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Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Rated PG

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Harry Potter is back in this somewhat darker entry in the series about the young wizard who is destined to confront the evil Lord Voldemort.

A murderer named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban Prison and is apparently searching for Harry Potter in order to kill him. Black, we are told, is a sworn follower of Lord Voldemort and will try to extinguish Potter's life if he is not stopped. To try and re-capture him, Dementors, soul-stealing guards who are intent on capturing their prey, are assigned to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As this plays out, of course, Harry's also trying to get through his third year at school and that means dealing with Professor Lupin (David Thewles), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and putting up with Snape (Alan Rickman) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton).

This is the first film in the series not directed by Chris Columbus. Handling the duties this time around is Alfonso Cuaron, who was previously better known for the 2002 coming-of-age road trip movie, Y tu Mama Tambien. That film was quite frank in its handling of sexual issues and many feared that Cuaron's involvement with the Harry Potter series might somehow corrupt it. Quite the contrary, as Cuaron brings a newfound maturity to the proceedings while still retaining the magical qualities of the first two entries. Cuaron's take on the Potter universe is just fine.

However, the relative short length of the first two books allowed them to be made into more faithful film adaptations. Because of the length of The Prisoner of Azkaban and the constraints of film, some sacrifices had to be made to cram as much onto the screen as possible. Some of the choices might anger Potter-purists, but for the casual movie-goer the movie is still quite enjoyable although it might inspire some to pick up the books to get a better understanding of the situations as the remaining books are even longer and will probably be even more difficult to film coherently.

That said, the Harry Potter film series remains incredibly entertaining and involving and this entry is only the slightest bit less satisfying than the first two films.

Trivia: Gary Oldman says he accepted the role of Sirius Black because he "needed the work". He hadn't acted for over a year. His last film was Sin, which was filmed in 2002. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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