When Chris Columbus (director: HP1, HP2) announced he would not return to direct Prisoner of Azkaban, it sent shockwaves through the
Potter fan base. "What if the new director screws up the series!!?" and so on.

Well, if Chris Columbus had the choice of directing Azkaban, maybe he should have taken it. Not because Azkaban is a bad film, but because
new director Alfonso Cuaron makes Columbus look like a complete hack.

The first two films were solid, fun adaptations of the popular book series. Azkaban is a complete movie by itself. Cuaron takes the story and
makes it his own, where Columbus was just adapting.

The biggest difference is the darker tone. It is less about Hogwart's School and more about the inner demons of Harry's dark past.

Daniel Radcliffe returns as Harry and gives by far his best performance yet. Potter is not the innocent little kid he was in the first two films.
He is a teenager now and has developed quite a temper. I must say I never thought I would call Harry a badass, but he comes close in this
movie. In fact, the entire film is much more mature, and for my money, much more entertaining.

Cuaron also adds a fantastic visual style to the movie that was lacking in the first two. The scene revealing the dementors on the train is
one of the best examples.

The visual effects are also much improved. The first film had horrendous effects. The second had decent effects. Azkaban has some of the
best effects of the year. ILM and a few other smaller companies really did this one justice.

The score is also quite different from the first two. John Williams trades in many of his brassy, bombastic action cues for more subtle
dramatic themes; and it works brilliantly.

I will say that Azkaban still has few groaningly cheesy moments, but they are few and far between. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
is a great film that will not only satisfy Potter fans, but make new ones.

* * * 1/2
(out of four)
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Written by: Steve Kloves

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint,
David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon

Cinematography by: Michael Seresin

Music by: John Williams

Released: June 4, 2004; 142 Minutes