Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favourite books of the brilliant series by JK Rowling. However, I didn't see the film when it first came out in 2004. I'm not a fan of cinema, and I'm easily scared. The thought of seeing dementors on the big screen was enough to put me off entirely.
However we picked up the DVD cheaply a couple of years ago, and decided to collect the whole series. We watched 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' in April, and 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' just a few weeks ago. A teenage friend pointed out that on-screen dementors could not possibly more scary than those of the imagination, and I decided she was probably right.
So, in a free evening, we sat down to watch 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'. The story starts with Harry getting into trouble, yet again, at his awful relatives' home. He becomes angry when they make rude remarks about his parents, and ends up walking out of the house dragging his school trunk. He's picked up by the 'Night Bus' and taken - after a somewhat hair-raising ride - to Diagon Alley, where he is reunited with his friends... and also warned about an escaped and dangerous convict, Sirius Black.
Three main teenage cast are superb in this film. I was particularly impressed with Rupert Grint as Ron, but all three really do carry this story forward, with excellent on-screen chemistry as they begin to mature in their roles.
Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine) has a bigger role in this film, and is great too. He plays the gentle giant to perfection, and I can't now think of Hagrid as being anyone else. Snape (Alan Rickman) is spookily nasty too.
Professor Lupin, a new teacher in this book, was a bit of a surprise at first. David Thewlis is excellent in the role, but does not look or behave at all how I had imagined him. Still, I liked him very much by the end. Professor Trelawney, is played in an over-the-top way by Emma Thompson; I got the impression from the books that JK Rowling didn't like her or her subject much, and she's done well, suitably over-dramatic and unbelievable.
The special effects are excellent, smooth and highly professional. The hippogriff seemed particularly realistic, and the various flights and other effects were very well done. The dementors were suitably unpleasant, but thankfully not quite the nightmares I had imagined. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black was exactly how I expected him to be, at first, even if the later scenes were a little too fast and didn't quite work.
My only problem with the casting was Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic. I spent most of his scenes trying to remember who on earth he was, and only later realised that he is, of course, Siegfried Farnon from the 'All Creatures Great and Small' series. He not only looked like him, but behaved like him.
This film was certainly worth watching, and I enjoyed it as part of the series.
However, this was a much more visual film than either of the first two. There seemed to be huge swathes of the book left out; it's probably a good thing that I haven't read it for several years, as I'm not currently familiar with all the details of the book, so was able to watch the film in its own merit.
But it was disturbing that there was so little dialogue, and that the film felt very short. Despite this there were rather tediously over-long visual scenes of (for instance) Harry flying on the hippogriff, or Quidditch games, which added nothing to the storyline.
Some critics have said that this film was 'darker' than the first two; perhaps it is, but then so is the book. I didn't have a problem with that. But I would have preferred more action and speech and considerably less of the visual side. Had I not been aware of the overall plot, I'm not sure I would have followed it.
Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews