Brandon has never read a single Harry Potter book or seen any of the films. Believe it. But what sort of pop culture fan would he be if he didn’t immerse himself in the films that so many love? Join him as he gets his owl, heads to Hogwarts and sees what all the fuss is about.
Previously: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I was excited for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Many, many, many fans had told me that this was the movie that would turn things around. While Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets weren’t bad movies, they certainly didn’t stir me like I had hoped. They showed flashes of greatness, promises of things to come, but they still left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. But then there was Prisoner of Azkaban, a movie universally loved by HP fanatics and non-fanatics alike.
Guess what? They’re right. Prisoner of Azkaban is fantastic. It’s an exciting, creative, creepy and heartfelt gem and officially made me a fan of this series. I know the following films aren’t like this because they aren’t directed by Alfonso Cuarón but this has made me more than excited for what comes next. I figured these movies could be good but this good? Count me in.
From frame one, Azkaban feels wildly different in the best way. Cuarón brings an energy and bizarre sensibility that fits the story about a bunch of young wizards. Even a minor opening scene which finds Harry opening the door for Uncle Vernon’s sister, Marge, buzzes. And it only gets weirder and more fun.
I really knew we were dealing with a completely different beast when Harry hopped a ride on a double-decker wizard bus sent from Hogwarts. The interior of the bus and the people working on it feel straight out of a Terry Gilliam film. It’s strange, it’s silly, it’s slightly unhinged. This is fifteen minutes into the movie. The further I got into the movie, the less and less I felt the influence of family-friendly Chris Columbus.
It’s on the bus where Harry first hears of Sirius Black, an escaped inmate from the notorious wizard prison of Azkaban. I know little about Harry Potter (well, more and more as time passes of course) but I knew about Sirius Black. My ears perked up when I heard his name because I know he plays a pivotal part in the series. I’m not sure how but I know he is a character that will have quite an effect on young Harry. So of course, someone with such prominence should be played by Gary Oldman.
Sirius supposedly led Voldemort to Harry’s parents all those years ago. He was a friend who betrayed them and cost them their lives. Now he has escaped from Azkaban and is on the hunt for the one who got away: Harry. So yet again Harry is heading back to Hogwarts and yet again he is in grave danger. This guy can’t catch a break.
Speaking of danger, it’s on the Hogwarts Express that Harry comes into contact with a dementor. Dementors are the prison guards of Azkaban, searching high and low for Black. These things are gnarly but I’m a fan of horror movies so they got me hook, line and sinker right away. They resemble the ring wraiths from Lord of the Rings but they possess something the wraiths don’t: the ability to literally suck your soul from your face. They attempt this on Harry in a truly creepy sequence. It’s dark, stormy and feels right out of a scary movie. That’s the thing I’m discovering about the Potter films: they can weave through genres with ease. They can feel like teen dramas, sci-fi, fantasy and horror all within on film. That gives these movies great freedom. Cuarón takes great advantage of this and provides us a glimpse of what a Harry Potter horror movie would feel like. The addition of the dementors is very welcome to me but only causes terror for the residents of the perpetually dangerous Hogwarts.
Watching these movies in quick succession like I am, certain things become repetitive. For example: the immense, grave danger that arises at Hogwarts every single year makes it feel like we are watching the last movie. In Chamber of Secrets, Hogwarts almost closed down because of the opened chamber. In Azkaban, the students are forced to sleep in the great hall because Sirius Black is lurking around the premises. Something menacing and nearly apocalyptic seems to constantly lurk in the school. I’m not sure what my complaint is here because these aren’t boring beats in the stories. Yet, they make the movies start to feel formulaic and the creeping danger doesn’t come off as grave because something just like it happened only months before. At it a certain point, it also gets silly. For goodness sakes, shouldn’t Hogwarts be safe as Fort Knox with all those ghastly dementors floating everywhere?
Despite that one minor qualm, Prisoner of Azkaban had this Potter newb enraptured from beginning to end. The movie gets out there – it includes a time travel time travel sequence! With a werewolf! – but it’s never too silly, it’s never boring and, most importantly for me, it’s never confusing. Unlike the previous movies, everything translated from page to screen beautifully. The movie isn’t excessively full, it isn’t packed to the gills with moments best left on the cutting room floor. Everything is handled with care, love and ample amounts of imagination.
In the end, Harry once again saves the day and discovers some important things about his past, including the fact that Sirius didn’t kill his parents and is actually looking out for him. While Voldemort’s presence lurks over the entire film, he yet again fails to make an appearance. That’s okay because I finally felt a story being built. With the inclusion of Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew and the growing power and determination of Harry against those who took his parents, you sense a large story about revenge and growth ready to unfold.
MVP of the film
Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) gives Harry a father figure to look up to in The Prisoner of Azkaban. He’s clever, decidedly British and fun to watch. More than that, he gives a damn about Harry and that’s needed for the young wizard who is always missing the parents he never met.
Oh, and Lupin’s also a werewolf. So, that’s cool. The sequence when his identity is revealed is a bit surprising but you go with it for this movie. It’s bizarre, no doubt, but it makes sense for this film that wholly embraces its weirdness. Thewlis brings calm and a hefty dose of kookiness to the part and it’s a shame to see him depart as the film comes to a close.
Random questions/comments about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Michael Gambon’s performance of Dumbledore is radically different than Richard Harris’s…for the better. He portrays Dumbledore with much more enthusiasm and sly liveliness. Gambon has been on record saying that was a deliberate choice. I wonder if this is the type of Dumbledore filmmakers wanted from the beginning but just weren’t able to get from the aging Harris. He feels like a different character entirely but it makes him all the more admirable.
- Draco finally got a haircut! The more traditional cut looks good on the little brat though you have to wonder what his father things of such a change. Maybe they got matching haircuts!
- Speaking of hair, what is going on with Harry’s cut? He’s got a serious case of bedhead/mad scientist hair for most of the movie.
- Another thing about Draco: how can anyone take him seriously? There are three moments in Prisoner when he is confronted with danger and begins whimpering like a child. You’d think the other kids at Hogwarts wouldn’t pay him any mind but he continues to push his weight around and bullies others.
- We finally get some beefy scenes with Professor Snape and Alan Rickman didn’t disappoint. He’s menacing but I think that he truly cares about Harry deep down. It seems all the current teachers of Hogwarts hold a special place in their hearts for Harry and his dearly departed parents.
- What I’ll remember most about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the beautiful imagery. Flowers dying under floating dementors, Harry playing Quidditch in the pouring rain, the earthy colors of Fall at Hogwarts. Cuarón’s work is a welcome addition to this magical world.