Saturday, July 26, 2014
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Harry's world takes a dark turn in 'Azkaban'

About the movie
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Genre:
Family, Children's
MPAA rating:
Unrated
PG
Running time:
02:19
Release date:
2004
Rating:
Cast:
Alfie Enoch; Gary Oldman; David Bradley; Rupert Grint; Michael Gambon; Emma Watson; Tom Felton; Pam Ferris; Daniel Radcliffe; Robbie Coltrane
Directed by:
Alfonso Cuaron

One of the nice things about the Harry Potter movie series is that while the books keep getting longer, the movies do not.

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" clocks in at a (relatively) tight 2 hours and 20 minutes, even though J.K. Rowling's "Azkaban" tome is big enough to sink a canoe.

This economy was achieved without sacrificing too much of the author's story - not that Rowling would be in a position to complain, since she heartily endorsed the studio's choice for a new director, Alfonso Cuaron.

Rowling was entranced by Cuaron's wonderful children's film "The Little Princess," another page-to-screen adaptation about an orphan at a British boarding school. He makes sense for the series now, just as the first two installments needed a guy like Chris Columbus, who knew the economics of launching a blockbuster franchise ("Home Alone"), and could wrangle child actors.

The series' child actors are now teen actors, and the franchise is growing with them. "Azkaban" shows Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) growing as teens and as actors, a crucial factor as Harry wanders farther into the swamp of adolescence. He's becoming an angry, impulsive, rebellious young fellow, and Radcliffe is finding ways to show Harry's thorny side without making the character unsympathetic.

In "Azkaban," the rage Harry feels at having lost his parents to the evil Voldemort is much closer to the surface. When news surfaces that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), one of Voldemort's henchmen, has escaped from prison and is headed for Harry, young Potter issues a Bushlike "bring it on. "

Harry isn't alone, of course. Ron and Hermione have his back, and a new Hogwarts professor (David Thewlis) turns into a key ally. Harry also makes friends with a magical flying horse, who comes in handy.

This is good, since Sirius Black reportedly wants Harry dead, Draco Malfoy's up to his usual mischief, and oh yeah - there is a werewolf loose at Hogwarts.

How all of this resolves itself is a bit of a letdown. Rowling's storytelling maneuvers are more obvious here; characters who seem to be one thing turn out to be quite another, and it's easy to anticipate how that's going to go. Younger viewers will also have a hard time following "Harry and Hermione's Excellent Adventure," a third-act time travel twist.

In fact, "Azkaban" in general is pitched to an older crowd. Harry's a hothead - the more he learns of his parents' death, the more morose and vengeful he becomes. The world takes on darker tones - Hogwarts' less sunny (literally) than ever. One of the nice things about the Harry Potter movie series is that while the books keep getting longer, the movies do not.

" Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" clocks in at a (relatively) tight 2 hours and 20 minutes, even though J.K. Rowling's "Azkaban" tome is big enough to sink a canoe.

This economy was achieved without sacrificing too much of the author's story - not that Rowling would be in a position to complain, since she heartily endorsed the studio's choice for a new director, Alfonso Cuaron.

Rowling was entranced by Cuaron's wonderful children's film "The Little Princess," another page-to-screen adaptation about an orphan at a British boarding school. He makes sense for the series now, just as the first two installments needed a guy like Chris Columbus, who knew the economics of launching a blockbuster franchise ("Home Alone"), and could wrangle child actors.

The series' child actors are now teen actors, and the franchise is growing with them. "Azkaban" shows Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) growing as teens and as actors, a crucial factor as Harry wanders farther into the swamp of adolescence. He's becoming an angry, impulsive, rebellious young fellow, and Radcliffe is finding ways to show Harry's thorny side without making the character unsympathetic.

In "Azkaban," the rage Harry feels at having lost his parents to the evil Voldemort is much closer to the surface. When news surfaces that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), one of Voldemort's henchmen, has escaped from prison and is headed for Harry, young Potter issues a Bushlike "bring it on. "

Harry isn't alone, of course. Ron and Hermione have his back, and a new Hogwarts professor (David Thewlis) turns into a key ally. Harry also makes friends with a magical flying horse, who comes in handy.

This is good, since Sirius Black reportedly wants Harry dead, Draco Malfoy's up to his usual mischief, and oh yeah - there is a werewolf loose at Hogwarts.

How all of this resolves itself is a bit of a letdown. Rowling's storytelling maneuvers are more obvious here; characters who seem to be one thing turn out to be quite another, and it's easy to anticipate how that's going to go. Younger viewers will also have a hard time following "Harry and Hermione's Excellent Adventure," a third-act time travel twist.

In fact, "Azkaban" in general is pitched to an older crowd. Harry's a hothead - the more he learns of his parents' death, the more morose and vengeful he becomes. The world takes on darker tones - Hogwarts' less sunny (literally) than ever.

One of the things Cuaron does in "Azkaban" is to give the sound-stagey Hogwarts a needed sense of place. This sequel was filmed in the Scottish highlands, where the crew encountered 30 straight days of rain, complementing the mood of the story. Hogwarts is a misty remote redoubt, surrounded by steep slopes and thickets, where monsters lurk and mystical creatures graze in the heather.

The series continues to benefit from the steady flow of top-notch British actors - Oldman is a fine addition, as is Thewlis, and Mike Leigh fans will enjoy a Timothy Spall cameo that enlivens the third act. Michael Gambon proves a more than able replacement for the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore.

I look forward to seeing how the series shepherds Harry and company through puberty - Hermione and Ron are already getting chummy.

What are they going to be like at 16 or 17?

Rowling should make sure she visits the set, lest the next sequel arrive as an "R."
 

GARY THOMPSON thompsg@phillynews.com
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