Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

18 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It seems like young wizard Harry Potter is heading straight into darker territory. I think he is cursed in the way of never having a quiet year at Hogwarts. He’s 13 years old and he has already searched for the sorcerer’s stone and discovered the Chamber of Secrets. And now, he is being pursued by a Prisoner of Azkaban. OK, enough with the bad title references. You get my point though—Harry Potter will go through four more years after this and he will never have a quiet year at Hogwarts. Let’s just hope he is able to survive so he can graduate Hogwarts School. To think he is the Boy Who Lived possibly leaping towards certain doom—wonder what is in store for him in his seventh and final year at Hogwarts…assuming he lives that long.

I’m making the third entry in the “Harry Potter” series—entitled “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”—sound too grim. Indeed, Hogwarts has become menacing and even more dangerous than before. But this is probably nothing compared to what may happen in the later installments.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown as a person—he is not the poor young boy living a miserable life with his hateful relatives. This time, he’s developed an edge to himself. This is proven in the opening scene, in which he is fed up with an overly unpleasant relative invited to dinner and casts a spell that blows her up like a balloon and floats her away. This would’ve been one of the cruelest things a young wizard can do…but it’s just so funny.

Harry runs away to meet his old friends in time to leave for Hogwarts (this is after a wonderful scene in which he boards a fast-speed wizard bus with a Cockney guide and a shrunken head for a navigator). He is reunited with the still-cheerful Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and still-bookish Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). But something is wrong this year—the sinister Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban Prison. Sirius is said to have betrayed Harry’s parents and was the cause of their murderous deaths by Lord Voldemort, the late Dark Lord who killed Harry’s parents and failed to do so with Harry as a baby (hence the scar, in case you forgot, which you probably haven’t). On the search for Sirius are a swarm of Dementors, which are hovering, life-sucking demons that pay Harry unfriendly visits from time to time.

This year at Hogwarts, there are new faculty members. One is Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), the newest teacher of the defense against the dark arts. Harry knows that Sirius will finish what he started and come after him, so he asks Lupin to train him to protect himself. But it’s not so easy. Then there is the addition of Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson), a psychic teacher who believes the blackness in Harry’s tealeaves means death. Also, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) is promoted to teaching—he has a large feathered animal named Buckbeak, which is a Hippogriff. Harry is to ride the bird-beast to set an example, but pathetic Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is too much of a show-off. This is why the audience cheers when Hermione finally gives him a punch right square in the face. “That felt good,” she says to her friends after Malfoy runs away whimpering. What a wimp Malfoy is.

This time, Harry doesn’t go looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him, Ron, and Hermione. Once again, they are propelled on another journey within school grounds and are met with many terrific action sequences. They encounter a shape-shifting dog, a werewolf, and (my most favorite) a living tree that tries to crush anyone who comes near with its branches and limbs. That tree is a beyond-terrific computer effect—I don’t believe real trees can shake off leaves in the fall and snow in the winter (I love it when the snow hits the camera).

And then there is an enchanted map that shows where people are within every minute of every day inside the school—it can be brought to life when Harry summons, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good” and turned into a regular piece of paper when he says, “Mischief managed.” Also, there is the final half of the film—not giving anything away, but it fiddles with time in ways we’ve always admired in time-travel movies. It works here as well.

But the important thing here is that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are not children anymore. They are teenagers. Their characters have grown, but so have Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson. In later installments, they will still be likable even when they are young adults ready for something bigger in the final chapter of the final entry. Radcliffe is still a likable young hero, Grint is still cheerful but comically nervous when it comes to terror, and Watson has a way of taking charge no matter what. Coltrane as Hagrid continues to be lovable, Emma Thompson is a delightful addition to the movie, David Thewlis is great as the new teacher with a secret, and Michael Gambon, filling in for the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore, has the convincing mysticism of bearded headmaster Dumbledore.

Hogwarts may have gotten darker, but it’s still wonderful. And you do want Harry, Ron, and Hermione to be there when Hogwarts is under terror again. The series is approaching something bigger than this. It’s only a matter of which movie it will start. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is not quite up there with the first two films, but it’s still a terrific adventure.

One Response to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)”


  1. My Next Top 150 Favorite Movies | Smith's Verdict - June 28, 2018

    […] My third-favorite Harry Potter movie (with “The Chamber of Secrets” at #59 on my Top 100 and my second-favorite coming up on this list below), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” took me by surprise when I first saw it as a kid. It had a different tone & style to it, which I had to get used to, having being used to the straightforwardness of the first two movies. Once I did, I couldn’t get enough of it. There was a darker edge to it that I enjoyed, the “magic” sequences were enjoyable, and I could see a change in Harry, turning from a wide-eyed innocent to somewhat of a snarky, cocky, even sinister hero—I could watch that scene where he blows up his rude relative like a balloon numerous times, it’s so damn funny. He’s still got a lot to learn, but then again, so do we. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/02/18/harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-2004/ […]

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