Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Written by:Steven Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane
Released: June 10, 2004
Grade: A-

There was only 12 months between the release of the first and second films but this time we’ve had to wait a little longer for our trip to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  With a new director at the helm the third Harry Potter film doesn’t disappoint.  The depth of the story is evident on screen and it’s a clear cut-above most other family releases.  Instead of yammering about a weak screenplay (as I usually do), I can praise the exciting storytelling and debate what subplots and characters have been left from the film.

After a much anticipated build up, I was unexpectedly disappointed by the opening half hour.  The traditional scenes of Harry at the Dursley home were rushed and the subsequent reintroductions to the key characters were a little boring.  The introduction of David Thewlis and Professor Lupin provides the kick start to the adventure and it never lets up.  Whether you’ve read the novel or not, you’re sure to be enchanted.

On arrival back at Hogwarts for his third year of school, Harry once again finds himself the unwilling centre of attention.  A notorious criminal, Sirius Black (Oldman), has become the first person to escape from the impenetrable Azkaban Prison.  Twelve years ago, Black helped the evil Lord Voldemort to kill Harry’s parents and many suspect he will come after Harry to settle unfinished business.  The school is now closely guarded by foul creatures known as Dementors.  As writer J.K. Rowling so perfectly phrases it – “get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you”.  They will not rest until they have found Sirius Black and drained his soul completely from him.

Those that have read the third book will know the fate of these characters but for those that haven’t, I won’t reveal the enjoyable twists which follow.  I think many viewers will fall into the former category.  Over 200 million copies of Rowling’s books have now been sold worldwide and the series has become the most widely read of the modern era.  Let’s not forget the success of the first two films either which grossed more than $1.8b worldwide.  When you analyse this big picture, it all comes back to amazing storytelling.  There’s something about the mystical world of Harry Potter that has ensnared both kids and adults alike (myself included).

I admired the performance of young stars Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry) and Emma Watson (as Hermione).  Radcliffe has improved dramatically over the three films and contrary to what others believe, I see a long and successful film career ahead.  This may not be just in front of the camera.  In interviews, Radcliffe has astutely expressed an appreciation for the works of director Alfonso Cuaron (A Little Princess, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and you can’t help but be impressed by a 14-year-old saying that.

Some cast members do fall by the wayside in Azkaban.  Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith are seldom seen and Emma Thompson’s new role as Professor Trelawney is overdone.  Michael Gambon tries his best to replace the late Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore but he doesn’t quite have the same vagueness and secrecy.

I admit to expecting a little more from director Cuaron haven’t been such a huge fan of his last film, Y Tu Mama Tambien.  I liked how he kept his camera continually on the move but I did hope for something a little more adventurous.  You can’t fault most his crew with composer John Williams delivering another fantastic film score and three time Academy Award winning production designer Stuart Craig immaculately crafting each hall and corridor at Hogwarts.

It’s thumbs up for all three films in the Harry Potter series and already filming has commenced on the next movie, Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire.  Slated for a November 2005 release, it will feature another new director in Mike Newell (Four Weddings & A Funeral).  I’ll see there you there on opening night.