HARRY POTTER

and the PRISONER OF AZKABAN
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HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN - 2004
USA Release: June 4, 2004
Warner Bros.
Rating: Argentina: Atp / Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, UK, USA: PG / Brazil: Livre / Czech Republic: U / Germany: 12 / Israel: 16 / Italy: T / Norway, Sweden: 11 / Philippines: GP / Switzerland: 10

As an unabashed fan of the Harry Potter books, I was eagerly awaiting the release of the movie, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. Opening night found me standing in line, pre-purchased tickets in hand, waiting to be let into the enchanting realm of wizards, witches, and the magical school of Hogwarts. I went with an open mind and high hopes, ready to be dazzled by the imagination and vision of a fresh new director.

Instead, I found the movie pretty to watch but seriously lacking where it counted - the story. Rather than being dazzled, I was left feeling dazed, and hugely disappointed.

Throughout the movie, I never got that exciting feeling of watching a story come to life in front of me. And no, I'm this is not the oh-so-common complaint of a book-lover, whining about favorite scenes from a beloved book that didn't make the transition to the screen. There were scenes aplenty that made the transition from book to screen here. There were even some clever scenes that weren't even from the books, which I believe worked very well. The problem is in how those scenes were connected - or rather, not connected.

For one thing, too many things happen off screen, only to be explained by some characters to other characters, to incidentally be overheard by key characters and the audience - which is, quite honestly, rather boring. Much of what action does happen on the screen seems disjointed and disconnected. Key elements that draw the story fully together are never clearly revealed to the audience. This leaves the full tale understandable only to those who read the books, or those who could make sense of the rather obscure connections themselves.

One example of this is with Ron's pet rat, Scabbers. Somewhere along the line since the last movie, Hermione adopted a cat, Crookshanks. Predictably, the cat and the rat aren't getting along - but we only find that out in passing, when Harry walks by them in an early scene. After that brief mention, the film continues on its meandering path until we overhear yet another argument. Scabbers is missing, and Ron blames Hermione's cat. More things happen, and then they find the rat at Hagrid's. Then they find out the secret behind Scabbers.

The Prisoner

The problem is, there's nothing really connecting these scenes together. Granted, there are a lot of other things happening (the Whomping Willow killing birds, for example). Even so, because of the importance the rat plays in the end, it would seem logical for SOME of that to be conveyed on screen. But in the few scenes that do involve the rat, there is no sense of urgency, no foreshadowing of what's to come. Okay, there IS one scene with the Marauder's Map, but in my opinion, it felt contrived and revealed too much, to early.

The same problem occurs with the griffon, Buckbeak. At the beginning of the school term, Harry and his classmates have a lesson involving the creature, and the arrogant Draco Malfoy is mauled. We see Malfoy with a bandaged arm in one scene, but hear virtually nothing until suddenly we find out that Buckbeak has been deemed a dangerous creature by the Ministry of Magic, and is slated for destruction. Again, the jump from point A (the attack) to point B (the death sentence) isn't really explained within the context of the movie. And because this little tidbit of information is just suddenly foisted upon us, the whole deal of a double-pronged rescue mission later seems out of place.

Unlike the first movie, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN never really pulls together as its own tale, one independent of the book. The film never lets the story tell itself. Almost every step of the way, those who read the books already know exactly what's going on, and why. That's all well and good for the readers, but what about everyone else? They're left to discuss the film amongst themselves after the movie is over, and figure it out afterwards. Hopefully with someone who read the book.

All in all, the film feels more like an "artsy" cinema piece than an adventure romp - fine if you already are familiar with the book, but otherwise not really worth the time.

Rating: 1 Shriek Girl.

Shriek Girls
This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) on IMDb
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