Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 6/4/04
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Music: John Williams
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman

A decidedly different Harry Potter film from the previous two, no doubt due to a new director. Harry's home life continues to worsen, so he decides to run away. At the same time, a vicious criminal named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) breaks out of Azkaban prison, putting Harry and his friends in jeopardy. As the new school year starts, Harry finds a friend in professor Lupin (David Thewlis) and learns some powerful magic from him. Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) continues to cause trouble and his new pet meets with Malfoy's mischievous wrath. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) eventually confront Sirius and learn more about Harry's past, with bittersweet results.

First of all, let me say that Dobby is nowhere to be found in this film, which is what ruined "The Chamber Of Secrets" (2002) for me. This film is much darker, menacing, and more serious than the previous films, and Hogwarts is shrouded in perpetual rain and dreariness. It is no longer a place of wide-eyed wonder, and is instead a place a danger and darkness. Only when it snows is there any hint of brightness in the world. The sets and visual effects are superb, and the film is beautiful to watch. It also features the most impressive closing credits I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the direction seems uneven as does the pacing. The screenplay also seems overly confusing to someone who is unfamiliar with the book, and for the majority of the film I had no idea what was going on. The performances are also a bit uneven, and some of the characters felt noticeably off. In particular, I didn't like the way Malfoy's character was handled, as he comes off as a whiny two-dimensional brat and a comedic foil instead of a cunning and devious rival. Michael Gambon takes over the role of Professor Dumbledore and does a fine job, but I was constantly aware of the difference. His delivery is strong and clear, as opposed to the late Richard Harris's more labored performance. Harry, Ron, and Hermione carry the show, and fortunately Hermione has a much larger role this time. She continues to be utterly adorable, and now carries the fierce edge of adolescent angst and feminine fury. My only complaint would be that she wears her pants too low, but that's what all the girls are doing these days. Costume-wise, it's curious that the majority of the film has the characters out of uniform, and when they are in their school duds, they look like complete slobs. It definitely sets a different tone. Overall, I enjoyed "The Prisoner Of Azkaban," but it definitely felt like something was missing. Innocence, perhaps?