker bus, and taken to the Leaky Cauldron, where Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic, tells him he will not, as he had feared, be expelled. Harry also learns that Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban. Reunited with his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, Harry boards the Hogwarts Express. During the train journey he encounters a Dementer, a soulless wraith-like creature that is searching for Sirius Black, but it is driven away by Remus Lupin, a new professor joining the school. During the first assembly at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore announces that the Dementers will be guarding the school. Harry also discovers that Sirius Black was implicated in the deaths of his parents and is heading for the school, seemingly intent on killing him.
I have never read a ‘Harry Potter’ book and do not expect to do so. I have also only previously seen one film, the first, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, which I found slightly underwhelming. The same would have to be said of ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, the third film (and the third book) in the sequence. However, I did enjoy this one more, enough so to be interested in watching the other films.
‘Harry Potter’ is a phenomenon. The seven books, written by the British author J K Rowling (Joanne Murray), starting with ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’, which was first published in June 1997, have sold in excess of 400 million copies. Likewise, the films (five to date, with the sixth just about to be released into cinemas) have been hugely successful. ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’, which had a production budget of $120 million and was released into cinemas starting in June 2004, has a worldwide box office gross in excess of $795 million, with DVD and television broadcast revenue likely to have been at least that much again.
The film races along at a breakneck pace, although strangely it often seems as if not much is happening. The special effects are state-of-the-art, but I cannot help but think that these do sometimes take away some of the magic. In the famous 1967 Jonathan Miller adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, made for the BBC, Alice enters the surreal wonderland through a narrow tunnel, used by Miller because no special effects were available to show Alice disappear down the rabbit hole. It works perfectly and that imagery has always stayed with me. I was just nine years old when ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was broadcast and tunnels continue to have something magical and slightly unsettling about them for me, just as old wardrobes do because of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. The ‘Harry Potter’ books are, to some degree, this generation’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, insomuch that they have succeeded in capturing the imaginations of children. I have no time whatsoever for the claims that the books are anti-religious and promote witchcraft.
There has been some criticism of the acting of the three young leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – Radcliffe in particular. All three came to the series with little or no previous professional acting experience. None of them are exceptional, in the way that, say, Dakota Fanning acts with a degree of skill and confidence well beyond her years, but all three are perfectly likeable and competent in their roles. Each film has a wealth of British acting talent on display.
‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’ is a good family film, if perhaps a little violent at times for very young children. It’s a rollercoaster ride that is probably tremendous fun for anyone who has grown up with the books. I feel a little bit divorced from it and from my outsider’s perspective it does all seems a little clichéd, cobbling together lots of pre-existing themes and stories that are already familiar to me. That said, it’s enormous popularity speaks volumes.
‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ has an 89% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 225 reviews.
Review posted 12 July 2009