- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) review: Featuring wizards, dementors, hippogriffs, shapeshifters, and seasoned British film and stage stars, Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter franchise entry offers plenty of state-of-the-art CGI but no enchantment.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban synopsis: Hogwarts pupil Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) tries to stay one step ahead of murderous madman and prison escapee Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). Now, are those creepy Dementors friends or foes?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) review: Alfonso Cuarón’s big-budget fantasy offers first-rate production values and state-of-the-art CGI … but no magic
Alfonso Cuarón may have seemed like an odd choice for director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in the hugely successful Harry Potter movie series based on J.K. Rowling’s bestselling fantasy novels.
That is, if one thinks only of Cuarón’s pre-Harry Potter sleeper hit, the François Truffaut-esque 2001 Mexican road comedy-drama Y Tu Mamá También, while ignoring two of the filmmaker’s earlier efforts, the critically acclaimed A Little Princess and the moderately respected Great Expectations.
This time around, working with a reported $130 million budget, state-of-the-art special effects, and a whole array of veteran British film and stage stars, Cuarón surely could do no wrong.
At the box office, that is. For although his Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie adaptation is stylistically superior to Chris Columbus’ previous work in the series, this latest Harry Potter entry is also a major artistic letdown.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban plot: Haphazard adaptation
Admittedly, Steve Kloves’ haphazard screenplay is mostly to blame for the movie’s failings, since those who haven’t read Rowling’s 1999 bestseller will probably be left as dazed and confused as this reviewer was while attempting to follow the myriad twists and turns of the plot – which goes something like this:
After a particularly bizarre family confrontation, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) heads back to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once there, Harry, now a full-fledged bespectacled teen, discovers that the evil Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from the prison of Azkaban after 12 years of incarceration.
Black, everyone explains, was the murderous right-hand man of the dark wizard Voldemort, and sooner than you can say Wingardium Leviosa, the evildoer is roaming the corridors of Hogwarts, apparently seeking to avenge his fallen master by doing away with little Harry.
Tasty teen life essence
Besides having to deal with snotty school bullies, keep up with his Hogwarts duties, and do his utmost to remain alive, Harry must also come to terms with his feelings of loss when he learns that Black was to blame for the death of his parents.
And if that weren’t enough, the troubled teen has to fend off the creepy dementors – Grim Reaper-like creatures that have been called upon to protect the school and whose favorite pastime is to suck away his life essence.
In order to get through this series of ordeals, Harry Potter relies on the moral (and physical) support of his two buddies, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), and on the help of a mysterious teacher, Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), who seems to know more about all that’s going on than he cares to admit.
CGI doesn’t movie magic make
Not helping with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s confusing plot twists, lack of thrills, and juvenile situations are John Williams’ – as usual – bombastic score and the sight of a veritable parade of renowned British actors (Maggie Smith, Julie Christie, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon [replacing the deceased Richard Harris], etc.) wasted in ineffectual roles or minuscule bits.
Even though Alfonso Cuarón may not have been responsible for his movie’s final cut and for all the emoting faces left on the cutting-room floor, he’s certainly to blame for allowing Gary Oldman to devour the scenery with more gusto than the meanest of the dementors, and for letting Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howards End, 1992) give what may well be the worst performance of her distinguished career.
Yet Cuarón’s biggest failure is that he has directed a movie about wizardry and witchcraft whose “magical” moments are comprised solely of visual effects. And no matter how technologically accomplished, CGI is merely what the abbreviation means: Computer generated imagery.
For some Alfonso Cuarón-generated magic, bypass Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and check out instead the second half of Y Tu Mamá También.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) cast & crew
Director: Alfonso Cuarón.
Screenplay: Steve Kloves.
From J.K. Rowling’s 1999 novel.
Daniel Radcliffe … Harry Potter
Rupert Grint … Ron Weasley
Emma Watson … Hermione Granger
David Thewlis … Professor Remus Lupin
Gary Oldman … Sirius Black
Emma Thompson … Professor Sybil Trelawney
Julie Christie … Madame Rosmerta
Richard Griffiths … Uncle Vernon
Julie Walters … Mrs. Molly Weasley
Michael Gambon … Albus Dumbledore
Alan Rickman … Professor Severus Snape
Maggie Smith … Professor Minerva McGonagall
Timothy Spall … Peter Pettigrew
Robbie Coltrane … Rubeus Hagrid
Pam Ferris … Aunt Marge
Fiona Shaw … Aunt Petunia
Geraldine Somerville … Lily Potter
Robert Hardy … Cornelius Fudge
Oliver Phelps … George Weasley
James Phelps … Fred Weasley
Chris Rankin … Percy Weasley
Bonnie Wright … Ginny Weasley
Mark Williams … Mr. Arthur Weasley
Devon Murray … Seamus Finnegan
Warwick Davis … Wizard
David Bradley … Argus Filch
Tom Felton … Draco Malfoy
Dawn French … Fat Lady in Painting
Cinematography: Michael Seresin.
Film Editing: Steven Weisberg.
Music: John Williams.
Producers: David Heyman, Chris Columbus, and Mark Radcliffe.
Production Design: Stuart Craig.
Costume Design: Jany Temime.
Production Companies: Warner Bros. | Heyday Films | 1492 Pictures | P of A Productions.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 141 min.
Country: United Kingdom | United States.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004): CGI Ain’t Magic” notes
Producer Chris Columbus + prior director’s chair contenders
As per various reports, before Alfonso Cuarón landed the job of director, Warner Bros. had approached/considered Cuarón’s fellow Mexican Guillermo del Toro, Marc Forster, M. Night Shyamalan, Callie Khouri, and Kenneth Branagh (who had played Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Academy Awards
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban received two Academy Award nominations: Best Music (John Williams) and Best Visual Effects.
More awards & nominations
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban won several awards, including:
- Visual Effects Society: Best Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture.
- Phoenix Film Critics Society: Best Live Action Family Film.
Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban was nominated for several other awards, including:
- 4 British Academy Awards (BAFTAs): Best British Film, Best Production Design (Stuart Craig), Best Visual Effects (John Richardson, Roger Guyett, Tim Burke, Bill George, Karl Mooney), Best Makeup and Hair (Amanda Knight, Eithne Fennel, Nick Dudman).
In addition, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban won the BAFTAs’ Audience Award.
One of the most commercially successful 2004 releases, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban grossed $249.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $546.1 million elsewhere. Worldwide total: $795.6 million.
Following rereleases (2016, 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022) in several parts of the world, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s cume stands at $797.7 million (domestic: $250.1 million; international: $547.6 million).
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie images: Warner Bros.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004): CGI Ain’t Magic” last updated in December 2023.