The kids are growing up, and they’re learning that their world of spells and monsters isn’t as friendly as they once thought it was. Sure, they faced some menacing foes in the first two Harry Potter movies, but they always came out the stronger. And the movies ended with a lot of smiles and applause — “Gryffindor wins the House Cup!”. Good times. But now, there is no room for happy endings. In fact, The Prisoner Of Azkaban barely gives us an ending at all. There is no resolution. If you want to know how it ends, you’ll have to wait for the eighth movie to come around.
There is a lot more at stake now. The world has grown more weary, and perhaps sinister forces are stirring beneath the surface. We are given a werewolf in this movie, and it isn’t the kind of werewolf from The Wolf Man, or Van Helsing. It’s a very lanky creature with arms and legs as thin as twigs, but it’s no less terrifying. There’s a new beast, Buckbeak, that’s a hippogriff and one of Hagrid’s many treasured pets. Riding him would be a treat. There is also the introduction of Dementors, wraith-like creatures that hover and float around as if they were untethered pirate flags. They are the guards of Azkaban, the witch and wizard prison, and they’ve been sent to Hogwarts in case Azkaban’s most recent escapee, Sirius Black, attempts to infiltrate it.
Speaking of Sirius Black, The Prizoner Of Azkaban introduces a myriad of new supporting characters, each played once again by veteran British actors (the portfolio will only increase). Sirius is played by Gary Oldman, who looks haggard and worn down by years and years of Dementor’s Kisses, yet he never seems tired. David Thewlis enters the series as the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher, Prof. Lupin (anyone familiar with word origins should realise that his name is derived from the Latin for… well, maybe I shouldn’t say), and we learn that he has connections to Harry that go back many years. Emma Thompson plays Prof. Trelawney, the slightly ditzy Divination teacher. And Timothy Spall makes an appearance late in the movie as a character who, like Lupin, can trace his roots back to Harry.
These new additions should indicate that the Harry Potter world is expanding very quickly, and it becomes clear that they are going to stay for the long haul (unlike Gilderoy Lockhart, who vanished after the last movie). The movies now will follow the structure of a serial, where each one leads directly to the next; they are no longer self-contained mini adventures. Is this a bad thing? I suspect not. As with any lengthy story that’s told in parts, we relate better when there is less of a gap between each one (think Lord Of The Rings or the original Star Wars trilogy). This also gives us a chance to engage more deeply with the characters. Though to be sure, I have never engaged very much with Harry or Ron, probably because they’ve never been smart enough to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Harry, once again, is hollow, and he does more following than leading. If Hermione spent most of The Chamber Of Secrets confined to a gurney and still managed to provide Harry and Ron with the key to solving the plot, imagine what she could do with both feet firmly on the ground. She punches Draco Malfoy in the face and rescues her dimwitted friends from certain death on at least two separate occasions. That’s what she could do. Not to mention her nifty little time-travelling device that provides the movie with an intelligently captivating third act. There are loopholes in this third act though that I’m not equipped to deal with. Let’s just say that Harry and Hermione could be reliving the same events till they’re 80 years old.
Still, The Prisoner Of Azkaban is a step up and a step forward from the first two movies. Maybe Alfonso Cuaron, responsible for the movie’s direction, realised that a bunch of kids garbed in robes could only take a series, meant to address dark themes, so far. Sooner or later, they’ll have to grow up, whether it’s by meeting evil face to face or by merely tossing their uniforms aside in favour of more casual civilian clothes (even when their uniforms are on, their ties are loose and their sleeves are rolled up). I can’t say that the characters themselves have matured. Not yet anyway. The danger of their world is still in an embryonic stage, and when it develops into a living breathing entity one can only hope that our three heroes are up to the challenge.
Best Moment | “We did it professor!”, “Did what? Good night.”. Also, I want to ride Buckbeak.
Worst Moment | Both moments come in the Hogsmeade scene. One is Emma Watson’s irritatingly bad laugh when Harry scares off Draco and his droogs, and the other is Daniel Radcliffe’s irritatingly bad crying after he eavesdrops on a conversation regarding Sirius Black. Lord have mercy.