'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'
(Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman / PG / 98 mins / Warner Bros.)
Overview: This third installment of the 'Potter' series has Harry beginning his third year at Hogwarts. Sirius Black — an escaped convict from the prison of Azkaban — is on the loose, and there's only one thing he wants: Harry. But why?
Verdict: Everyone's favourite wizard is back in 'The Prisoner Of Azkaban' - and, trust me, this movie is simply spellbinding! The third instalment in the Harry Potter series is a darker and more eerie affair than before, as we discover from the opening shots of grim Azkaban prison. Here, murderer Sirius Black - a supporter of evil Lord Voldermort (the villain who killed Harry's parents) - makes a daring bid for freedom, determined to wreak revenge upon Harry. The young wizard, meanwhile, is preparing for another long summer with his nasty relatives, the Dursleys, and dreaming of life back at magical Hogwarts. But audiences will soon see that Harry is a very different boy to the one we saw in previous films. Now 13, he's become increasingly frustrated at life outside of school and is determined to find out more about his mysterious past. His anger and confusion is a constant theme of the film and is brilliantly played by a more mature Daniel Radcliffe. Fed up with his mean relations, Harry escapes to London on the hilarious Knight Bus, a special transport service for stranded witches or wizards. This huge purple double-decker vehicle whizzes and whooshes towards the magical Leaky Cauldron pub where Harry meets up with schoolpals Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson). The pair have grown up in real life and so have their characters, becoming more outspoken and willing to defend Harry whatever the cost. Hermione in particular is more than capable of standing up for herself and proves it during a row with arch-enemy Draco Malfoy. Harry's joy at the reunion is short-lived though. During a terrifying train journey to Hogwarts, someone - or something - boards the express, blacking out the lights and leaving Harry and his pals petrified. As a scaly hand creeps slowly into the carriage, we're introduced to the Dementors, the Azkaban guards sent to search for Black. They destroy their enemies by literally sucking the life out of them and have been brilliantly brought to life by the film's director Alfonso Cuaron, a newcomer to the Potter series. In fact, he's done such a good job at making them ultra scary, they may be a bit too frightening for younger Potter fans. Although 'The Prisoner Of Azkaban' lacks the special effects that characterised the first two movies - like the fabulous Quidditch scenes - audiences won't be disappointed with the clearer storyline and more developed characters. There's still plenty of on-screen magic like when Harry goes for a ride on the back of a Hippogriff or during his many clashes with the powerful Dementors. New characters include Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) who becomes almost like a big brother to the troubled teenager. Just keep your eyes peeled for a shocking secret of his own that is brilliantly revealed in the film's final scenes. Thewlis joins another "new boy", veteran actor Michael Gambon who replaces Richard Harris as Hogwarts' headmaster Professor Dumbledore. Harris died in 2002 and although he'll be missed, Gambon creates an eccentric and childlike Dumbledore who has more in common with Harry and Ron than with his fellow teachers. But the real highlight of the film is the changing relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione. Thrown together by their determination to protect their friend from Sirius Black, Ron and Hermione become close. If you watch carefully, you'll even see them holding hands and exchanging hugs. But it's Harry and Hermione who carry the bulk of the movie as they race against time to defeat Black. Their clash with the magical Whomping Willow tree will leave viewers on the edge of their seats as the film heads towards a thrilling climax in the creepy Shrieking Shack. Here, Harry learns more about his parents' death and the real story behind Black's escape from Azkaban. If you're a fan of the book, you'll applaud director Alfonso Cuaron for delving deeper into the story without wasting time explaining the Potter universe. But if you're a newcomer to the trilogy, you may find the fast-paced story and lack of background hard to deal with. It is, without a doubt, the strongest movie of the three, giving fans the chance to learn more about Harry and his inner anguish.
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