The Dread of Azkaban
"The Prisoner of Azkaban" is the first true Harry Potter movie -- the first to capture not only the books' sense of longing, but their understanding of the way magic underlies the mundane, instead of just prancing fancifully at a far remove from it. In the spirit of a true romantic, Cuarón knows that the secret to great fantasy is naturalism.
This is heartening to hear, in so many ways. While my wife loves the first two movies (and the books as well) I've always felt that the films lacked a certain quality; something indistinct and hard to grasp but something decidedly absent. I blame Chris Columbus for this. He's simply a mediocre director, hamstrung more than he usually is by the rabid devotion to Rawling's books that the fans, the studio and Rawling herself demand.
I was talking about this with my friend, Jenny, who likewise, loves the books but was even more disappointed in the films than I was (and to be honest, they are watchable, just not as enjoyable as they should have been). Jenny has been, for the past week, going back and forth between excitement and dread about this movie. Excitement, because every teaser and trailer make sit look like it will be fantastic, in every sense of the word. Dread, because she felt the same about the other two movies and was let down by hammy acting from child stars and a plodding pace.
But as the reviewer, Stephanie Zacharek, points out, Cuarón knows how to get child actors to actually act well, instead of just pretend. He also has a sense of subtlety and nuance that Columbus lacks (his other films include Y tu Mama Tambien, Great Expectations, and A Little Princess).
Of course, the major fear of any fan of a book is that the movie will not just fall short of the story (it usually does, except in the case of Dracula and Frankenstein, the only two movies to far surpass the books that inspired them) but will in fact ruin the story, forever replacing the great images inside the head of the reader with more Hollywood cotton candy and decaying fluff. It remains to be seen if this will happen to Azkaban, which by all accounts is the favorite of the Harry Potter books among just about everyone I've talked to. Given what we've seen so far and what the reviewers have said, I don't think we have to worry. Too much.