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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (PG)
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz
Gary Oldman is superb as Sirius Black
Gary Oldman is superb as Sirius Black

The first two Harry Potter films may have been successful at the box office, but they were not examples of great films. Fans of the Potter franchise, therefore, should be thanking their lucky stars that director Chris Columbus has stepped aside to let Alfonso Cuarón take the helm of this one and finally produce a film that lives up to the hype.

In this, the third instalment, we learn that the titular Prisoner of Azkaban has escaped, that his name is Sirius Black and that he's played by Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element, Léon, True Romance). It is rumoured that Sirius Black was involved in the death of Harry's parents and is a disciple of the evil Lord Voldemort. Needless to say, Harry and the gang fear that Sirius may be on the way to Hogwarts to do some more murdering of the Potter clan.

Taken as a movie in its own right, this film is very good and any flaws it has are easily attributed to the book on which it is based. Some of the characters feel uneven, shallow, thinly drawn and stereotypical, but that, unfortunately, is one of J. K. Rowling's writing problems. What's worse is the unbelievable contrast between parts of the story that are clearly aimed at children and other parts that are very dark and scary. The film opens with Harry's aunt getting inflated like a balloon and floating away (harmless and unrealistic children's television fun) but later features a wraith-like creature called a Dementor that attempts to suck out people's souls by way of punishment (not your average kiddie fare). This kind of unevenness can be found throughout Rowling's works and it's not fair to fault the film for the book's shortcomings.

The change in director has meant a vast improvement in the quality of this movie. It's much darker and has a more mature feel to it, the landscape (mostly filmed in the Scottish Highlands) seems more natural and the acting is better too. Even the special effects are better than the previous two films, but perhaps not all of this is due entirely to the change in director. Die-hard fans of the Harry Potter books may be disappointed to find some of the storylines missing from the film, but that is the price you have to pay to keep a film to a reasonable length. The result is still a good story and the film flows very nicely.

In short, this Harry Potter film is a vast improvement over the previous two and it comes recommended to everyone, not just enthusiasts of the series. Let's hope The Goblet Of Fire, due out next year and directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is just as good.

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Length: 142 minutes
Certificate: PG
Official Site: http://www.harrypotter.com/
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0304141/
Release Date: 31st May 2004

Top Five Rating: 70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0% (70.0%)
User Rating: 0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0% (0.0%)

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