Plot Summary: In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter is yet again in danger. Sirius Black, a convict who played a part in the deaths of Harry’s parents, has escaped from the wizard prison Azkaban, and is presumed to be on Harry’s trail. Add into the fray yet another Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (who may not be what he seems), creepy encounter with dementors, and Hagrid’s new pet, and Harry may have too much on his plate to contend with.
The third book in the Harry Potter series is my favourite so far (I’m on the fifth book), and it’s all because of the plot. Rowling has a knack for creating mysteries that even Sherlock Holmes may be unable to solve, and Prisoner of Azkaban is a true testament to her brilliant ideas. The plot twists in Harry’s third outing are so unexpected, they make the plot twists in the previous two stories look unsurprising by comparison. And that’s saying a lot. Given such rich material to work with, it’s no wonder that this movie (along with Goblet of Fire) is my favourite of the Harry Potter movies. I love how the plot requires you to pay close attention to the film, and that’s what distinguishes this film from the average summer blockbuster. And there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing the plot lines fall into place, like tumblers in a lock, during the great revelation. Time travel in a fantasy movie? Cool!
I’m pleased to see that this time round, there’s actually some character development. In the first scene, when Harry blows up (read: inflates) his aunt after she insults his parents, we get a rare glimpse into his feelings of angst and his long-supressed anger at the mistreatment his uncle and aunt have subjected him to. Later on, when he discovers that Sirius, who allegedly betrayed his parents, was also his godfather, his emotional breakdown again gives us a glimpse into his internal turmoil. I could go on about the scene at the Shrieking Shack, the scene next to the lake when he sees himself and Sirius under attack from the dementors, etc. but I think I’ve gotten my point across.
It’s not just Harry who develops as a character – Hermione, too, shows a sudden outburst of anger that really conflicts with her previous always-in-control image. The dementors truly stand out as terrifying (although it’s a little hard to argue about their originality – they seem to have been inspired by Tolkien’s Black Riders), and Sirius and Lupin are truly tragic characters.
Honestly, I take my hat off to the casting director, who managed to assemble this cast who’s as close to the real characters in the book as it can get. Were the actors even acting? To me, it seemed like they were simply living out their characters.
Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew and Professor Trelawney were exactly how I imagined them in the book, and old favourites Hagrid and Snape play their parts to perfection once again. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint once again inhabit their characters like they were born to play these roles, and the fantastic character development is in no small part thanks to the trio’s acting abilities.
Cinematography and Editing: Beautiful doesn’t even begin to cover it. The scenery’s breathtakingly stunning, and the camerawork’s nifty, capturing moments of action perfectly.
The colour palette is mainly in shades of black, brown and grey, and the movie is distinctly dark without being disturbing (unlike A Series of Unfortunate Events). After the cheery, bright tones of the first two films, the dark tones in this movie are a refreshing and much-needed change.
The set design is beautiful as always, but I’m a little hesitant to comment on the costumes, because I wouldn’t have noticed this if I hadn’t come across another review on Amazon. The reviewer commented that it was strange that in the other movies Harry, Hermione and Ron wore their school robes most of the time, yet in this movie, they rarely wore their school robes. A minor quip, yes, but it jars the consistency of the films.
Visual Effects and Action Choreography:
I fell in love with Buckbeak the first time I saw him, though I mistook him as a griffin instead of a hippogriff. That said, I think Buckbeak looked the most realistic when he wasn’t flying; during the flying scenes, his flying motions lacked a certain slight jerky motion that is characteristic of heavy birds in flight, and his body was a little too stiff. But that aside, other aspects like the dementors, the werewolf, and the tree were nicely rendered.
Score, Music and Sound Effects:
This film once again uses sound effects to enhance suspense (most notably in the scene along the corridor at night where Harry noticed Peter Pettigrew approaching him on the Marauder’s Map), and the score sounds a little darker than usual. Just how I like it.
Faithfulness to Source Material:
I just found it strange that they didn’t touch further on the Padfoot, Prongs, Moony and Wormtail reference on the Marauder’s Map and depicted the Patronus charm in the form of a shield rather than, say, a stag for Harry. But besides that, I think the film followed the basic plot quite well.
Woah. Half the movie, I was too awed by the plot twists and revelations and too captivated by the stunning visuals to feel much else for the characters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The first time I watched this in theaters, I didn’t get the story, but still I enjoyed the movie tremendously. I think I watched it another three times on television, and those times I actually understood the plot, which allowed me to enjoy the film even more.
Conclusion: Possibly the best Harry Potter film to date, this is a movie not to be missed.
Rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Rating on IMDb: 7.7
Viewing history: Seen 4x! Once in theaters, once in school, twice on TV.