Latest ‘Harry Potter’ worth seeing, but not on IMAX

It might have been a tribute to director Alfonso Cuarón's skill.

It might also have been because of the cult status afforded Harry Potter in contemporary adult culture, or it might have been because this is the first feature film to be shown in the Humphrey Imax Dome Theater, but the crowd at Saturday's 7:30 p.m. showing was a little older than your typical Harry Potter crowd.

"Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban," the third installment chronicling the adventures of J.K. Rowling's famed — and oft-disparaged — character. The notes on the movie have all been heard before. It's the darkest movie of the Potter series. Potter portrayer Daniel Radcliffe is stretching his limits by taking on the role of the aging protagonist, and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) seems to have a bright future.

Cuarón, most famous for his more mature directorial feats ("Y Tu Mama Tambien"), plays off his solid background as the director of the screen adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel "A Little Princess" (1997), and brings a degree of art to what were previously filmed readings of Rowling's soon-to-be classic children's novel.

For those viewers unfamiliar with the IMAX Dome concept, it's a six-story dome juiced up with over 12,000 watts of sound. Watching an IMAX Dome movie — most often documentaries — is a singular experience. The screen's massive, pseudo-3-D images convey a feeling of movement that is almost disorienting. Fly-bys take on literal meaning because IMAX documentary makers take pains to put as many tasteful fly-bys in their films as possible, if only to keep the less documentary-friendly audiences engaged.

But a feature film on the IMAX Dome's screen isn't necessarily a good thing.

For one, the dome's greatest strength doesn't play off of a feature film's sense of movement in the right manner. The subtleties of cameras not balanced on tripods, for example, result in a kind of sickly blurring motion that distorts critical opening sequences of the film.

What a viewer sees depends on where he or she sits. "Azkaban," which wasn't originally formatted for IMAX, exacerbates the neck-craning in the front rows and despite an extensive renovation to the theater's projection facilities, the film still warps with the Dome's shape.

In all, it's not worth the $10 charged for admission, unless a viewer can guarantee a good seat. Getting to the theater early would help, but not much.

"Azkaban" is worth renting, if only to see the rare installment that surpasses the original and sequel and casts Potter's world in a more detailed light.

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is showing at the Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater, 800 W. Wells St., through Jan. 9. More information is available by calling 319-4629 or at www.mpm.edu.

Grade: B

Grade on IMAX: CD,”Brian O'Connor”

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