Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third installment of Harry Potter movie franchise and introduce a new director on board, Alfonso Cuarón. The reason for bringing in Cuarón because of his ability to introduce a darker and more grown-up feel to the Harry Potter adventures.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is literally darker than the first two movies with bright and clean feeling that Chris Columbus delivered with a touch muddier and a hint grainier in its look. Adding to the general air of disquiet, there seems to be a silent, fleeting cameo at the very beginning by Ian Brown, late of the Stone Roses, glimpsed morosely on his own in a pub called the Leaky Cauldron.
Otherwise, things are not so very different for Harry and his wizardly chums. As ever, we start with Harry’s enforced confinement during the holidays in the suburban home of his hateful muggle relatives, Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). These days’ hormones are kicking in to fuel the resentment with taller and ganglier Harry, also he has a bit of fierce teen attitude and breaks the no-magic-outside-Hogwarts rule hexing his unspeakable Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) by making her blow up like Mrs. Creosote and letting her float away.
However, this infringement is overlooked by the school authorities, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is soon back at Hogwarts with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). This time around the big scare is that the evil wizard Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who is rumored to be responsible for the death of Harry’s parents, has escaped from the prison at Azkaban looking for Harry. Still, there are secrets and secrets-within-secrets to be uncovered about Sirius and his relationship with Harry.
As ever with the Harry Potter series, the actors playing the new teacher-intake supply much of the fun. This time, Professor Dumbledore is portrayed by Michael Gambon. Gambon takes on the role with a faint Irish accent in honor of the late Richard Harris. Emma Thompson is on great form as Sybil Trelawney, a pop-eyed Professor of Divination reading tea leaves. David Thewlis brings saturnine charisma to the role of Professor Lupin as the new Defense against Dark Arts teacher. Among the existing staff, Alan Rickman gets some laughs with his acid rolling consonants as Professor Snape, and Robbie Coltrane has charm and real pathos as the bulky old retainer Hagrid. He gets into trouble for letting the Hippogriff, a bizarre horse-eagle creature, attack one of the pupils. In addition, Hermione mischievously disrupts the time-space continuum using a watch given by Professor McGonagall. It allows her to spy on herself from afar.
It’s all rattling good fun, but this is around 20 minutes shorter than the previous movie. I found my attention wandering more often. Cuarón stages the big set-pieces well but may not have Columbus’s gift for driving the storyline onwards at all times. It’s possible to get blase about this most reliable of entertainment franchises.
However, I’m not sure how often we can watch that opening scene in Uncle Vernon’s suburban house, then the scenes outside in the street, then the railway station and then the dangerous but essentially cozy Hogwarts.
After three movies, I find myself more interesting in Harry testing his powers outside the closed world of school, confronting a human adversary in a situation where magic skills may or may not be of any use or using magic to quell a wizard-opponent viciously seeking dominion in the muggle world. Unfortunately, my wish isn’t fulfill since at the point of this third installment, the impetus of the Harry Potter movies seems to be in the opposite direction. This new Harry Potter picture will cast a spell on its fan base, but the broomstick’s losing altitude.