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Darker, scarier ‘Potter’ is the best of the series

Molly Griffin | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Adolescence isn’t easy, particularly if you’re Harry Potter. Not only does the young wizard experience the feelings of angst and embarrassment that all teenagers face, but he is also hunted by an escaped murderer, followed by a group of soul-sucking wraiths known as Dementors, finds a werewolf on the grounds of his school and has some experience with time travel. The third installment of the internationally popular series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” finds the appropriately darker tone and gothic sensibility that was present in the books but missing in the earlier movies, thanks in part to an edgy new director, Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mamá También”). This “Harry Potter” proves to be the best so far in the series. The actors continue to grow into the roles and display their experience and growth in this latest installment. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” also benefits from a solid screenplay that dares to stray slightly from J.K. Rowling’s novel. The film opens with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) discovering that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) escaped from Azkaban prison, and is coming after him. He and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have to deal with finding Black, as well as the mysterious werewolf that has been spotted around the Hogwarts school grounds. On top of juggling the usual schoolwork, the trio also finds themselves facing the menace of the Dementors, the soul-sucking Azkaban guards who prowl Hogwarts searching for Black. The plots intertwine at the end, and all is resolved with a little help from Hermione’s newfound means of time travel.The third film suffers from what seems to be the curse of all the “Harry Potter” films, which is being unnecessarily long and slow moving. But the writers do a much better job with adjusting the plot for the big screen. They are less obsessively faithful to the original text and help translate a difficult plot effectively to the screen. The DVD for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” like the two films before, is definitely aimed at a younger audience. The first disc includes the movie, a cast list, trailers from all three of the movies, scene selections and subtitles. The second disc is all extras, including deleted scenes, commentary from various members of the cast and crew, a memory game, 360-degree tours of various sets from the movie and a few “making-of” featurettes. There is no audio commentary or full-length documentary because of the emphasis on attracting younger viewers. The sound for the DVD is Dolby 5.1, and it is effectively used for the subtle background noises, like the wind whipping through hallways and distant howling, which adds to the darker atmosphere that the film strives to create. The video quality is good, and the dark tones, like blues and blacks, turn out especially well. The previous two “Harry Potter” films came in cardboard fold-out cases, while this one is in a typical DVD hard case. This decision makes sense because it is more durable and streamlined. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is definitely not a perfect movie, but it is the best so far in the series. It finally captured the darker tone of the books and used it effectively to parallel Harry’s transition into adolescence. Hopefully, the “Harry Potter” films will continue to improve with each successive film and find that intangible quality that makes the books so appealing.