Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Review

Time: 142 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Scary scenes and mild language.
Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore
Richard Griffiths as Vernon Dursley
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Fiona Shaw as Petunia Dursley
Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall
Timothy Spall as Peter Pettigrew
David Thewlis as Remus Lupin
Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at Hogwarts starts off badly when he learns deranged killer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and is bent on murdering the teenage wizard. While Hermione’s (Emma Watson) cat torments Ron’s (Rupert Grint) sickly rat, causing a rift among the trio, a swarm of nasty Dementors is sent to protect the school from Black. A mysterious new teacher helps Harry learn to defend himself, but what is his secret tie to Sirius Black?

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Interestingly, Prisoner of Azkaban for most of the general audience is the best Harry Potter movie. I knew though that a lot of die hard Harry Potter fans had some mixed feelings about the movie. As I hadn’t watched the movie recently and in a while, I was curious to see what my opinion of the movie would be. I’m glad to say that I lean on the side that considers Prisoner of Azkaban to be one of the best Harry Potter movies, with Alfonso Cuarón’s direction playing a big part in this.

If I had to guess one of the main reasons why this movie stuck particularly with the general audience more than the other Harry Potter movies, it might have to do with the fact that the story is much more personal for Harry and didn’t clearly feel like it was setting up for later movies. It’s like the only Harry Potter film to not have Voldemort to deal directly with the plot (outside of maybe Half Blood Prince). There are some differences from the books, most of them didn’t bother me too much and worked okay enough for a movie (such as Harry learning the spell Expecto Patronium really quickly) as opposed to the book where it took a long time. Some of the differences, particularly with how the spells work, are a little distracting. For example, Expecto Patronium here is not quite like it was in the book, and Expelliarmus here seemed to be used as both a disarming spell and a stunning spell. There are also some bits from the book that would’ve been nice to see in the movie. The humour in this movie worked really well, while the previous movies had some hit or miss humour, all of it works here. Prisoner of Azkaban is shorter than the previous two Harry Potter movies at 2 hours and 20 minutes long and is really paced well, even better paced than Philosopher’s Stone. You never feel bored, and you can’t pick out really a scene that could’ve or should’ve been removed for time or for the benefit of the story. Almost everything in here is needed.

There isn’t really any problems with the younger cast acting from this point forward with the films. Once again the friendship between Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is even stronger. Radcliffe particularly gets a lot to do, especially in the second half. I mentioned in my Chamber of Secrets review that Ron Weasley comes across as being a little useless and underused at times, and the same goes for Prisoner of Azkaban, particularly in the third act (then again it was in the novel as well). The rest of the returning is once again good as well, particularly Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Maggie Smith and Minerva McGonagall. Most of the new additions really worked. David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (the best in Harry’s period at Hogwarts), was a perfect casting decision, I can’t see anyone else in the role (I’m so glad Thewlis got this role instead of Professor Quirrell in Philosopher’s Stone). Gary Oldman works really well as Sirius Black, once again he transforms completely into his role. Conveying a lot of craziness, yet also completely convincing as the true character that’s revealed later on, Oldman is absolutely fantastic as usual. Timothy Spall was also perfect for his role that’s revealed later in the movie. One new cast addition was for the role of Albus Dumbledore, as Richard Harris died between the second and third films. Michael Gambon takes on the role now and while I’m aware there are mixed feelings about him, I think he’s fine here. He’s not quite fitted into the role of Dumbledore yet but he works fine, even if he does feel like he’s trying to act like Richard Harris. At least he fares better here than he does in Goblet of Fire. Other additions like Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawny were good as well.

Alfonso Cuarón’s direction is jarringly different from Chris Columbus’s, however considering the massive tonal differences that the later stories would have and seeing how they have changed, I can say that the changes was worth it and I’m glad that it happened in this movie before it was too late in the series. His direction of the movie is probably why so many people love this movie so much over the others, and for good reason. The way everything looks, his storytelling, pretty much everything works excellently. His attention to detail was great, particularly with Hermione and her use of the time turner. The cinematography by Michael Seresin was fantastic, it really looks great. When it comes to visuals, this is probably the first of the Harry Potter’s to have effects that actually still do hold up really well. Certain magical things like the Marauder’s Map particularly looked really nice on screen. Of course there are some moments where you can tell would need a green screen or something to be completely created in CGI and then you can really identify the green screen and tell that the CGI/magical object isn’t actually there, but nothing more than that. The look of the Dementors are great, shadowy, dark and really effective, I’m not sure why their design changed in Order of the Phoenix. This film has some truly magical and wonderful sequences, such as the flight(s) of the hippogriff Buckbeak and Harry facing off against the dementors. There are some weird looking sequences though, like the Knight Bus moment, where they seemed to up the insanity for a little bit, I guess that’s what they were going for but it did feel out of place. The production design was once again really great. I will say however that with this movie following the previous two, I can’t tell what year this takes place in. In fact one of the biggest problems with the Harry Potter movies is the time period is never locked down. It’s a slight distraction but doesn’t negatively affect the movies too much. Also whereas the first two movies had the main character wearing robes pretty much all the time, here they start wearing more casual clothes and this would become more prevalent over time as the movies would continue, I think it works for the movie but again it can be a jarring difference. Every director also keeps changing what Hogwarts looks like and again, jarring but you get over it. The score by John Williams is also great, in fact some of the best themes in the Harry Potter movies were introduced/featured in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Before re-watching Prisoner of Azkaban recently, I wasn’t sure where I would rank it among the Harry Potter movies, but now I think it’s at the very least among the best in the movies. The great pacing, the storytelling, the acting but most of all Alfonso Cuarón’s excellent direction, makes this a really great film. I can definitely see now why so many people consider it to be the best film in the entire series.

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