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Culture Reviews
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books. In spite of this however, I have always enjoyed the movie adaptations and the exciting modern-fantasy world that they presented. This movie is no exception, and I can feel the temptation to read the books grow with each successive movie release.

This movie marks Harry’s third year at Hogwarts, and rumour has it that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) had just escaped from Azkaban Prison with the purpose of killing Harry. In order to protect the young wizard, Headmaster Dumbledore (now played by Michael Gambon) enlists the aid of the phantomlike Dementors to guard Hogwarts. As in the tradition of the earlier movies, nothing is what it appears to be, and it’s pretty much expected that Harry will have to reckon both with Black and the Dementors. In the meantime a new teacher arrives in Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), who takes it upon himself to be Harry’s mentor.

On this third incarnation of the series, the Harry Potter world has grown denser, darker, and more mature. The three principal kid actors we met at the beginning of the series are now well into their adolescence: the once-pushover Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) now sports more menacing features, the always-amusing Ron (Rupert Grint) now has a voice that cracks with every line spoken, and the babe-in-progress Hermione (Emma Watson) continues to well… blossom. Add to this Draco’s (Tom Felton) further transformation into the blonde guy from the Backstreet Boys, and you wonder exactly how much Clearasil and CGI were used to keep their pubescent faces audience-friendly.

The style of direction has changed as well, now with Alfonso Cuaron taking over for Chris Columbus. Well-known for “A Little Princess” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, Cuaron draws from these earlier experiences and vividly paints a world full of the waning stages of youthful discovery and the beginning stages of teenage angst. His direction is dynamic, and in the opening scenes he establishes his style with long, insecure shots that hint at the teenage Harry’s anguish and growing power.

The director shows many scenes in the movie that are mainly dark but have a little comedy or horror mixed in. The scene with Harry punishing the guest via balloon spell and the ride scene where a magic bus almost runs over an old lady with a stroller has comedy that might be too dark for young or sensitive viewers. There’s also the much-anticipated game of Quiddich, this time played amidst a raging tempest and a horde of Dementors. The threats to Harry’s life increased to double-digits in this movie. This time around, there is definitely more thrill and less wonder.

However, children and fantasy fans should not despair… There are some great scenes that should make you smile and your eyes twinkle. One involves a majestic creature called a hippogriff, half-horse and half-hawk. With the help of modern technology, this scene reminded me of the magic I felt when I watched “Neverending Story” at a young age. There’s also one lengthy time-travel sequence that should astonish child viewers, the same way “Back to The Future” blew my mind so many years ago. These are my favorite scenes in the movie, and people in their 20s should find them worth the price of admission.

In terms of actors’ performances, everyone is in fine form. Viewers will still find it odd that Hogwarts students come from all over the world, while the staff continues to be composed of only established British actors. Michael Gambon adds another dimension to the Dumbledore character, and Alan Rickman seems to have a ball playing Professor Snape. The Harry/Lupin/Black scenes are gold, and it’s a shame that Gary Oldman – the titular prisoner himself – gets so little screen time. In fact, after his character’s revelation and subsequent time-traveling climax, the movie slows down considerably both in plot and pace. Even the Peter Pettigrew surprise seems superfluous by the end of the movie.

Alas, it’s evident that the Sirius Black storyline is only a plot device. Underneath it all, the true theme is Harry finally unlocking his power and believing his destiny. Whereas the other two movies only hinted at his potential, Lupin’s mentorship provides him with the confidence to realize it. The teenage Harry has now become someone not to be trifled with. Apart from Lupin, I’m quite disappointed that not enough time was given to develop the ‘guest’ characters. In learning more about them, the relationships would have been better represented and the tale better told. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that these ‘guest’ characters will be revisited in later stories, as they seem to play crucial roles in Harry’s world.

Overall, this is a good movie worth watching. Apart from the minor character and plot problems, I’m glad to see that the series is steadily progressing from child to teenage fantasy. The world of Harry Potter is getting darker, but the sense of wonder and discovery is still there. After this movie, Gary Oldman fans might be disappointed, but Harry Potter fans will not. If I don’t manage to read the books in time for the 4th movie, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing who’s next on Harry’s ass-kicking list.

06.06.04
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