Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Bomb Rating: 

Most people who go see this film will not be aware that the Harry Potter series now has a new director. Chris Columbus directed the first and second movies and, in addition to discovering America, he helmed nauseating pictures like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Home Alone." The man directing "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," Alfonso Cuar�n, is a Mexican director best known for a film called "Y Tu Mamá También," an NC-17 pic about two young kids who spend a lot of time having sex with an experienced older woman.

Giving Cuarón creative control of the Harry Potter franchise is like giving David Fincher the reins to "Barney." The first time we see Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), it's clear things are different. They're 13 now. Things are quite a bit darker and there's some developing sexual tension between Hermione and Ron. Given Cuaroacute;n's filmography, you're just cringing in anticipation of the scene where Hermione turns to Ron and asks, "Is that your wand or are you just happy to see me?"

The novelty of the boy wizard has worn off and now Harry is faced with the pressures of being the most famous wizard in the world, growing up, and the threat of Sirius Black's (Gary Oldman) escape from Azkaban prison. Cuaroacute;n emphasizes this with more dark tones than a KISS concert. Surprised parents will probably need to cover their children's ears when nasty Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) snaps the word "bitch"; they'll also need to explain that while Harry's act of making her inflate like a balloon and float away is likely to result in a fatal fall back to Earth, it's okay because Harry Potter did it and Aunt Marge is just a Muggle.

In other words, this is the Harry Potter story where things begin to turn nasty. Not only is Harry faced with new challenges, like the Azkaban prison guards and the Dementors, but he's quickly turning into that most feared of creatures: the whiny adolescent. Making matters worse is that Harry is a whiny, British adolescent. You just want to slap Harry in the face and skip to the movie where he's nineteen and not such an annoying pain in the ass.

Another huge change in the film is the character of the Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, who's now played by Michael Gambon since the previous Dumbledore, Richard Harris, died. Remember when George Lazenby replaced Sean Connery as James Bond? Ian Fleming fans across the world threw themselves off buildings. Gambon produces much the same impulse here, in part because when a film franchise so blithely replaces one actor with another, there's a dehumanizing effect that tears a piece of soul out of us all.

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