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In a word: Brilliant. You will hear this word several times in this movie and you already know I will give it five fairies; even more, if that were possible. As the third and latest installment of the Warner Bros. Harry Potter movie franchise, it is by far - by an obscenely lengthy margin - the best movie to have been produced for the series.
But enough praise, let’s get on with a review. For those unfamiliar with this book, Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban begins with an upset Harry running away from the insulting Dursleys to the wizarding world earlier than scheduled. He discovers that a dangerous prisoner has escaped from the wizarding prison of Azkaban and is looking for him. In response, Hogwarts is under the protection of the Azkaban guards, the Dementors. They are monstrous beings who suck the joy out of a person and, if opportunity arises, their very soul. Unfortunately, they too have developed an interest in Harry and amidst juggling new classes and teachers, Harry faces horrible discoveries of his past and choices he must make in the future.
In my incredibly impressed opinion, this is the best book-to-movie adaptation I have yet experienced. Yes, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was great, but there have been several complaints about scenes being cut. Even in the earlier Harry Potter movies, some favored scenes were cut. Cuarón has actually paid homage to some previously cut scenes and enriched existing scenes so much that we do not notice the lack of smaller scenes. Quidditch is reduced to a single snippet of a game, but in return we see more of the Weasley twins and certain events of the book’s story answered better (can you tell I’m trying to write a spoiler-free review?). The Dementors are creepy, the final two sequences of the film are astounding, and Trelawny and Lupin are spot-on. The music has risen in quality, aside from the slightly annoying tune “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and there are some sincerely scary/thrilling moments. Buckbeak was a great visual effects achievement, believable as a real beast with gravity and internal mechanics thanks to Industrial Light and Magic. The scene between the three adults at the end is packed with all the energy you could imagine coming from the book, a sign of great actors exercising their craft.
The most notable difference is simply the presentation of the movie itself. The actors have blossomed wonderfully in their performances under the casual and imaginative guidance of the new director. Cuarón has the sensitivity of handling the deep emotional themes in the book and enhances them by letting the actors do their jobs. According to J.K. Rowling herself, this movie has such insight to what lies ahead in books 6 and 7 that it chilled her. It could be argued that the visual effects were spread too thick, but for a movie this stuffed full with magical events it was necessary and handled with a graceful touch. Visual composition, motion, and visual storytelling were very strong, taking something that was previously stagnant and commercial to telling works of art. The camera movement and how the audience flows with the movie are reminiscent of a joyous ride through your favorite book.
If your favorite book was Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, you will definitely leave the theatre feeling mischief was managed from the opening scene in Harry’s room to the last line of the closing credits. I hope you will join me in watching this film more than once.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and many talented others