A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

July 26, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I haven’t watched all the Potter films yet. As of the writing of this review I’ve only seen the first five. This is by far my favorite of the ones I’ve seen though, and it has always been my favorite of the books. Alfonso Cuaron does something wonderful with this movie – he takes a Harry Potter book and rather than trying to simply capture all the most memorable moments on film he adapts it into something more cinematic, more cohesive, and altogether more watchable.

Plotwise this is where the Harry Potter series starts to morph from being a series of children’s books to something cooler and darker. The series grew up with its audience, really, and I appreciate that. In his third year at Hogwarts Harry is in almost constant peril. Right at the start of the movie, when he runs away from the unbearable Dursleys, he is menaced by a mysterious black dog that seems to be hunting him. He is rescued by the arrival of the night bus and whisked off to the Leaky Cauldron where he is warned by Ron’s father Arthur that a madman has escaped from the infamous wizarding prison of Azkaban – the first person ever to escape from there – and is bent on hunting down Harry Potter.

Things get even worse when the supernatural guards of Azkaban, the terrifying dementors, show up on the Hogwarts Express and start haunting the school, supposedly in their determination to re-capture the nefarious Sirius Black. Luckily, Harry has a new ally in the school this year – the mysterious and tortured Professor Lupin. Lupin takes it upon himself to try and teach harry how to defend himself from the dementors. At the same time there’s the seemingly empty-headed Professor Trelawney teaching divination who generally spouts complete nonsense, but sometimes seems to offer up real prognostications which do not bode well for Harry.

Part of the Harry Potter paradigm is that there are mysteries in the books, with clues throughout that hint at what’s really going on, but this book and this movie doe the best job with this. There are so many different mysteries going on simultaneously here and they all blend together so effortlessly. Why is the thing Lupin fears most in the world a full moon? Why is Serious Black so bent on breaking into Hogwarts in spite of the dementors and all the security of the castle? Just how many courses is Hermione taking? Who is Peter Pettigrew, and why, if he was killed trying to protect Harry’s parents, does Harry’s map show him as alive and in the corridors of Hogwarts?

The answers are all tied into the past, into a quartet of best friends at Hogwarts back when Harry’s father was there. Really this is some of the best world building in the series for me because everything in the later books is rooted in the events at Hogwarts when Harry’s parents were there.

It’s odd: I find it difficult to separate this movie from the book. I know that Amanda finds it frustrating that some things from the book that are integral to the plot are glossed over in the movie. As an example – she is irritated that although Messrs Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs are mentioned in the movie it is never explicitly stated just who they are. For me, though, this movie is more a companion piece to the movie. That’s part of why it works so well, really. It is an interpretation of the book and not just a straight rote recital.

Which brings me to what Cuaron has done to make this work so well as a movie. He’s given it a wonderfully cinematic feel. He uses visual imagery to help tell the story in ways that Chris Columbus never did. For example there’s the enormous clock tower prominently featured which highlights the importance of time in the story. This is also re-inforced by the quirky and fun transitions through the seasons which are introduced through sort of vignettes with the whomping willow (which also act to keep that dangerous tree front of mind since it comes into play as we approach the finale of the movie.)

And oh, the climax of this movie! All the secrets are revealed and the truth comes out, and then there’s an extra twenty minutes of adventure as everything gets sorted out by Harry and Hermione. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I love a well written and self contained time loop – and this fits perfectly into that. It’s just so much fun to watch it play out no matter how many times I see it.

As usual for the Potter franchise we get fantastic new actors bringing the characters from the books to life. Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney is perfect of course, and I enjoy David Thewlis as Lupin, but for me there’s one thing that sticks out above all others: Crazy Gary Oldman! My God is he the most perfect casting ever. I only wish that he had a bigger part in the rest of the series because he’s just so much fun to watch.

This whole movie is just fun to watch. I think that’s what makes it so great. The earlier movies are pretty and introduce the world. The later movies are dark and powerful. This is the middle movie that is just pure cool. I’d watch it again any time.

July 26, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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