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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.)

photo caption:
WHERE THERE'S A WILL (AND MAGIC), THERE'S A WAY: Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, left) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) use their newly learned magic skills to travel back in time to save Buckbeak, the half-horse – half-eagle hippogriff, from being executed.
end caption.


"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban": Finally, a Harry Potter Installment Designed for Purists

Review by Kam Williams

Turning a best-selling novel into a movie is never an easy task because of the inherent limits of the latter medium. Invariably, the film adaptation pales in comparison to the images conjured up in the imaginations of those who have enjoyed the original source material.

This challenge becomes especially daunting when tackling anything as imaginative and inventive as Harry Potter, the popular children's book series by J.K. Rowling. It is not unusual for kids to have re-read each book several times by the time the movie version arrives in theaters.

This puts pressure on a director trying to measure up to the expectations of the fans of the book. Chris Columbus did a decent job with the screen versions of the first two Harry Potter books, however, most children left the theaters disappointed by the degree of condensation and by the absence of the sinister air found in the texts.

The problem was that Columbus had previously only directed family comedies like Home Alone 1 & 2, Adventures in Babysitting, Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom, and Only The Lonely. Thus, his interpretations of Harry ended up more in line with formulas that had worked for him in the past.

This time the services of Alfonso Cuaron were retained for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The good news for Potter purists is that the Oscar-nominee (for Y Tu Mama Tambien) has fashioned a faithful adaptation of the 435 page opus, a denser, darker adventure which more closely resembles the winning J.K. Rowling formula than Columbus' attempts.

Daniel Radcliffe reprises the title role as the now 13 year-old wizard-in-training, while Emma Watson and Rupert Grint return as Hermione and Ron, respectively. In fact, most of the principal cast is back, 24 in all, with the exception of the late Richard Harris, who has been replaced as Professor Dumbledore by Michael Gambon. Also among the welcome additions are characters played by Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, and Julie Christie.

As the plot unfolds, Harry, who has been grudgingly spending another summer with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, gets pushed over the edge by an insufferable Aunt Marge, whom he accidentally causes to inflate like a balloon. Rather than wait around to be punished by his Aunt and Uncle, Harry runs away.

He is promptly swept up by a mysterious, triple-decker bus which deposits him at a pub called the Leaky Cauldron where he is met by the Minister of Magic. Instead of being disciplined for his unauthorized use of magic, the boy is informed of the escape from prison of one Sirius Black (Oldman), the man held responsible for the death of his parents. This dangerous wizard is rumored to be out to kill Harry, too.

Against this backdrop, Harry returns for his third year at Hogwarts where he sees that soul-sucking wraiths called Dementors have been stationed to guard against an attempted intrusion by Sirius Black. Plus, there are other new creatures around, such as the half-horse, half-eagle hippogriff. Of course, Harry enlists the assistance of pals Ron and Hermione to help solve the multi-layered mystery.

All the tension builds inexorably towards a showdown with Black. But on the way to the film's resolution, we're treated to enough kid-scary scenarios, filled with a menagerie of menacing and morphing computer-generated special effects, to make the movie worthwhile.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG for frightening images, creature violence, and mild epithets.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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