Saturday, 1 February 2014

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

"Come now, Harry. The Ministry of Magic doesn't send people to Azkaban for blowing up their aunts!"

Well, this film is different. The kids are all looking older and the more serious tone persists. We have a notorious prison escapee who turns out to be a misunderstood goodie. Politicians are shown to be stupid and cynical- heaven forbid. The plot is resolved by turning back time as per Superman II. There's a new teacher, Professor Lupin, played by Gary Oldman, who is that unusual combination of werewolf and red herring. And we have a new Dumbledore in the person of Michael Gambon.

We begin with a bit of comic relief, though, before the seriousness starts, as Harry blows up his aunt like a balloon. And there's a pub called The Leaky Cauldron where, it seems, Ian Brown from the Stone Roses is randomly seen reading A Brief History of Time.

But it isn't long before Harry is warned that notorious fugitive Sirius Black (I almost wrote Conrad Black!) is after him, we meet Professor Lupin and it's a new school year at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, Snape is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and he isn't very nice, which is as good a time as ever to praise Alan Rickman's performance in these films; he's playing a red herring, and thus gets to play a combination of the two types of character he's best known for playing; the villain and the miserable git. He was born to play this part.

Harry's good at that scary looking Quidfitch thing, apparently, and is promoted to "seeker". But he soon learns the lesson that team sports are not a good idea, especially when it's tipping it down. 

Things get very dark, very soon. There is a magic map. Hagrid's hippogriff is rather harshly executed. And there seems to be a constant theme of memories, and dark memories at that, running through the film. It all goes horribly wrong, but fortunately Hermione is able to turn back time and save both the day and the low flying hippogriff.

I'm not sure about this trend towards darkness and away from fun and quirkiness, but this is nevertheless an exciting and entertaining film, and the acting talent on display is absurdly brilliant.

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