There is a scene about a quarter of the way through this film that could really sum up just how good this movie (and series) can be. Harry Potter and the rest of his classmates are outside in the woods getting taught a lesson from one of the newest teacher at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, the half man, half giant, Rubeus Hagrid. He is teaching the students about magical creatures, today’s lesson? A hippogriff. A large bird looking animal, a little bigger than a horse, that walks on all fours and has majestic wings. A proud creature, Harry is picked to come over and meet it. Hagrid shows Harry how to gain the hippogriff’s,( here named Buckbeak), trust. Once he has earned it Hagrid unexpectedly picks Harry up and puts him right on top of Buckbeak and gives it a slap. Buckbeak rears back like a horse and charges forward, with John Williams’ score of percussion pounding away until he is lifts into the air. Buckbeak flies Harry over the lake. Harry is at first nervous and keeps tight gripe onto Buckbeak as he glides over this lake. Then Harry looks up and starts straighten his back and he lets go of him and spreads his arms into the air begins to smile and then starts to yell out in utter joy. The music plays up the magical moment of both the film and what the character is experiencing.
This is truly a magical and incredible moment in this third chapter in the saga of Harry Potter. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” has some changes for the series. Released on June 7th, 2004, this marked the first film not to be released in November after “Chamber of Secrets” grossed a little less than 880 million dollars at the world wide box office. Chris Columbus would not return to the director’s chair for this third installment after claiming he was “burned out” and director Alfonso Cuarón was hired to direct the third entry. A more tragic change was the recasting of Albus Dumbledore after the passing of Richard Harris. Michael Gambon was hired to take on the role. The changes did not result in a series slowing down but instead a revitalization. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is not only a good film but blows the first two away with wonderful direction, great acting, and at its core an emotionally engaging story as we get deeper in Harry’s past and what it could mean for the future.
After enduring another tough summer with his horrible family, Harry Potter is all set to start his third year of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. All seems well until Harry Potter learns of the escape of Sirius Black from Azkaban prision. Black is known by many to be a supporter of Lord Voldermort but with the help of a new defense against the dark arts teacher Harry learns more about his past and family as him and his loyal friends try to get through their classes while Dementors (the fiendish guards of Azkaban) are on the hunt for Black and take an interest in Harry.
With the new director this signals a new direction for the series. The first two films were lighter in tone with some scarier moments in the mix but director Chris Columbus certainly kept things at a more family friendly fashion. With this third film, the material takes a shift into darkness. The kids are getting older and more mature and so does the films. Director Alfonso Cuarón visually represents this by making the cinematography darker and the colors less bright. As well as Columbus does making the first two films Cuarón steps in and shows his natural gifted talent for filmmaking. He composes these gorgeous shots and moves the camera properly giving the film a little more life to it.
Cuarón steps in and handles the material well. He shows a knack for storytelling with his confident pace and juggling of different emotions. I said before that this is where the film series shifts into darkness but that doesn’t begrudge the film from having it’s fun either. It’s dark when it needs to be, funny when it needs to be, and emotional when it needs to be. Cuarón hits all of the right cues here in composing a really well balanced film.
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” serves more as a way for the overarching story to expand upon the universe at large. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” although continues to expand the universe, it serves as a much more down to earth and emotional storyline for Harry and explores more of his past with us. The sharper attention to character proved to engage me much more than any of the other ones had done.
At 142 minutes this is the shortest of the “Harry Potter” films to date. Yet this is the first film where there was actual adapting that had to be occur. The first two Potter films really took the books and copied them almost verbatim. This was really the first film where there had to some adapt with so much story and subplots packed into one story there had to have get. In having to make some changes the movie feels more like a focused and cinematic than the previous ones while still maintaining the same feel as the previous films.
The acting is a major step up from previous films which is partly to attribute to the actors maturing and Cuarón’s talent with actors. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all step up their acting abilities from the previous films, it’s extraordinary. The newcomers include Gary Oldman as Sirius Black and plays the many different sides of the character well. David Thewlis plays the newest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and plays a pivotal role and is one of the best new additions to the series. Both these characters are great additions and easily become fan favorites.
The last addition is Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore. The previous actor Richard Harris played him with such heart and kindness and unfortunately had to be recast after his death. Gambon picks up right where Harris left off by making his performance similar enough to Harris where it feels like the same character but making his own impact by adding a little more mischief and more commanding voice in his presence, a great replacement.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is a huge step up from the first two installments and levy a series that could have started to feel stale by focusing more on the emotional story at hand for the characters and making it a little bit darker. The next installment will continue down the path this film set out for it.