The third episode of the Harry Potter saga suffers from a bit of sequel-itus. Pottermania seems to have died down since the opening of the first movie three years ago. But still, Prisoner of Azkaban is packing the cineplexes with school-age children towing parents. Once in the seats, this year’s Potter plays out like most sequels: It attempts to substitute new-and-improved, bigger-and-better effects into a rather familiar plot.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the movie that kicked off the series, verged on becoming a classic and set the basic mold for the pictures that followed. It featured the journey of a kid from pathetic orphan to young hero — a plot that underlies many a fairy tale and films from The Wizard of Oz to Annie to Star Wars. Sorcerer’s Stone vividly brought to life author J.K. Rowling’s tale, from the setting of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the film’s fantastic animals and thrill rides.
On the surface, Prisoner of Azkaban mostly ups the special effects ante with an attention to detail that strives to the level of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Potter and his magical classmates and buddies must triumph over, or at least tame, the latest additions to Hogwart’s bestiary. They must hold on for dear life as spectacular phantasms hurtle them through the movie.
But while the zooming, soaring and whipping about pleased the Chuck E. Cheese crowd, it left some of us adults snoozing in our seats for a butt-numbing two hours plus. Prisoner of Azkaban lacks the depth that those of us old enough to drive may have enjoyed in the earlier Potter installments. Then, to make matters worse, a rapid-fire series of plot twists near the end will confuse even some adults.
With a cast that includes British stars and Potter veterans like Julie Walters, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, the titular prisoner of Azkaban, the acting is mostly first rate. But Oldman appears only as an animated wanted poster until the movie’s finale when he enters perhaps too little and too late.
My suggestion? Parents, let the kids ride this supernatural rollercoaster by themselves while you take in something more geared for adults.
Playing at the Henry Ford IMAX Theatre, located at 20900 Oakwood Blvd. at Village Road, Dearborn. Call 313-982-6124 for showtimes.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].