Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkhaban

6 out of 10


Another trip to the School of Magic

With the creation of the Cloak of Invisibility in REAL LIFE by boffins in Japan and the Swedes building the first Stealth Battleship both being announced this week, as well as the University of Connecticut being just months away from finishing their fully functional Time Machine, the pressure certainly seems to be on JK Rowling, Harry Potter`s creator, to develop ever more dazzling magic before the technoboffins put the real thing on the shelves of Walmart for $19.99.

In the latest flick about the boy wizard, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who attends Hogwarts, the school for magic, this pressure seems to have clearly begun to show itself with the central plot being the leadsinker that it has to struggle against all the way. Indeed, maybe Potter should have been more concerned about who stole the magic from the story than the Prisoner of Azkhaban, for Sirius Black turns out to be some old dude who looks as if he`s there to clean the windows and is laughably overacted by the classic bad guy, Gary Oldman, in what is arguably his worst ever performance. Not only far too much time is spent building up to this anti-climax, but the first half of the film if seriously formulaic with the new threat, the new magical beast and the new item of magical wonder, a fantastic map, that NASA`s probably already developed and is currently negotiating to have it in Sears by Christmas. Indeed, much of the film`s plot is not fully logical with most of the there is being held together by a highly heroic Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), with Potter taking mainly a backseat role to her at the end of the film.

A whole slew of the cream of Brit talent appears in minor roles including the ever brilliant Thomas Hardy as Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic (something I`d guess Tony Blair is going to need to win the next UK General Election), Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid again and Emma Thompson as Professor Sybil Trelawney, a clairvoyant teacher. Sadly though, the death of Richard Harris required his replacement as Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster, with Michael Gambin, and although he is a highly capable actor, the presence is just not there of such a great man.

For this, the third in the series, the unknown Alfonso Cuaron has been brought in as Director and surprised us all with a magnificent clear change. With amazing rides on fanciful creatures across panoramic scenes of Hogwart`s and it`s surrounding mountain valleys and the flight of the lethal "Demeantors", the cinematographical quality is way beyond any of it`s predecessors which had a certain staleness in reasembling well-made BBC costume dramas. Furthermore, magical items, such as locks that open themselves, are presented NOT as the centre of attention, but as intruments that are being "matter-of-fact" used, enhancing their reality. In short, Alfonso Cuaron has made the whole film a highly watchable joy to see, albeit one with a screwed up and worthless plot.

The "Harry Potter Magic" certainly escaped me this time.

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett