Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

After the horrendous Sorcerer’s Stone, I stayed away from Chamber of Secrets. Chris Columbus is a hack of the lowest order and the best thing he did was to waive his directing duties for the third Harry Potter film and hand them off to Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón is one of my favorite directors of the past ten years: He can be sardonic and whimsical at once, and that heady mix comes through in his visual flair.

The first hour and a half of Azkaban are absolutely wonderful: beautifully, almost lyrically paced, with Cuarón’s gift for visual textures, color tones and camerawork filling the screen. Early on, Cuarón style is like Terry Gilliam’s from Time Bandits–employing that dirty yellow-and-brown color combo to get at the doldrums of British middle-class life. Then, once the action flies off into the fantasyland of Hogwarts, Cuarón’s imagery delights again and again. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint are really growing into their roles, and all consistently engaging and likeable heroes. In the movie’s final hour or so, however, it’s hijacked by the mechanics of Steve Klowes’ script. Cuarón ditches the fun and gets bogged down in perfunctory plotting that doesn’t go anywhere, and limps towards an ill-developed finale.

Azkaban takes us a notch forward in Harry’s development, but, had the story been less intrusive and snarled, it might not have spoiled Cuarón’s and our fun. Cuarón is a cinematic magician, whether it’s the spontaneous antics of Y Tu Mama Tambien or the storybook joys of A Little Princess. The guy can do no wrong.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Steven Kloves
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson

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