Movie Review

 

Poster

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Production Company: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Principles: Daniel Radcliffe, Gary Oldman, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Michael Gambone
Rating: PG

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMCom) -- With Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series, we see that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is not the only one growing up - so are the films. This is a darker, more mysterious film, while at the same time the liveliest and most cinematically assured. With indie director Alfonso Cuaron at the helm, the film is freed from a dogged adherence to the books that made the first two films so static, allowing Azkaban to finally soar.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is picked up by the triple-decker Knight Bus - only to learn at the end of his ride that he is in unanticipated peril. Copyright © 2004 Warner Bros
But it’s more than just film craft and special effects at work here. This film brings us a deep emotional richness that’s an honest reflection of an older Harry, who although possessed of special abilities is also a typical emotionally charged adolescent. This is a Harry who often feels lonely and misunderstood just like many teen-agers. He also misses his parents deeply and struggles to know himself without their guidance.

The movie begins with Harry, once again at home with his disdainful aunt and uncle. When a dinner visit from a verbally abusive relative pushes Harry over the edge, we see that just like any teen-ager, Harry can’t always control his emotions. The only difference is that if you’re Harry Potter, when your emotions take over your magic kicks in. The offensive relative is dispensed in magical and amusing fashion, and Harry storms out vowing never to return. As he sulks at the roadside, he is snatched up by a magical triple-decker bus - only to learn at the end of his frenetic ride that he is in unanticipated peril.

Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and now is believed to be stalking Harry Potter. Copyright © 2004 Warner Bros
Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), implicated in the killing of Harry’s parents, has escaped from Azkaban prison and now is believed to be stalking Harry to finish off the Potter clan. For Harry, the threat of an assassin is compounded by his curiosity about the central, emotionally scarring event of his life - the murder of his parents. Most disturbing is the revelation that Black once had been his parents’ close friend and is in fact Harry’s godfather. Harry is horrified by the idea of betrayal at the hands of a trusted friend but is oddly drawn to Black. He yearns to learn more about his parents, his heritage and to find a place where he can belong.

Reunited with his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry sets out to solve the mystery of the escaped prisoner while coping with the challenges of another school year, which include new faculty members. Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), the new instructor in combating the dark arts, takes Harry under his wing, and yet, from the beginning, he seems to be hiding a dark secret. There are also the terrifying dementors - ghostlike creatures sent from Azkaban to recapture Sirius Black but dangerous to everyone else who gets in their path.

Reunited with his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry sets out to solve the mystery of the escaped prisoner. Copyright © 2004 Warner Bros
As the story unfolds there are enough delightful twists, turns and thrills so that The Prisoner of Azkaban keeps viewers guessing and delighted throughout. But beyond the thrills, this is really a story about growing up, as are all the Potter stories. Harry exhibits moments of rebellion and anger followed by moments of fear and uncertainty - the same emotional turbulence all teen-agers experience. His search for identity constantly leads him back to the mystery of his parents, but it’s only in the end that he learns his parents have left him a precious gift - the part of them that lives on inside of him. As the fatherly Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambone) reminds him, "The ones who love us never really leave us."

The use of magic in the Potter movies always has been controversial. Some theaters refuse to show the films. This seems strange since other so-called family films, going back to The Wizard of Oz, also have included magic and sorcery. It is important that a clear line is drawn between good and what is evil. It’s really in how the power is used, whether to help or hurt. And this moral code applies to Potter. We can view his magical power as metaphorical for any power, be it military, political, financial or physical strength. In that light, the film is a study in the use of power, from Harry’s struggle to learn how to use it without anger, to the frightening dementors who use power indiscriminately, destroying anything that stands in front of them. All this helps to give Azkaban more than just hocus-pocus.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.

This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.



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