He learns from Mr Weasley that a wizard by the name of Sirius Black, a notorious mass murderer, has escaped from Azkaban, the wizarding prison. Apparently he was a disciple of Voldemort and blames Harry for his master’s demise. He is now on the hunt for Harry, with the desire to kill him in order to facilitate Voldemort’s return to full power. Dark creatures called Dementors, who guard the prison, are searching everywhere for him. Harry is told not to go looking for Black. Why would he go looking for someone who wants to kill him? It seems there is more to Sirius Black than meets the eye...
This is film number three out of eight (the last book is split into two films) and it’s notable as the point where things take a slightly darker turn. It breaks away from the conventions of the first two and tells a more interesting story. The characters also have a lot more depth, Sirius Black and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, Remus Lupin in particular. The first two films were very faithful but rather unexciting, the director seemed afraid to attempt to make his own mark on the films. This time around they made the brave decision to choose Alfonso Cuaron, director of Y Tu Mamá También. This decision definitely pays off; he adds an aspect of realism to the film, which may seem strange for a fantasy but it works really well. The look is darker and grainier and there is a naturalistic feel to it that makes all the fantasy elements more believable, and paradoxically, more fantastic. It is a film that works on its own but also won’t disappoint the legions of Potter fans.
The plot of the film is rather murky at times and there are moments when more explanation would have been beneficial to those who haven’t read the book. It fails to fully explain the friendship between Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and Harry’s Dad, James Potter. It also doesn’t enlighten audiences that these four were the creators of the Marauder’s Map: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs or that three of the friends became Animagi (able to turn into animals) in order to look out for Lupin. These small details should have been clarified in order for viewers to get a better idea of certain character’s relationships and motivations.
This film, along with the others in the series, is a real showcase for the cream of British acting talent. There are fine performances from Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon (taking over from Richard Harris as Dumbledore). The three leads have matured and developed and look much more comfortable in their roles. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black is an inspired piece of casting. Famed for playing madmen and bad guys, more recently he has come to portray guardian figures for heroes such as in the new Batman films. Along with David Thewlis as Professor Lupin who also does an excellent job, he delivers a character with shadowy complexity which results in a credible and convincing performance. Both actors, playing characters who are firm fan favourites, excel during moments of serious emotion as well as those of good humour.
The end of the film is rather poignant and makes way for the future films, which continue to get even darker. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite in the series. It has an interesting story, a skilful director, great characters, engaging actors, emotion, humour, secrets, twists, and even a bit of time-travel thrown in for good measure.