Good thing the film lives up to its hype and then some.
Finally dumping happy-ending king Christopher Columbus (official word is that he wanted to leave), the third installment is in the hands of Alfonso Cuaró (who directed Y tu mama tambien (Mike Newell, of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame, is directing the fourth installment). And what a breath of fresh air he is! Unlike the first two installments, which tried to include every tiny detail in the books, this one plays a bit fast and loose with the source material - with J.K. Rowling's blessings. The result? It's more engaging. We actually get to see more of the characters' personalities (particularly Hermione) and as a result they become more real. It's fun, too, to see the actors growing into their roles. You scarcely notice the bits they've left out, or the fact that Dumbledore is a completely different actor.
But the best character of all isn't even real. He's a hippogriff named Buckbeak. The realism of this creature is so...you almost believe that such a creature actually exists. The Marauder's Map, too, is marvelously realised.
All this and time travel, too! If each chapter of this series keeps being better than the last...we are in for a wicked awesome finale!