Posted: 06/24/2004


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


by Jon Bastian

They just keep getting better…

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I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books. Other than having scanned through the first volume for research purposes, I’ve yet to crack a cover on any of J.K. Rowling’s works. (Full disclosure: I spent several years at Warner Home Video, and was intimately involved with the creation of the DVD versions of the first two movies — but that’s really immaterial to this review, since I’ve long since left the hallowed halls of the people who truly did invent the concept of Home Video single-handedly.) Anyway, this preface is by way of saying that I’ve heard a lot of blather in other reviews that claim no one will get this latest Potter installment if they haven’t read the books, but that’s just not true. I went in to Prisoner knowing not much beyond the first two movies, and had no trouble at all following the story.
The young stars of the first two films have obviously grown up a bit, and puberty has no doubt reared its ugly head in real life if not in fiction, but that just makes for better drama here. I re-watched Sorcerer’s Stone after seeing Prisoner, and the changes were startling. No longer are we dealing with little kids. Now, it’s rebellious teen time, and this little detail actually works in favor of the third installment. While young Harry has to deal with major father issues and Ron and Hermione may or may not be discovering young love, the one actor who has most changed is Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who suddenly seems much older than his compatriots. Again, not a negative, since Malfoy is being set up here as an even more whiny villain than he was in the first two films.

Brief synopsis: Harry is about to return to Hogwart’s for his third year, but something strange is going on. Despite using magic in the muggle world (a big no-no), Harry is welcomed back with open arms. Juxtapose the news that Sirius Black, notorious inmate of Azkaban Prison, has escaped — and all indications are that he has snuck out of stir with the intent of killing Harry, to finish the work Lord Voldemort started thirteen odd years ago.

Toss in two new professors — the hilarious Prof. Trewlawney (Emma Thompson) and the sympathetic Prof. Lupin (David Thewlis), an amazing CGI beast called Buckbeak, and a streamlined run-time, and this Potter is the best of the trio.

In the third act, the story takes unexpected twists and turns that will have you rooting for characters you never would have thought sympathetic, but the destination is well worth the trip — and serves as excellent set-up for the next Potter film.

My best advice — if you’re a rabid devotee of the books, see this film immediately (as if you already haven’t). If you liked the first two movies, then this one will definitely bring you new appreciation of the franchise. Finally, if you have no idea who Harry Potter is or what “muggle” means, run out and rent the first two DVDs now, then catch this third installment at your local cineplex, pronto. More than its two predecessors, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is designed to bring new fans into J.K. Rowling’s amazing world — and it promises even more and better in 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Jon Bastian is a playwright, screenwriter, and actor living in North Hollywood.

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