IMAXing out on Harry Potter

Harry Potter, the bespectacled boy wizard with the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead, is visiting us once again. This time the cause of the excitement isn't the release of yet another in J.K. Rowling's celebrated series of novels, but the third film adaptation of Harry's literary adventures.

While the film is playing at many theaters around town, one of the most enjoyable venues is the IMAX auditorium at the Pacific Science Center. The 70-foot-tall screen and 12,000 watts of surround sound present the film with a magnificence that is lacking at the shopping-center cinemas.

Converted for IMAX, the film is literally a "heavy" movie: the film stock alone weighs more than a ton, and to be projected it must be placed on 43 separate reels.

The picture is expected to continue playing at the Pacific Science Center throughout the summer, to end sometime in September. Because other films are also showing on this same screen, it's important to check for viewing times.

In "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), now teenagers, return for their third year at Hogwarts, the school for wizards and witches. There they are forced to face their darkest fears as they confront an escaped prisoner who poses a great threat to Harry, and to contend with the chillingly foreboding Dementors, who are sent there to protect the students at Hogwarts.

The film opens with 13-year-old Harry reluctantly spending yet another summer with his humorless and hateful Muggle (non-magic folk) guardians, the Dursleys. He has been "behaving himself" and not been practicing any magic.

That is, until Uncle Vernon's bullying sister Aunt Marge comes for a visit. Aunt Marge has always been particularly horrible to Harry and this time pushes him so far that he "accidentally" uses some magic that causes her to inflate like a monstrous balloon and float away.

Fearing punishment from his aunt and uncle - and repercussions from Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, which strictly forbids students from using magic in the non-magic world - Harry escapes into the night. He's picked up by the Knight Bus, a fantastic, purple, triple-decker vehicle that whisks him off to the Leaky Caldron, a pub for wizards.

Being a gearhead, I was fascinated by the Knight Bus. It not only travels everywhere at high speed but also can change shape so that it can squeeze in between traffic.

As I looked further into the "Harry Potter POA" press kit, it told how the bus scenes were filmed to make it look as if the bus were always speeding by. The bus was filmed at a top speed of 30 mph while the cars it was passing were barely running 8 mph; in addition, on the street were special actors who were walking very slowly. When all of this was projected at normal speed, the bus became a rocket.

Upon arrival at the Leaky Caldron, Harry is met by the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, who inexplicably doesn't punish Harry for his errant wizardry and instead insists that he spend the night there before heading back to Hogwarts for the next in his seven years of study.

It quickly becomes known that a dangerous and baffling wizard, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), has escaped Azkaban Prison and is believed to be searching for Harry. Legend has it that Black was responsible for leading Lord Voldemont to Harry's parents and ultimately to their deaths. It is also believed that he is determined to kill Harry, too.

To complicate matters further, Hogwarts is playing host to the Dementors, the guards who are stationed at the school in an attempt to protect the students from Black. The Dementors suck the souls from their victims, and unfortunately for Harry they seem to have more of an effect on him than on the rest of his classmates. Their ominous presence chills the teenage wizard to the bone, rendering him virtually helpless until Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, trains Harry on how to use the Patronus Charm to shield himself from the Dementors' paralyzing powers.

Meanwhile, Harry's third year at Hogwarts is filled with exciting new creatures like Buckbeak, a magical half-horse, half-eagle creature called a Hippogriff. There are eerie and somewhat humorous encounters with the terribly farsighted Divination Professor, Sibyll Trelawney (Emma Thompson), and the wolflike omen of death known as the Grim. Also included are such breathtaking adventures as clandestine visits to the wizarding village Hogsmeade, deciphering secrets hidden in the enchanted Marauder's Map and a terrifying trip to the Shrieking Shack, the most haunted dwelling in Britain.

Along the way, Harry tries to make sense of Hermione's puzzling appearances and disappearances, with the help of Ron and the return of the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who has taken on a new position at Hogwarts as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher.

A confrontation between Harry and the menacing Sirius Black seems inevitable ... but what exactly is Professor Lupin's relationship with Black? What is the dark secret that Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) is so eager to reveal? And just why is Ron's pet rat Scabbers so frantic to escape his grasp?

Harry needs all of the courage, magic and support he can muster to answer these questions and to uncover the truth behind Sirius Black and his link to the young wizard's mysterious past.

My partner and I have seen all three of the movies in the Harry Potter series so far, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. With the addition of the Dementors, this film is slightly darker than its predecessors, but not objectionably so.

Word has it that "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is in pre-production now and will begin filming this summer. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth book in the series, is tentatively planned to reach screens in summer 2007.

Gary McDaniel lives in Magnolia. You can write to him at[[In-content Ad]]