There are only a few (three) absolute truths in this world: girls just want to have fun, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and the book is better than the movie.
When the movie comes close to capturing the power of the book, it's truly magical. The first two Harry Potter movies were about as magical as Euro Disney. Sure, they were harmless fun, but the films never portrayed the imagination or the edge of author J.K. Rowling's world.
With "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") finds a way to bring the world of the book to the big screen. Though not a perfect film, Cuaron's movie infuses moods, motives and madness to the series. He leaves out the less pertinent information from the book and keeps the story moving the way a good film should.
In this edition of "Potter," Harry finds himself in his third year at Hogwarts. Sirius Black, a vicious murderer, has escaped from Azkaban prison and is supposedly after Harry. In order to protect the school from Black, dementors are allowed to patrol the perimeter. These ghost-like Azkaban guards feast on pain, and Harry is deeply affected by them since he's dealt with a great deal of pain (murdered parents, Voldemort clashes and Draco Malfoy).
This year, there's a new class, Divination, and a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor Lupin. To top it all off, Harry, Ron and Hermione are beginning their awkward trips through puberty.
The film also features a fantastic stormy quidditch match, a magical map of the school grounds and the first trip to Hogsmeade, a small shopping mall of a village near Hogwarts.
Cuaron is able to keep these joyful tidbits from the book but make the film dark and mature. The dementors bring a lot evil into Hogwarts and the film has a cold, haunting feel throughout.
New cinematographer Michael Seresin helps with that, providing spectacular shots of Hogwarts and several "wow" moments as the camera moves through the castle on long takes.
Almost everything in the film has a fresh sensibility, and even the actors seem reborn. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) all show great progression in their roles.
Gary Oldman and David Thewlis add some expertise to the mix as Black and Lupin, respectively. Alan Rickman as Professor Snape is, as usual, on top of his game.
This film may leave out a great deal, but comes the closest to doing justice to the brilliance of the series. The muggles who haven't yet read these books might finally understand what all the fuss is about.