Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            It just keeps getting better.  “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is a feast of visual invention, a grand delivery of a rollicking good book to the screen.  Watch for the blue bus that shrinks in order to pass between two big red ones – and the Hogwarts stairway whose portraits come to life.  Enjoy the “noble art of Divination” as practiced by Emma Thompson, the shrieking shack, the magic of the wands – all of it unfolding in the sublime landscape that surrounds the now renowned school of wizardry. 

            Friendship is the core of the movie – betrayal and loyalty, the measure of the stuff.  This in turn is tested in some fine performances by some of England’s best:  Michael Gambon trying gamely to fill the shoes of Richard Harris as Dumbledore, David Thewlis, creating a wonderfully loopy Professor Lupin, Alan Rickman as the ominous Snape, and the endearing Timothy Spall as a monstrous Peter Pettigrew.  The strong presence of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black stirs the pot. 

And then we have Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint.  They started together in movie #1 as young innocents, and here they are, quite wise and wonderful at thirteen.  Their ability to grow with the roles as they grow up themselves is one of the things we think about as we watch.  The three actors have grown in confidence, and their faces have become more chiseled, more adult.  These kids seem like friends who have known each other for a long while, as indeed they have.  It is J.K. Rowling’s extraordinary invention that her characters begin at the beginning in Hogwarts, grow through their four years there, probably will move on to college, and who knows what after that.  They are adolescents now, and in just a few symbolic minutes, they will be adults.   

And then our minds skip to the author.  It is impossible not to marvel at Ms. Rowling who wrote her first book on a yellow pad in a café accompanied by her baby in a stroller.  She is now richer than the queen, and deserves to be.  She has created not just a phenomenon, but an entire world that has captured readers of all generations.  Hers is an imagination that conjures delight, fear, suspense, and appreciation and takes all of us along for the ride. 


There is a lot of honesty here, and no feeling that Rowling’s visions are diminished by the filmmakers.  They are instead, enhanced.  Chris Columbus did well by the first two when the public clamored for literal renditions;  Director Alfonso Cuaron has made this one in all shades of emotional light and dark; and it is probable that Mike Newell, who will direct the next book, will also bring a light heart to the task.  Harry Potter has become a team effort in the best of ways, but the big salute still goes to J.K. Rowling whose mind continues to turn in magical leaps. 


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