Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Movie Review
The eagerly-awaited third movie in the Harry Potter series is finally here, with a risky new director, a darker plot and a shorter running time.
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and most of the rest of the cast have returned, albeit for Richard Harris, who, due to his death, has been replaced by Michael Gambon. Other big cast additions include Gary Oldman as Sirius Black (a.k.a. The Prisoner of Azkaban), David Thewlis as Professor Lupin and Emma Thompson as the squirrelly Professor Trelawney. The new cast additions are great, though only Thewlis really gets much screen time. Thompson is absolutely hilarious as the not-so-good divination professor, but is never described with the loathing that the students feel toward her in the book.
The biggest change from the last movie to this one is the new direction of Alfonso Cuarón. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the movie, is not a straight adaptation of the book as compared to the previous two films, which were both directed by Chris Columbus. Columbus' movies were longer and more drawn out, with more scenes involving the students as they went about their daily lives. Some of his scenes weren't absolutely essential to the plot, but made for good entertainment. While I have not read "The Prisoner of Azkaban" in at least two years, and I have no problem with a director cutting out unnecessary scenes to move the film along, I do feel that something is missing from this third addition. Those little scenes where the students complained about their classes and one another were some of my favorites of the previous films, as it made the atmosphere truly feel like a school, and the length of time a school year. This time around, it was harder to relate to the truly unique world that sets the "Harry Potter" series apart from other magical stories.
The previous two Harry Potter movies were a bit long, but to cut 20 minutes off the running time for The Prisoner of Azkaban seems to have shrunk the story a bit too much. After all, isn't "The Prisoner of Azkaban," the book, a lot longer than "The Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Chamber of Secrets?" My main complaint is that I did not fully feel the social bond that occurs between Lupin and Harry, something that is rather important. Furthermore, this year of school feels a lot less like school than it did in other years. Nevertheless, my guess is that my disappointment will fade over the next few weeks; after all, it was probably the extreme hype that restricted the film from exceeding my expectations.
Despite a few shortcomings, there is a lot to be praised in this new Harry Potter film. Though Cuarón perhaps cut out a bit too much in the way of scenes, he makes up for a lot of it with his visual style, which, to say the least, blows Columbus' vision out of the water. Cuarón, an interesting choice for Harry Potter considering that his last film was the Mexican hit - and teenage sex romp - Y Tu Mama Tambien, has a knack for visual flare and imagination, and he uses it to his full potential here. Everything about Hogwarts seems more detailed - and darker - and the camera is much more animated. The result is a stunningly beautiful film full of magic. One perfect example is the quick sequence of Quidditch, which, thankfully, has been slimmed away to almost nothing. While the sport only gets a minute of screen time, it looks so much better than it did in previous films. For an added bonus, the special effects are a thousand times better, as can be seen in Buckbeak, the half-bird, half-horse creature.
One surprising aspect of Cuarón's vision is that he actually changed some of Hogwarts. While some of the sets have obviously remained pretty similar, the surrounding area of Hogwarts has grown noticeably steeper. Hagrid suddenly lives at the bottom of a steep hill, where before it was a fairly flat walk to his home. There is a long bridge not previously seen before. Even the infamous "tree-of-death" (that's what I call it) has seemingly moved to a more exotic location. Some people will like this change and some will not. The setting is much more visually intriguing, but at the same time, it is a bit odd for a film considered to be a linear continuation of the previous ones to have changed something as stable as the earth Hogwarts sits on. I am sure that some people would have preferred to have kept things the way they were.
Cuarón has gone above and beyond the call of duty in creating a truly beautiful picture, but it does come at a cost. Another ten minutes thrown into the mix would probably make everything feel more cohesive. Nevertheless, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a fun and exciting film that easily is at par with the other movies - just in a different way.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.