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Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with yet more gushings over Alfonso Cuaron's HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.

From the opening WB logo you can tell that you're in for a different Harry Potter film. When even the giant two letters have a dark atmosphere about them, you know they're on the right track. And that magical, yet dark tone fills the whole movie, even in the more light-hearted sequences.

As a fan of the books, I can say that while AZKABAN isn't the absolute perfect adaptation, it's by far the one film of the series that has hit closest to the bullseye. Cuaron's gift in directing actors is a large, large part of the success of the film. His standards as far as CGI effects are higher than Columbus' ever was and that makes for a much more realistic world. His eye for location is perfect as well, with Hogwarts now in a much more eye-pleasing locale... where the beauty of the castle is actually surpassed by the beauty of the surrounding mountains, lakes and woodlands.

This is also Steve Kloves' best work so far in adapting the series to screenplay. Unlike SORCERER'S STONE most of the character from the book is able to fit in the story, as well as the most important details. The constant threat of both Sirius Black, the Grimm and the Dementors is like a pillow over the audience's face... not quite CUCKOO'S NEST tight, yet the pressure is there, getting tighter every minute.

The cast also works well... I'm no fan of David Thewlis and was very skeptical of him being able to pull off the important role of Remus Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and one of my favorite characters of the series. I had imagined someone more along the lines of Ewan McGregor... a person with genuine kindness in their eyes, but a dark side as well... not the slimy bastard that Thewlis is most known for.

I was wrong. Thewlis steals this role and makes it his. His quiet kindness is note-perfect, his fear of himself is real. Thewlis was the big surprise of the movie for me. I knew Gary Oldman was going to rule the world as Sirius Black and he does. No surprise there, but a nice bit of relief, that began the second I heard of Oldman being cast in the role, finally realized on the screen.

The kids are also at the top of their game. Emma Watson has made Hermione all her own and is growing with the role, as are Rupert Grint as Ron and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry. The reason this film series was so exciting to me was the possibility of seeing a complete series with the same main cast from film one to the finale and so far it's paying off. These three kids embody the characters and give them a sense of authenticity because they've been with them, grown with them, since the beginning. I hope WB is smart enough to pay these kids whatever they want to keep them in these roles for the last few movies.

The faculty of Hogwarts takes a major backseat in this film, with the exception of Lupin, which means not nearly enough Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith or even Michael Gambon's Dumbledore. I like the energy of Gambon's Dumbledore, though I miss Richard Harris' eyes. The only problem the way Harris played him was that Dumbledore always felt weak because Harris himself wasn't at full steam. Gambon's Dumbledore doesn't feel weak at all, but there is something missing that I can't quite put my finger on... Maybe it's a sense of kindness... It certainly isn't the humor of the character. We get that, especially toward the end of the movie. Hrmm...

The effects are top notch, the best of the series. The Whomping Willow rules the earth. The Dementors are amazing. The folks at ILM and the dozens of smaller effects houses that helped shoulder the burden did an amazing job at realizing these horrendous creatures without copying Ringwraiths. These are perfect villains. The Hippogriff is (pardon the language) fucking amazing. I had to use the F-word because it is that perfect. This animal feels like it has a personality and reality. I was never pulled out of believing in this animal's existence due to quality of effects, quality of design or characterization. I WANT ONE! The scenes of Harry riding Buckbeak are exhilarating and I want to fly, too!!! I haven't felt this much childhood glee in seeing a magical friend that can fly since I wanted to be Bastian flying through the clouds with Falcor in NEVERENDING STORY.

While the werewolf in the film is probably the most cartoony looking of the CG, the design is actually very effective and the transformation painful. But the Grimm... my God did they nail that design. Evil-looking, threatening and really damn cool... The light reflection in its eyes... too creepy!!!

I mentioned above that this isn't a note perfect adaptation. There are a few things I miss, like more building up Hermione's cat (Crookshanks) Vs. Ron's rat, etc... But they do enough of that to make the film work... I miss Nearly Headless Nick... There's really only one thing that I felt was important that they never included and that was the back story behind the Marauder's Map. The audience is never told about Moony, Padfoot, Wormtail and Prongs, and it's not revealed what the Patronus stag is. I think that's pretty important to the story, but in the end if it doesn't bother the people who haven't read the book, then it doesn't bother me.

The only other negative I can think of is the true climax of the film is 3/4ths into it and that takes away a little bit from the finale. The film really comes to a head in the Shrieking Shack, but that's more of a fault in Rowling's original structure than of the film. They pulled off the Shrieking Shack scene, which in the book is page after page after page of exposition, fantastically. The information that we need is delivered quickly and naturally.

In the end, this film is what all the Harry Potter films should aspire to be. The magic is captured, the characters are faithfully realized and the acting is top notch. The script is as tight as it could be without losing important threads from the books. I have faith in Mike Newell bringing GOBLET OF FIRE together... If he doesn't, he better change his name and run for the hills... I know some Potter fans that will want blood if this particular book isn't pulled off, especially after seeing that the series is headed in the correct direction!

That's it from me, squirts! Go, enjoy Pottermania. This movie is going to make boat-loads of money and it deserves every penny. I'll be back later with some interesting tidbits. Until then, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.


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