In a nutshell: Harry, on the run after quite literally blowing his Aunt up, discovers Sirius Black, a much-feared mass murderer, has escaped from wizard prison Azkaban. As the school year wears on he discovers that Black is in fact his Godfather and is responsible for his parent’s death after providing Voldemort with vital information. Intent on revenge he relishes being confronted with Black. After a brief explanation it is discovered that it is in fact Ron’s rat Scabbers, an animagus, who was behind the treachery. Harry and Sirius’s reunion is short-lived thanks to the arrival of the evil professor Snape. Harry and Hermione must travel through time to ensure the survival of a hippogriff and Sirius, whilst dodging a werewolf attack themselves.
When Prisoner of Azkaban came out in 2004 the Harry Potter series took on a darker tone. With Richard Harris’s caring Dumbledore replaced with Michael Gambon’s more fiery incarnation, the third instalment marked a step away from Chris Columbus’s charming Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Although much of the joviality remained, as Harry entered his teens the books (and the films) began to grapple with darker twists and, after ballooning his obnoxious Aunt Marge Harry finds himself on the run with a mass murderer freshly escaped from wizarding prison Azkaban on his trail.
With Alfonso Cuarón now in the director’s seat the saga is given a fresh lease of life. Shaking off the antiquated style adopted in the first two instalments, Prisoner of Azkaban feels both more sinister and more captivating. The magical elements of the film retain the vibrancy of J.K. Rowling’s novel, with Hippogriff Buckbeak and the Marauder’s Map being particular delights. In line with the darker feel we’re introduced to Dementors, guardians of Azkaban, who have the ability to suck all the happiness from a living being whilst Harry’s own happiness is overshadowed by the reoccurring appearance of the Grim.
A host of British thesps join the already stellar cast here, including Emma Thompson as the batty Professor Trelawney, Dawn French as Gryffindor’s portrait, David Thewlis as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher Lupin as well as the fantastic Gary Oldman as the mass murderer Sirius Black. As well as having to contend with what the wizarding world has to throw at them Harry, Ron and Hermione are now having to battle with their hormones, with Ron and Hermione beginning to have nice awkward moments.
The film features some nice seasonal segments, centred around the Whomping Willow, which not only point toward the film’s finale but also help give it structure. The end credits are also impressive, inventively using the Marauder’s Map as a backdrop. Things never go smoothly for Harry but he does get to see nemesis Malfoy (Tom Felton) get punched squarely in the face by Hermione. Packing a great twist, Prisoner of Azkaban offers Harry hope of reclaiming some of the family he thought long lost.
The one slight flaw in Prisoner of Azkaban is the inclusion of the annoying shrunken head on the Knight Bus that whisks Harry away from Privet Drive. An addition the film made to the story, not only is it unnecessary, it can get quite irritating… but we’ll just about overlook it.
If you weren’t particularly a fan of the first two films this film is definitely worth a watch.
Best character: Sirius Black.
Best newcomer: Lupin, purely because he insists Harry eat chocolate on their first meeting.
Best baddie: Sirius.
Best creature: Buckbeak.
Best Harry moment: His heroic actions at the lake.
How did it rate to the book?: pretty well! Damn shrunken head.