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Click for full sized poster

Buy the Poster
Harry Potter and the
Prisoner of Azkaban

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Screenplay by Steve Kloves
Based on the novel by J. K. Rowling
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
website: harrypotter.warnerbros.com

IN SHORT: You shouldn't have to read the book first, but you do. [Rated PG for Frightening Moments, Creature Violence and Mild Language. 135 minutes]

If you passed on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or ignored the vid while your kidlets chugged it down, you can plant for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban without much problem -- as long as you don't need to duck out to replenish the popcorn or expel too much soda. Do so and you will be lost. We could point the finger at screenwriter Steve Kloves, who only batted 50-50 with his adaptations of the first two flicks or originator J. K. Rowling, whose control of her property is so tight fisted that minor elements cannot be simplified for film adaptation. Either way is irrelevant if you lug a teen who can explain it all to you. We had to pigeonhole a pair of fourteen year olds on the way out to fill in the parts where we blinked and missed.

The film begins, once again, with the increasingly irrelevant home life of Harry. THis time out he shares the dinner table with his piggish Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths) and equally unpleasant aunt, Marge (Julie Walters). Marge is Vernon's sister -- heck if we can remember what happened to his wife Petunia -- and Marge gets her comeuppance at the end of Harry's magical wand. Harry knows, and his dialog reminds those of us that using magic in the Muggle (human) world is a crime. Harry expects the worst when he eventually gets back to the safe confine of the magical world of the Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Nope. Nada. Nothing that can't be forgiven in a sentence of dialog. Again we respond, if the sequence has no repercussions it is pointless. We can hear the author tch-tching "If it is in my book it is in the film. End of discussion." We do support creator's rights and so will shut our mouth about most all of what we didn't like about version three. We will suspect that most of it is explained in the books -- which is why the film fails for us. It is also why we know that any opinion we could offer about said film means absolutely nothing since the young teens that have devoured this series are going to plant for the movie regardless.

High school grads who haven't read the book can probably figure out a most important story twist just by reading the names of the new characters. Everyone else already knows the friends and enemies of Potter among the school population: Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) comprise the former. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is the latter, and of such weakening importance that he is dispatched from the story in almost no time.

Harry's teachers are, now that Richard Harris has passed away, being replaced by younger actors as new characters who aren't as likely to die between film shoots. Michael Gambon fills the very large shoes left by Harris, as Dumbledore. Newly minted Professor Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) joins Professor Sibyl Trelawney (Emma Thompson) and this year's model of the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) on staff. Alan Rickman returns to his proper important place as Professor Severus Snape, he of the pained expression permanently etched on his face and Master of every scene he plays in. Professor Snape also provides some important information as to the nocturnal habits of Harry's father, James. Harry's parents, long timers already know, were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort. Voldemort plays no part in this story, which is all about the escape of one Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) from the prison referenced in the title. Black, so the story goes, is the man ultimately responsible for the death of the senior Potters. That he is searching for Harry means the school will be guarded by sinister looking guards from the prison called Dementors.

There is a lot more to the story than that, though most of it is ultimately expendable. Stuffing as much material from the original novel into the film version, and we've seen this flaw many times with other adaptations, means that what makes it to the screen doesn't hold the same weight as it would in print. There's a lovely effects ridden sequence with a character called a hippogriff; an important bit of history concerning a long departed and equally legendary student named Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall); the usual frenetic motions of the paintings on the wall of Hogwart's; animations running rampant on a secret map and other bits that keep Oldman away from the story for at least the first hour of the film. Give or take.

Our screening, packed to the gills by parents and their kidlets, was remarkable in that the parental units had no worries about leaving the kids behind when they sneaked off to the bathroom, and there were dozens of 'em that did. That's the remarkable thing about a book series as popular as Harry Potter. The parents will pay regardless since the kidlets have all read the books and the kids don't mind that what's left of the material doesn't necessarily interest the adults -- the kids already know what has been tossed and don't need to know the stuff. Those of us in the critic's seats call these films review proof. About the only thing that could get in the way of the Harry Potter series is puberty, since it takes 18 months to bring each film to the big screen and the actors in the primary roles are steadily growing older than their characters. Eager fans will get at least one more movie with the principals seen in this one. It's already started shooting.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he would have paid . . .

$5.00

Considering how much we liked movie number two, we were very disappointed in this edition. If your child is under the age of eight or so, and scares easily, Prisoner of Azkaban may be a bit of a rough ride.

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