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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 22 min.

Release Date: June 4th, 2004 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Alfonso Cuaron Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Tom Felton, Fiona Shaw, David Thewlis, Alan Rickman

O

nce again, the adoptive Dursley family treats Harry Potter poorly, pressuring him to retaliate with a bit of harmless magic, which causes troubles for overweight Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths). It’s a clever way to start each film, creating a sense of uniformity and continuity for the series. It also helps illustrate the way Harry is growing up and allows the audience to relate to and enjoy the journey with him. For the first time, directing credits go to a new talent, Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Great Expectations” [1998]), while Potter’s predicaments become decidedly more serious (though still PG). Unfortunately, many of the ideas also grow more nonsensical, as if morbidity must be countered with levity.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns for a third year at Hogwarts for wizardly schooling and, for the third time, he has a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor (David Thewlis as Professor Lupin). Harry is again rejoined by his good friends Hermione (Emma Watson), the “insufferable know-it-all,” and the jittery, redheaded Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). But as education goes underway, word reaches the institution that the notorious, double-crossing criminal Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has broken out of the inescapable Azkaban Prison and now searches for Harry Potter to exact revenge. Meanwhile, Hagrid is promoted to a teacher and wraithlike, demonic, soul-sucking, memory-purging Azkaban guards disruptively search for their missing convict.

The foulest of all creatures, Dementors, are a cool new tool of evil sorcery from the mind of author J.K. Rowling, but as the villains become more malevolent, the allies get goofier. A campy monster “Book of Monsters,” a transforming bus guided by a talking shrunken head, and the absent-minded Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson) – who teaches the rather unimportant and undemonstrated art of divination – are some of the less appealing ideas. The themes are a little darker, but not by much. At least the addition of superb character actor Gary Oldman is thoroughly entertaining, if not tragically underused.

“Awful things happen to wizards who meddle with time, Harry,” warns Hermione. Would she be referring to plausibility, perhaps? And so the Harry Potter universe tackles time travel, a naturally sticky, complex, and outlandish premise. Interestingly enough, it’s one of the most unique approaches to time travel in film, presenting the audience with an initial chain of events that already includes future characters. Present and future timelines coexist, first without letting the audience know about it, and again as the characters retrace their steps, literally watching the past. It’s actually a little neater and less mind-boggling than most comparable plots – until, of course, the timelines merge. Never mind that Harry is saving himself before he thinks to go back in time … to save himself. Or that the potential failure of saving his future self has never before affected his present, time-traveling self. Definitely not foolproof, like almost every time travel explanation, it’s nevertheless a new, creative angle. And it’s one more science-fiction/fantasy element to add to the Harry Potter repertoire.

– Mike Massie

 

 



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