2004-06-10 / Arts & Entertainment

Latest "Harry Potter" Is ‘Meatiest, Most Magical’ Film In Series

AP Entertainment Writer
By Christy Lemire
Latest "Harry Potter" Is ‘Meatiest, Most Magical’ Film In Series

Latest "Harry Potter" Is ‘Meatiest, Most Magical’ Film In Series


(L-R) DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter, MAGGIE SMITH as Professor McGonagall, EMMA WATSON as Hermione Granger and RUPERT GRINT as Ron Weasley.             © 2004 Warner Bros.(L-R) DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter, MAGGIE SMITH as Professor McGonagall, EMMA WATSON as Hermione Granger and RUPERT GRINT as Ron Weasley. © 2004 Warner Bros.

By Christy Lemire

AP Entertainment Writer

Harry Potter is 13 now, an awkward age for anyone —even a boy wizard armed with magical powers.

But "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,’’ the third film in the series, couldn’t be more self-assured.

Alfonso Cuaron, best known for making the gritty coming-of-age film "Y Tu Mama Tambien,’’ has taken over directing duties and taken the tale in a darker direction.

Much of that comes from author J.K. Rowling’s source material itself — "Azkaban’’ is heavier thematically than its predecessors, as Harry learns more about how his parents died and begins to understand who he really is.

(Steve Kloves, who adapted the first two "Harry Potter’’ books for the screen, wrote the script for this one, as well.)

Visually, though, "Azkaban" isn’t as glossy or whimsical as the first two films — "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’’ — both of which Chris Co-lumbus directed. Cuaron has completely reinvented the series with a bleakly beautiful style that resembles German expressionism, using cold shades of gray, a generous amount of black and off-kilter camera angles.

The skies are constantly cloudy over the Hog-warts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and even a game of Quidditch, the young wizards’ beloved sport, takes place in a driving rain storm.

It’s a daring move, one that makes "Azkaban" more stimulating for adults but may have resulted in a film that’s too scary for young kids.

The Dementors – hooded creatures who guard the Azkaban prison and suck the souls from their victims — are sent to Hogwarts to protect the students from escaped wizard Sirius Black, but that doesn’t make them any less ominous. (Perhaps, though, playing video games has taught children how to divorce this kind of experience from reality; a Dementor may seem like just another zappable bad guy.)

"Azkaban" has some wondrous moments, too. A scene in which Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) takes a ride on a hippogriff — a flying animal that’s half horse, half eagle — has a soaring, I’m-the-king-of-the-world energy about it, only without the bombastic Celine Dion music.

The supporting cast is more fabulous than ever. Besides the returning actors — including Alan Rick-man as the snippy Professor Snape and Robbie Coltrane as the lovable giant Hagrid — there are some wonderful additions.

David Thewlis plays the supportive Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who helps Harry face his fears, and Emma Thompson is a scene stealer as a hippie-chick divination professor, a showy role that’s a great contrast with the prim parts for which she’s best known. As the mysterious, misunderstood Sirius Black, Gary Oldman infuses his character with great heart and sympathy.

(Michael Gambon takes over seamlessly as Hog-warts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, the role Richard Harris played until his death in 2002.)

Most importantly, Radcliffe and the young actors who co-star as Harry’s pals are more confident than ever. Radcliffe, who was a likable if slightly goofy kid in the first two movies, has grown into a charismatic (and cute) 14-year-old.

Emma Watson, as Harry’s bossy buddy Hermione, has developed into a strong, beautiful young woman. And as Harry’s best friend, Ron, Rupert Grint shows an improving sense of humor and timing.

Purists may balk that this is an art-house version of Harry Potter and with any revered pop culture phenomenon, fans are likely to get riled about something. But "Azkaban" is by far the meatiest, most magical film in the series thus far.

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," is rated PG for frightening moments, creature violence and mild language. Running time: 141 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.


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