Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban stars, Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black, Horns), Rupert Grint (You can find him sweeping the streets of London), Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Noah), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Leon: The Professional) and is directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men).

Once again Harry Potter is returning to Hogwarts but it’s still not going to be a safe year at school. Dark, magical Dementors are guarding the school and convicted murder Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban prison and coming to kill Harry.

The first two Harry Potter films are great, I love them, I love their friendly tone but from this point on this series gets serious (no pun intended). We have new characters, a darker tone and most importantly Alfonso Cuarón came on to direct this 3rd outing. This is a top 3 Harry Potter film and I can’t wait to dig into to this awesomeness.

Visually the first thing you notice when watching this film is how older Harry and his friends look. The first two films were only one year apart and they were still children but Prisoner of Azkaban came out two years after Chamber and it shows. Harry looks a lot older and immediately this film has an adult vibe to it from the actors. With Radcliffe, Grint and Watson all being older and more experienced, their acting ability gets better and better as the films go on. It was a risk casting 3 unknown, child actors for this series but we begin to see in this film, that risk payed of big time.

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Prisoner of Azkaban gave us two of my all time favorite HP characters, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. David Thewlis brought a caring, warmth to Lupin that made him a very likable character. I wish we got to see more of him throughout the series but it’s hard to find a spot you could fit him in. Sirius Black (again I wanted more of him) in this film, is a scary threat that feels very real. In The Philosopher Stone and The Chamber of Secrets the villains are magical and not something you can imagine in the real world. However when you see the wanted poster for Sirius Black, he looks terrifying, he has a Charles Manson vibe to him. The first time you see him in person, is also really scary.

He may not be a new character but in Prisoner of Azkaban we get a new Dumbledore. Unfortunately Richard Harris past away and Dumbledore had to be recast by Michael Gambon. I loved the Richard Harris version of Dumbledore and I’m sure he could have pulled of the character in later films but Gambon’s interpretation was a tough, hardened Dumbledore that you could believe was more in control. Unfortunate as the circumstances were, I think Gambon worked out as the best Dumbledore we got.

The big talking point of this film is how the tone changed. From the actors, story, visuals, everything seemed to take a giant step towards a more adult franchise. Because of that, I think Alfonso Cuarón had the hardest job as a director for any of these films. He had to set the precedent for every director to follow after him. If he had screwed this film up, this series may have never been as good as it was. Visually Cuarón is a great director as we’ve seen in films he’s gone on to direct, like Gravity and he brought a darker pallet of colors to this film, that took it away from the lighter tone of the first two Columbus films (as great as they were). This added to the overall darker story he was telling.

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Sirius Black and the Dementors are the main villains of this film, yet they’re not shown very often but their presence is felt. The demonic-like Dementors floating over Hogwarts and the thought of murderer Sirius Black out in the world, creates a burdening cloud over the entire film, that gives it an edge the other two films never had.

The final aspect of Prisoner of Azkaban that upped the ante, was the emotion. You known from the fist two films what happened to Harry’s parents but with their connection to Lupin and Sirius Black, it gets personal. There’s a scene in particular at Hogsmeade, when Harry learns more about his parents and the emotional scene that comes after it, is heavier than any before it. Although the Harry Potter series is all about magic, the magical, whimsical world created in the Chris Columbus films, is very different in Prisoner and from this film on, the world doesn’t get happier.

To me, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the most important film in the series. It laid out the path for the franchise and fortunately the path was followed. Are the time travel elements a bit wobbly? Sure but for me it doesn’t ruin one of my favorite films of all time.

10/10

Have you seen Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and what did you think of it?

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