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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"Something wicked this way comes."

Like the previous Harry Potter movies this film is also a special effects bonanza. Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) experiences with Aunt Marge at the Dursley house, followed by his escape on the Knight Bus are an FX treat. After Harry meets Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) they are all bound for Hogwarts school of Wizardry and WitchCraft and their new school year.

In this film the “government” of the wizard world, the Ministry of Magic, begins to take a larger portion of the stage with its search for the escaped “prisoner of Azkaban” Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). Azkaban is the name of the wizard prison, staffed by Dementors (more on them in a bit), where the wizard society sends its miscreants. Sirius Black was put there because of his alleged involvement in the death of Harry’s parents. According to Ron’s dad (Mark Williams), who works at the Ministry of Magic, Sirius Black has escaped with the intention of killing Harry.

On the train on the way to Hogwarts, Harry, Ron and Hermione occupy a compartment with a sleeping passenger. While en route the train is inspected by Dementors, a spectral breed of soul-sucking nasty, which seem to pay special attention to Harry when they get to his compartment. The sleeping fellow passenger, R. J. Lupin (David Thewlis) wakes and intervenes to shield Harry from the distressing attention of the demonic Dementors.

During the welcoming feast at Hogwarts, Schoolmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) – announces the new Defense against Dark Arts instructor to be Professor Lupin (the same R.J. Lupin from the train incident) and Care of Magical Creatures will be taught by Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). The unsettling news is that Dementors will be patrolling Hogwarts on the lookout for escapee Sirius Black.

In their classes the students also meet the extremely dramatic Divination teacher Professor Sybil Trelawney, played artfully by Emma Thompson. After Divination is Magical Creatures with Hagrid showing off a hippogriff named Buckbeak. Harry and Buckbeak are carefully and successfully introduced. Harry is rewarded by an exuberant flight on the hippogriff’s back. However, when they return, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) approaches Buckbeak with a less than acceptable attitude and is also justly rewarded. This necessitates a medical visit for Malfoy and the end of class. It also leads to later repercussions for Hagrid, Buckbeak and Harry and Co.

Professor Lupin starts his Defense Against Dark Arts class with a boggart – a creature that exploits one’s deepest fears. The way to successfully thwart a boggart is with laughter and self-control. Thinking of a comical situation involving the deep fear neutralizes the boggart’s power. Prof. Lupin demonstrates this with Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), whose deepest fear is Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Prof. Lupin suggests picturing Snape in Neville’s grandmother’s clothing. This neutralizes the boggart and gives the rest of the class the idea.

Next Ron neutralizes his giant spider by putting him on roller skates. However, Harry’s deepest fear is of Dementors and Prof. Lupin steps in to shield his class from the apparent Dementor. That’s enough to get the flavor of this very good movie.

In my judgment this third Harry Potter movie is substantially better than the prior two. This could be for several reasons, among which are these: the primary actors are maturing, as well as J.K. Rowling’s characters which they portray. Their experiences have become more than merely a Halloween story. The material of the stories has become darker, but actually more like real life showing the importance of friendship, courage, and the differences between good and evil. As Rowling works to finish her series of books the movies will follow. I expect that they will continue to improve as the books do.

Harry Potter and his adventures are to many today as Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House stories, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure stories have been to generations that have gone before. They all show important aspects of human nature and help the young to grow toward adulthood. What could be more important than that?

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