Rating: 4/4 (Alfonso creates a lush dark dream onscreen. Easily the best Potter movie yet. Must watch!)
From the creative genius of Alfonso Cuarón, a virtual no-name in blockbuster Hollywood comes Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which easily trumps the earlier 2 movies and sets the bar extremely high for any later Harry Potter movie. While Chris Columbus played safe by sticking to the book plot and creating very child-safe movies (which were starting to get boring), his successor bravely breaks that trend by delivering a lush, creatively brilliant piece. What Alfonso has created is a dreamy tale of magic, which while placating the rabid Potter-kid-fans, will take the adults on a spectacular ride of enthrallment. Alfonso has left his distinctive stamp on the movie, with its looks, feels and sounds, all distancing it from the earlier candy-color works, like white from black. The magical locations and creatures look more dirty, real, living and breathing. Scratch them and they will bleed! Potter fans will notice how the locations around Hogwarts, especially Hagrid's home have changed for the better. They are far more real, mysterious, creepy and thrilling. Astute movie watchers will lick up the details added into every scene with painstaking care, like the paintings surrounding the Fat Lady, or the luscious snow-filled scenes in Hogsmeade. The icing on the cake is how the huge swinging pendulum and the clockworks are weaved into the movie, showing that in this movie/book the biggest protagonist is Time itself.
I cannot heap enough praise on Alfonso and his cinematographer Michael Seresin for their work in this movie. Alfonso has dispensed with the by-the-book wizard dresses of the earlier movies, and has dressed his students in modern T-shirt, jeans and short skirts under their robes. Harry, Ron and Hermione, all stand out here from the earlier movies with their puberty in full blast. Especially Hermione who is endearing with her cute perkiness. Daniel Radcliffe fails spectacularly to act in emotional scenes, giving expressionless blank looks, but Emma Watson (Hermione), Alan Rickman (Snape) and David Thewlis (Lupin) easily fill that lacunae with their stylish acting. Alfonso has made several plot changes from the book and has cut out major portions of it. Some Potter fans might despise this, but I loved it! Who wants to sit through 2 full Quidditch matches anyway! I can go on and on about this movie. Let me just say that this is easily the best Harry Potter movie yet!