Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I gotta tell you, most of the time reviewing a book or movie is a piece of cake. I read the last page of a book, or stare at the end credits of a movie, and then I think to myself, "Self, what do you think? 2 out of 5? 2.5 out of five? Nah, 2 out of 5," and that's what ends up on the website.

But in deciding whether or not to recommend Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I could go on for hours about what worked and what didn't, and what I think should have been done differently. I'm serious, you should see the first draft of this review.

The Gist: It's Harry's third year at Hogwarts. The wizarding world is dancing on eggshells and peaking around every corner because a murderer, Sirius Black, has escaped from Azkaban prison. If only they knew that they didn't have to worry. The only person Black is interested in killing now is Harry Potter.

But that's fine by Harry, because Sirius is the reason Harry's parents are dead, and he figures turnabout is fair play.

The Good: It is apparent from the first moments of the film that someone new is at the tiller. The one thing this flick has over its predecessors is style. Director Alfonso Cuaron takes every scene pop and come alive with great visuals and brilliant use of music. When I see how this movie looks, it makes me weep for what the other two films could have been. Add to that three good performances by Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson, and a fantastic performance by Gary Oldman, and you'd think there'd be nothing to complain about...

The Bad: The book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is longer than both Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets. The movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is shorter than both Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets. I think the fact that this movie portrays maybe, maybe, half of what's going on in the book is the source of most of the movie's problems.

The first dilemma is that the movie feels even more episodic than Sorcerer's Stone did. Though I think Alfonso did a better job in this film of transitioning between scenes than was done before, the movie still feels like a collection of individual scenes rather than a continuous whole, which was very disconcerting.

Also, with so much information from the book not in the movie, the movie raises questions that are never answered, creating gaping plot holes. How did Sirius Black escape from Azkaban? Who are Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, the creators of the Marauder's Map? How did Black get into Hogwarts? And on and on and on.

And lastly, the one area where I thought the movie utterly failed was in creating and sustaining excitement. I remember reading the book and almost peeing my pants when I read the scene in the Shieking Shack. I almost had a religious epiphany when Harry conjured the patronus. My heart almost broke when Buckbeak was executed. I felt none of that in the movie. Cuaron seemed to shy away from the scary and passionate parts at just the wrong times. Harry falls off his broom! Fade to Black. The Patronus Prongs appears! Show it far away on the other side of the lake. Weak sauce. And now, finally...

The Ugly: As far as "Fade to Black." I've got two words: use sparingly.

So, what do I rate it? That's the funny thing. I went to the movie twice on opening day, at the midnight showing, and later that evening after work. During the second showing, I consciously asked myself, "Do you like this movie." Without hesitation, I answered, "yes, I really do." So, despite some serious flaws, I still recommend the movie.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.