Why it's always great to see Harry Potter back on the big screen

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (contributed pic)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (contributed pic)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (contributed pic)
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban – 20th anniversary, (PG), (142 mins), Cineworld Cinemas.

The tingle starts the moment the music begins. Nothing says Harry Potter quite as clearly as those opening bars – and the decades instantly melt away. It’s difficult to believe it’s 20 years since number three in the Harry Potter franchise made it onto the big screen, but it’s certainly great to see it back again in all its glory in the cinema where it belongs.

In truth, this was the first of the Harry Potter films that dipped a bit, with a plot lacking just a little in focus and without the momentum which urged the first couple of films so relentlessly forward. But there is still so much happening, so much that is clever and memorable.

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It’s a film which starts strongly with the foul visiting aunt getting her just desserts, pumped up and floating off over suburbia before we head off on the white-knuckle ride of the Knight Bus as Harry starts his circuitous route back to Hogwarts. The context this time is a new menace – the Prisoner of Askaban is on the loose and apparently intent on Harry’s death.

In reality, it’s an hour and a half before we see him, let alone start to unravel all his vast ambiguities – and for a little while it’s all a little convoluted while new characters are introduced and insufficient use is made of the old ones. It’s not a film for those of us who demand plenty of Snape. There’s not a lot of Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Julie Walters either.

But it’s certainly the film where Emma Watson starts to soar as Hermione, becoming an increasingly interesting actress with genuine presence. You sense Daniel Radcliffe lifting his game in response as Harry. Of the central trio, Rupert Grint is possibly a little left behind in the acting stakes in this one.

In the final third, the film pulls together strongly as we start to learn who the Prisoner of the title actually is as slowly more and more of Harry’s parents is tantalisingly divulged. And it all starts to take the most intriguing of turns, explaining along the way Hermione’s sudden and remarkable ability to attend simultaneously every class that’s going.

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It all comes down to mastering time – and it’s mastering time which might just be the key to averting a grisly execution if only Hermione can head back a few hours and ensure that things turn out rather differently, all under the detached and benevolent eye of a Dumbledore prepared to trust in the “greatest witch of her generation.” She’s the one pulling all the strings.

In the great scheme of things, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, once the credits start to roll, hasn’t advanced the great Harry Potter tale by terribly much. Voldemort isn’t yet on the scene; the prisoner comes and goes; and we are pretty much where we were at the start even when we reach the end. But it’s aways good to plunge back into the world of Harry Potter, and even if film number three doesn’t quite live up to films one and two, it’s still a happy reminder that it won’t be so very long before four, five and six etc get their 20th-anniversary big-screen re-releases.