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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (****)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Steve Kloves, based on the book by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Principal Cast
Daniel Radcliffe -- Harry Potter
Richard Griffiths -- Uncle Vernon
Adrian Rawlins -- James Potter
Geraldine Somerville -- Lily Potter
Gary Oldman -- Sirius Black
Rupert Grint -- Ron Weasley
Emma Watson -- Hermione Granger
Julie Walters -- Mrs. Molly Weasley
David Thewlis -- Professor Lupin
Michael Gambon -- Albus Dumbledore
Alan Rickman -- Professor Severus Snape
Maggie Smith -- Professor Minerva McGonagall
Robbie Coltrane -- Rubeus Hagrid
Emma Thompson -- Professor Sybil Trelawney
Julie Christie -- Madame Rosmerta
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Slightly lighter weight than the first two Harry Potter movies, Prisoner of Azkaban ends leaving you wishing for more. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The film is long on fear, long on beauty, long on character, and short on explanations. In fact, while the rather complicated ways in which the plot advances in Book Three are made crystal clear, anyone who has not read the earlier books or seen the earlier films will be lost. From large matters, such as who Harry is and why he is in conflict with "you know who," to small matters, such as invisibility cloaks and quiddich, the film does not come with footnotes. You hit the ground running or get left hopelessly behind.

Azkaban is not really a short film. It runs over two hours, while usual Hollywood fare lasts about 90 minutes. But it seems short, especially compared with the other Harrys and the three Ring films. There is also less at stake in this movie -- saving the innocent rather than defeating evil. But there are plenty of delightful moments, and once the action kicks in, it never stops until all is resolved.

There have been some complaints that the new director has changed things, both from the book and from the earlier films, but for every change there is a reason. For example, the long, winding downhill path to Hagrid's cottage is more interesting visually than the stomp across a flat field in the first two films.

Professional film reviewers are influenced by many factors that do not appear on the screen -- they know the principals personally and have an emotional stake in their success or failure. As an interested amateur -- Mrs. Peel, if you will, to Roger Ebert's Mr. Steed -- I find the three Harry Potter films and the three Ring films all top notch, the six greatest high-fantasy films of all time. The closest runner up is The Princess Bride. And, yes, I have seen Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. The critical reception to the six films varies greatly. Why? I think a strong influence is the contempt critics have for Chris Columbus.

Chris Columbus is probably the worst director to direct a top-ten box office blockbuster -- Home Alone. Worse, I am told he is personally modest and unassuming. If there is anything a critic hates more than popular success, it is modesty. Critics love directors who proclaim themselves a genius. Critics are flattered by the willingness of these geniuses to hob nob with lowly critics.

So, Chris Columbus directs Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Chris Columbus -- a plebian nobody, has directed another film that quickly rises into the top ten. Critics ignore the film's many virtues and give Philosopher's Stone an average of two stars. Later that same year comes another great fantasy film, but this one by a director only the critics have heard about. Partly in reaction to their pans of Potter, they praise The Fellowship of the Ring to the skies. And now we have Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter from a director who once dared to make a serious film about sex. The curse of Chris Columbus is lifted and finally the critics are able to appreciate Harry Potter. slate.msn.com sums up the collective critical wisdom by saying, "Much to everyone's relief, hip Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También) has successfully taken over from stodgy Chris Columbus."

Azkaban is a fine film, the best film so far in 2004, with the possible exception of Kill Bill 2. It deserves every good review. But it is not better than the first two Harry Potter films.

Film Four will be shot as a single film, not in two parts. Another new director will be behind the camera. We cross our fingers and wait.

Instead of a credit cookie, Azkaban has ongoing animation (footprints) throughout the credits, rather like the fish in the credits of Finding Nemo. Close attention is rewarded.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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