It’s time for Part 2 of my Harry Potter series, and this post focuses on my favorite film, the one that captivated me, hook, line, and sinker. (Originally, I was going to discuss both the third and fourth films, but I love them each so desperately, I cannot control my yammering on, so Goblet of Fire will be discussed in Part 2.5 :))
Part 2.0: The Happy Mediums Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I’ll never forget seeing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the night it came out, with a sold-out crowd that included a large group of friends who were all huge fans. I, however, hadn’t read a page, and had only casually watched the first two with my family. I believed they were a little kid’s fantasy series, nothing to get worked up about. But then, something magical happened (pun intended): A story began to unravel that was amazing, twisted, had a time-travel element, and more interesting characters than I had seen in so long, I couldn’t help but become intrigued by this world of Dementors and a faraway prison called Azkaban. I wanted to know so much more.
This was the first film not helmed by Chris Columbus, but Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también, Great Expectations, A Little Princess), who is credited with rejuvenating the franchise by giving the film an edgier look and feel. There’s a distinct Halloween vibe to this film. It’s much darker than the first two, and much more engrossing. Cuarón’s mark is noticeable from the first instant, when the film opens on Harry using his wand as a light to read under the covers. Not that wild of a scene, but a little add-on like that would never have worked in the first couple of films.
One of the aspects of the Harry Potter saga that I adore is the back story of the adults in Harry’s life, and this is the first book/film that gives you a taste of their histories – that there’s much more going on than any of us know. I found this hint of the past irresistible and fascinating beyond belief. I said to my sister (an ardent fan) as we left the theater that summer night, “I want to know more about the grown-ups.” Gary Oldman is terrifying and heartbreaking as the misunderstood Black. David Thewlis embodies to a T the tormented, weary, yet kind, Lupin. The delightful Emma Thompson is especially screwy as Professory Trelawney, and Alan Rickman, as always, brings the elegant villainy as Snape. Michael Gambon is introduced here as the new Dumbledore, to replace Richard Harris, who had passed away between films. Everyone has their opinions, and there are arguments for and against, but I much refer Gambon’s take on the head of Hogwarts. He fills the character with that zany eccentricity he possesses in the books. Terribly kind, yet terribly kooky. In later films, he also proves that he can do bad-ass wizard as well, which I don’t believe Harris would have been capable of.
This film packs a massive emotional punch, as Harry discovers strengths he didn’t know he had, and learns more about his father and how the past plays a part in his life. When Harry bellows the Patronus charm over the lake, effectively defeating the Dementors, never before had these films moved me so. All that is represented in that scene , and the beautiful, haunting way it is portrayed, has cemented it as an all-time favorite moment, and one of the reasons Azkaban is my favorite film.
Azkaban also marks the third and final time John Williams scored a Harry Potter film, and this is surely the best of the three. Sure, “Hedwig’s Theme” is the iconic song that everyone knows signals the coming of Harry Potter, but “Buckbeak’s Flight” and “A Window to the Past” are outstanding, chill-inducing tracks.
While my top 3 are slightly interchangeable, if I had a gun to my head, and could only have one HP film to watch for the rest of my life, Prisoner of Azkaban would have to be it. It’s a damn fine movie on its own terms, book or not, and a reasonably faithful adaptation. Not as by the numbers as the first two, but it gets all major plot points right and the filmmakers still cared enough to include plenty of small things that either come into play later, or just plain MATTER. It’s amazing what compromise can foster, isn’t it?
- Prisoner of Azkaban – the best
- Chamber of Secrets
- Sorcerer’s Stone
- TBA – the worst