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Harry mania continues with Azkaban

By Pablo Saldana – Entertainment Editor

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ditches the formula set by the previous films and shortens the ride for what’s easily the best movie of the series. While the light-hearted feel and nearly three-hour lengths of the other installments were bland, pointless and nauseatingly sweet, The Prisoner of Azkaban switches gears into something slightly more entertaining.

The film makes the transition from unbelievable adventure only fans of the novels could appreciate into a fragment of cinematic art. The Prisoner of Azkaban is a movie with far too many flaws and plenty of room for improvement, but a promising sign of things to come.

A new look can only do so much, with performances that are flat and lifeless and a story in need of stronger dialogue; for that The Prisoner of Azkaban is only moderately enjoyable. Nonetheless, followers of the series will be amazed at the sight of the Marauder’s Map, the Hippogriff (half eagle/half horse creature) and the Dementors as filmmakers bring to life what most Harry Potter fans could only picture in their minds.

In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) learns that murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped the wizard prison, Azkaban. Harry is soon informed that Sirius Black was a close acquaintance of Lord Voldemort and is apparently out for revenge. Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) tag along to help Harry unravel the mystery while taking time out to hold hands (maybe the subplot for books six and seven).

The Prisoner of Azkaban stumbles throughout its 130-minute runtime, but the relief is that this installment isn’t as dreadfully long as the previous two snore fests, The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. Several will argue that quality should not be expected from a “kiddie” flick, but tight screenplays and clever humor in films such as Shrek and Finding Nemo have completely changed what is acceptable and the quality that is demanded of these films.

The three leads — Radcliffe, Watson and Grint — deliver the same mundane performances that dulled down the previous two installments. The Prisoner of Azkaban is supposed to be the boy wizard’s first mature adventure wrapped in mystery, but the three leads offer no maturity or depth to their characters.

Maggie Smith is hilarious as divination professor Minerva McGonagall, who sees that something dark waits in young Potter’s near future. As in the previous films, the most exciting and humorous moments in the film occur when Harry is at his uncle’s home.

In The Prisoner of Azkaban, his uncle’s mother upsets Harry and, like any other 13-year-old boy with magical powers, he decides to blow her up.

Director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) takes a gamble by transforming the landscape of the Harry Potter franchise to incorporate dark elements while pushing the story to center stage rather than relying on an abundance of special effects. Cuaron’s technique works well to give the movie series a much-needed facelift.

While the movie successfully mixes an imaginative story with an edgy appearance, it’s far from Oscar-caliber and is barely memorable, except to Potter’s ravenous followers, who devour anything adorning his face or name.

In the film’s defense, The Prisoner of Azkaban is a positive step forward, and with a possible four films remaining, audiences can only hope that filmmakers will continue to take chances with the series.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is a welcome improvement with a more engaging plot and a murky new look that should appeal to more than just the typical Harry Potter fanatic. Most impressive is the fact that, for the first time, the Harry Potter franchise is making some strides from commercial fluff toward a series with some real potential. But the end result is still in need of major renovations.

By Olga Robak – Staff Writer

It’s been two years since fans of the Harry Potter franchise have gotten to see their favorite character on screen. This Friday marks the release of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, the much-anticipated third part of the seven-part movie series.

This time, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are on the lookout for an escaped murderer, Sirius Black, who, rumor has it, is after Harry.

According to the stories people tell, Sirius was once part of the dark side, a disciple of Lord Voldemort, Harry’s arch nemesis. He was thrown into the most serious wizard prison but has recently escaped and is on his way to Hogwart’s, the school of wizardry, which Harry attends.

The film is a great adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel, even if it does stray slightly from the plot.

A few storyline concessions were made for the sake of time, but the film delivers not only a plot different from the previous two films, but also a much different feeling. The film puts a great emphasis on the dark nature of the story, using scenery, costumes and dialogue to its full advantage.

Prisoner of Azkaban also has a different director than The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. The film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, whose previous endeavors include projects much less suitable for children — Great Expectations (1998) and Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001).

Cuaron adds noticeable darkness to the film but also captures the light moments of the story with grace and poignant observation.

The strong points of his directorial work are certainly the transitions between scenes — the film’s story is stretched out over almost an entire year, but Cuaron manages to cover the gaps in time with seamless changeovers.

The young actors of the film are, once again, outstanding. Radcliffe and company is so incredibly well cast that it is hard to imagine anyone else in their parts. Their adult co-stars, including Alan Rickman as Professor Snape and Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, are also thrilling to watch.

The film’s new great addition is David Thewlis as professor Lupin, Harry’s guide and friend in the film. Again, the casting director’s hard work has been put to the test, and it passes with flying colors.

Replacing the late Richard Harris, who played Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, is Michael Gambon. His presence is not as strong on screen as Harris’ was, but he is a worthy replacement.

The only drawback one might find in the film is its almost too-sudden beginning, which completely lacks introduction to the characters. One can only assume that Cuaron was drawing on the conclusion that those who have seen the first two films (or read the novels) will understand the story, and those who have done neither will simply stay out of the theaters. Nonetheless, even for those who seen the previous films, the beginning seems rushed and underdeveloped.

And the devoted Harry fans will surely be excited to know that in addition to opening in most theaters in town, the film will also open on the IMAX screen.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is slightly more mature than the previous two installments of the Harry Potter series and will most likely bring out the worst in the disapproving ultra-religious crowds.

But for those of us who find Harry as harmless as the fairy godmother and Santa Claus, the film is a must-see and certainly one of the best, even if directed at children, films to come out so far this year.