Saturday, June 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


With the theatrical success of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002, the following book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was to be given a film adaptation with Alfonso CuarĂ³n as director instead of Chris Columbus. However, it would actually be a couple years before it was released in 2004, rather than the one following the second film. Despite the wait, it was rather exciting to see it the first time and well worth it. Prisoner of Azkaban still holds up well as a Harry Potter movie after all this time, and is in fact my favorite of the series.

After a brief moment of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) studying magic back at the Dursley house, the story begins with Uncle Vernon's (Richard Griffiths) sister Marge (Pam Ferris) coming for a visit. During conversation and more of Harry acting as their slave, Marge insults Harry's parents, angering him and causing him to accidentally use magic to swell her up like a balloon. After a humorous scene where Marge ends up flying away, Harry runs away from his home and is picked up by the mysterious Knight Bus, a triple-decker purple bus with a reckless driver that picks up stranded witches and wizards, and is taken to the Leaky Cauldron where he is fortunately not expelled for his earlier act. On the way over Harry learns of the supposed serial killer and Voldemort supporter Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who has escaped from Azkaban and is suspected to be out to kill him.

The plot of this installment is a little more complex, given that it's dealing with a longer book than the previous films. A lot more changes are made between the book and film than last time, especially if you remember the events of the book enough to notice them. For instance, the scene at the very beginning is one where the titular character Harry is studying magic at night using the lumos maxima spell from his wand. In the book he uses a flashlight, which makes more sense given that he's not allowed to use magic outside of school. Then again this was probably done to make the title sequence a little more dramatic. There are plenty of other changes, which helps or detract from the story depending on your perspective.

The younger actors of course have aged a couple years, but their performances remain as strong as ever. This doesn't mean the older actors don't give anything less to the film, with everyone's skills bouncing off each other perfectly. An item of note is that Michael Gambon plays Hogwarts' Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, starting from this movie as his previous actor, Richard Harris, died in late 2002. Gambon still manages to pull off Dumbledore amazingly well, as if nothing really happened.

The effects of this movie are oddly both improved and similar to the last one. Most effects are on the improved side, notably the Dementors and the transformations some characters have into animal forms and back. On the other hand, the one that stands out is the Hippogriff Buckbeak. While the effects were still impressive at the time, I couldn't help but feel it was a little more obvious that it was renderd in CG, at least during his earlier appearances. Overall, the effects are still amazing to look at to this day.

One part of the movie deserves special mention, namely the time travel scenario near the end of the movie. When you see it, it's interesting viewing previous scenes from different angles in accordance to the characters. Time travel can be difficult to pull off properly in a live-action movie, yet somehow this one does it near flawlessly. Despite this, there is a small continuity error within this sequence of events: before using the Time Turner, Harry is defended from Dementors by a Patronus in the form of stag, yet when this action is repeated after going back in time, the stag is nowhere to be seen. How major or minor it is depends on the viewer, but it was still nice to see the effort put into these scenes.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a wonderful movie that should not be passed up by Harry Potter fans. This movie is where the series begins to take a dark tone, but the reason it remains my favorite of all of them is because it also happens to be the most humorous, as I'm sure anyone would find it to be. There are many changes between it and the original source, but it still works as a movie nonetheless. Despite the darker tone the movie takes, it still somehow manages to cling onto the magical element present in the two before it, making it all the more unforgettable.

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