The third installment in the Harry Potter film series is upon us. Finally, Chris Columbus has relinquished the directorial chair to Alfonso Cuaron, director of such diverse fare as the racy Y Tu Mama Tambien and the enthralling A Little Princess. That has been the best move in three movies so far. Sorry Chris C., Cuaron has basically kicked your a$s(kaban) on this one. Because the third installment is decidedly darker in theme than the first two (and gets even darker as the series progresses--JK Rowling where is your sixth book!), Cuaron has reflected this in the more pensive and muted tones and colors of this movie. It seems more real (and more depressing) than the all-too-magical feel of its predecessors. Hence, additional quaint charm. This does not detract one bit from the story and the action, still suspenseful and awe-inspiring even if you have read and re-read the books countless times. Of course, fangirls like your truly everywhere will not hesitate to point out that much of the story has been cut and simplified to better fit the genre of feature film--something that Chris Columbus seems to have been loathe to do, but which Alfonso Cuaron uses to full advantage here. (Would that he would direct the rest of the series.)
The most important elements of the book though, Sirius Black and the Dementors, are artfully brought to life by Gary "no-current-jobs" Oldman and the special effects team, respectively. Oldman is the right degree of madman and the Dementors, although reminiscent of ringwraiths in a certain other magnificent series, are notably eerie. It's good to note that the design team does not have them floating around like B-movie ghosts; instead they are ethereal, creatures of frost and void. The Shrieking Shack is as I envisioned it, although I could have had more of Hogsmeade. The Marauders' Map is beautifully brought to life. The main action sequences are also done with enthusiasm and lots of class. Noticeably absent though is Ginny Weasley, catalyst of Harry's troubles in the second movie, as well as the four former Hogwarts residents who made the Marauders' Map. The story of Padfoot, Mooney, Wormtail and Prongs was in my opinion one of the best points of the novel, but the exclusion from the movie isn't a sore point. The introduction of characters who actually knew more about Harry's parents, though, was a welcome (and essential) addition.
Michael Gambon does not disappoint as the replacement Dumbledore, Alan Rickman is still wonderfully menacing as Severus Snape, while Oldman and David Thewlis are effective as Black and Remus Lupin (this coming grudgingly from a person who thinks that her "crush" Sirius Black should have been played by someone else--too bad Stuart Townsend is too young to have played Black). Emma Thompson's role is nothing more than an extended cameo (albeit a funny, wonderful extended cameo), but later in the series we find out that Sybil Trelawney does play an important part in Harry Potter's life. Also appearing in cameo roles are formidable actresses Maggie Smith and Julie Christie (fresh from her cameo in Troy).
But the movie belongs to the three stalwarts, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, reprising their well-loved roles as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Growing into adolescence along with their characters, these three are now more comfortable in their skins and it really shows on the screen. Harry is now more assertive; Hermione is smart as ever--and less know-it-all; and dear Ron is still steady best-friend-slash-comic-relief. There are some almost-kilig moments which we fans watch with a knowing smile because we are eagerly anticipating that story. The rapport between the three is also quite remarkable, although it must be noted that it seems that the Harry-Ron friendship seems to be less evident in this film than in previous films. No matter--the film does not suffer much for it.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, not much a sequel but an installment, surpasses the first two films in that it is more tightly-knit, more engrossing and generally better-made. You barely notice that two hours have passed. It is a fast-paced, visually rich and entertaining film that, although edited mercilessly, evokes the spirit of its source novel--adolescence, confusion, fear, searching for truth, twists and turns, and the comfort of good friends. As I maintain that Prioner of Azkaban was the best story among the first five novels, so I agree that so far, this is the best film in the series. Here's hoping that Mike Newell (he who directed Four Weddings and a Funeral) will continue the tradition of good storytelling.
Worth the PhP200 at Mile Long; maybe even twice. Will definitely get the DVD. Best to have a post-game discussion with fellow Harry Potter fanatic sister.