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Harry, Some Prisoner, Here Today

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban arrives in U.S. theaters today, after doing boffo biz in Europe this week:

    The new Harry Potter film has broken a record set by its predecessor, The Chamber of Secrets, by taking £11.5m in three days at the UK box office.

    The Chamber of Secrets took £10.8m in its opening weekend in 2002 but was beaten by The Prisoner Of Azkaban, which opened in the UK on Monday.

    The third film based on Harry Potter books, it opens in the US on Friday.

    According to website Screen Daily, the Prisoner of Azkaban made £5.03m on the first day of its UK release.

    And it is estimated to have taken £14.3m in its first four days of release.

    ….The movie drew an estimated 510,000 admissions nationwide on its French opening day, said film giant Warner Bros.

    This compares with 237,146 French preview admissions and 397,174 first-day admissions for Chamber Of Secrets in 2002. [BBC]

It is predicted to break records here as well:

    All aboard for the train to Hogwarts. Hollywood has cleared the tracks of major film debuts on Friday to make way for the latest “Harry Potter” film and put it on an express route to a No. 1 finish at box offices.

    ….It follows two straight weeks of box office records for animated “Shrek 2” and disaster flick “The Day After Tomorrow,” but film industry experts expect little fatigue from movie fans as this new “Potter” has received solid reviews.

    “‘Harry Potter’ is a brand name and one of most successful (film) franchises of all time,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Los Angeles box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Inc. “People are really buzzing about this one.”

    ….In its debut weekend in Nov. 2001, the first “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” earned $90.3 million. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” took in about $88.4 million its first weekend a year later, according to Exhibitor Relations.

    Dergarabedian reckons a hurdle for “Prisoner of Azkaban” to overcome is the shift to summer where competition is tight, but he believes the new “Potter” will beat last year’s $62 million debut for “The Hulk,” which is the record for a June opening.

    “I fully anticipate that record will fall,” he said.

    A good start will put it on a fast track to join the Top 10 all-time hits. “Sorcerer’s Stone” is No. 3 with $972.4 million, and “Chamber of Secrets” is No. 7 at $876.8 million. [Reuters]

Reviews are excellent: Christy Lemire of AP digs it:

    “Azkaban” has some wondrous moments, too. A scene in which Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) takes a ride on a hippogriff – a flying animal that’s half horse, half eagle – has a soaring, I’m-the-king-of-the-world energy about it, only without the bombastic Celine Dion music.

    The supporting cast is more fabulous than ever. Besides the returning actors – including Alan Rickman as the snippy Professor Snape and Robbie Coltrane as the lovable giant Hagrid – there are some wonderful additions.

    David Thewlis plays the supportive Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who helps Harry face his fears, and Emma Thompson is a scene stealer as a hippie-chick divination professor, a showy role that’s a great contrast with the prim parts for which she’s best known. As the mysterious, misunderstood Sirius Black, Gary Oldman infuses his character with great heart and sympathy.

    (Michael Gambon takes over seamlessly as Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, the role Richard Harris played until his death in 2002.)

    Most importantly, Radcliffe and the young actors who co-star as Harry’s pals are more confident than ever. Radcliffe, who was a likable if slightly goofy kid in the first two movies, has grown into a charismatic (and cute) 14-year-old.

    Emma Watson, as Harry’s bossy buddy Hermione, has developed into a strong, beautiful young woman. And as Harry’s best friend Ron, Rupert Grint shows an improving sense of humor and timing.

    Purists may balk that this is an art-house version of Harry Potter – and with any revered pop culture phenomenon, fans are likely to get riled about something. But “Azkaban” is by far the meatiest, most magical film in the series thus far.

Thomas Chau in Cinema Confidential:

    While the third film is a bit more convoluted and complex compared to the previous two, it is less a popcorn-chomping visual spectacle and more of a story-driven movie that stands on its own. The first Harry Potter was nothing more than an introduction to the characters and the world, while the second one was a story for the kids. “The Prisoner of Azkaban” stands on its own, as it’s the first Harry Potter story that goes down that dark but serious path. Rowling’s world is a fun one, filled with mystical feats and creatures, with relevant issues and messages to be heard, and Cuaron has done the best job of bringing out Rowling’s vision onto the big screen. Simply stated: it’s fantasy storytelling at its best.

Julie Washington in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

    As Harry, Hermione and Ron would say, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is simply brilliant.

    Director Alfonso Cuaron, who is new to the Potter films, and screenplay writer Steve Kloves asserted their independence in making this film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s book. Some touches were added, some scenes from the book were dropped, and others were moved around. And it all works superbly.

    ….This is the most successful imagining of a Harry Potter book, precisely because it is the least slavish to the book. Film and literature are two very different storytelling media. Simply filming the books almost page for page, which was director Chris Columbus’ approach in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” quiets the purists but results in a movie that isn’t as good as it could have been.

    Some fans will complain that the “Azkaban” script omits some important points from the book, but it’s already over two hours long.

    It doesn’t take Professor Trelawney’s crystal ball to foresee that Potter fans will embrace “Azkaban” as the best film adaptation thus far, and the one that future Harry Potter movies will strive to match.

A.O. Scott in the NY Times:

    “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” – which opens nationwide tomorrow, with some midnight showings tonight – is the best of J. K. Rowling’s books so far. It balances the narrative economy of the first two with the thematic depth and imaginative ambition of its ungainly sequels. And Mr. Cuarón’s adaptation, from a screenplay by Steve Kloves, more than does it justice.

    This is surely the most interesting of the three Potter movies, in part because it is the first one that actually looks and feels like a movie, rather than a staged reading with special effects. “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets,” both directed with literal-minded competence by Chris Columbus (who has stayed on as a producer) may have been more faithful to Ms. Rowling’s text, but “Azkaban” attempts, and for the most part achieves, a trickier sort of translation. This film may disappoint some dogmatic Old Hogwartsians: a few plot points have been sacrificed, and Mr. Cuarón does not seem to care much for Quidditch. But it more than compensates for these lapses with its emotional force and visual panache.

    Mr. Cuaron’s wizard world, shot by the gifted New Zealand-born cinematographer Michael Seresin, is grainier and grimier than Mr. Columbus’s. It feels at once more dangerous, more thoroughly enchanted and more real. While the two first episodes took place mostly in the corridors and classrooms of Hogwarts, this one lingers in the shadowy forests and damp meadows outside the school walls, a setting that emphasizes Mr. Cuarón’s knack for evoking the haunting, sensual power of the natural world.

Most importantly, our own Scott Pepper is most pleased:

    On the whole, this is Cuaron’s film through and through. By taking a realistic approach to fantastic material and targeting a more adult audience, the director has made the franchise his own. The new approach to Rowling’s work is a welcome one after two trifling attempts by Columbus. Though Cuaron will not be around for the fourth film (Mike Newell has that honor), the incredibly dark and depressing Book Five could be right up his alley.

    Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban is both a continuation of the departure. Fans who enjoyed the first two movies will find more to love here, and those who found them childish will welcome the more serious approach.

    Two final recommendations: First, if you have not read the book, be sure to either do so ahead of time or go with someone who can explain it to you afterward. Secondly, if there is an IMAX theater showing the large screen version of the film anywhere near you, see it there. You won’t regret it.

More on the new Potter film here.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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