HARRY POTTER AND the prisoner of Azkaban
book 1999 movie 2004 first read 2002? first watch 2004
A third-in-a-row return to the school of wizardry and witchcraft, where I swoon over Alfonso Cuarón's directing style, Daniel Radcliffe's improved acting skills and how Hermione's hair looks from behind.
Also known as "The One Everybody Loves", Prisoner of Azkaban marks the point at which the Harry Potter film adaptions became a force to be reckoned with. Changing out director Chris Columbus, who had approached the previous two films from a traditional "children's movie" perspective, with the darker and more stylized mind of Alfonso Cuarón, stepped up the game quite a bit. It also helps that the three leads have grown into better actors and that their characters are able to develop in a more interesting, nuanced way. Finally, Prisoner of Azkaban connects another two Brilliant Brits to the series with Gary Oldman as Sirius Black and David Thewlis as Professor Lupin.
What makes this particular entry so special to me on a personal level is that it was the first Harry Potter film I was able to see on the big screen. Before I eventually picked up the dusty old copy of Sorcerer's Stone, the only thing I gathered from posters of the first two films was that it was obviously a boys' kind of film with a lot of sports involved. So I noticed the hype, especially around the time that Chamber of Secrets was released, but never read the books until after the second movie was out on DVD. When I caught the first glimpse of the Prisoner of Azkaban trailers then, I had a complete freak out. In my head anyway. In retrospect, I guess you could say that it was at that moment my inner fangirl was born.
The trailer of this film remains, until this day, the trailer that I remember most clearly when I think about it. I'm pretty sure I still know all the words - from the German version - and we are talking about the days when there was no such thing as YouTube, not really. I had to watch immense amounts of tv to get my daily fix of watching the trailer 10 or more times, and every time I did see it, my heart skipped a beat. Of the actual cinematic experience I remember very little, except for the fact that it was the best I had had in my whole life until then.
Unlike most of the things I said this about when I was smaller, Prisoner of Azkaban is a film that has actually held up for re-watches through all of my adolescence. This (394th) time, my focus laid on Cuarón's way of narrating the story and transforming it from page to screen, especially after last year's grandiose Gravity. Primarily, the difference between the first two films and this one is striking, which may lead you into thinking that it's a good film compared to those but not necessarily the 'best' for that reason. Of course, I haven't made up my mind on this yet, as I still have five films left to go for this row of re-watches. But I do know that Prisoner of Azkaban used to always be kind of a favourite. It stays very true to the novel but makes some necessary changes, thus mastering the most obvious challenge of a film adaption. Furthermore, some of the execution of the source material has become so iconic (to fans, at least) that it's hard to imagine reading the novel without having that particular shot in mind - think of Hermione hitting Malfoy, Aunt Marge blowing up and the prominent poster of Sirius Black that is all over this film.
As I said in the beginning, the three leading actors have come a long way since Chamber of Secrets and, even more so, Sorcerer's Stone. The most talented of the three is still Rupert Grint - either that or he just fits his character this well. Just one year ago I would have argued for Emma Watson taking that spot, but it becomes more and more obvious to me that she was a tad wooden in the first two/ two and a half films. Partly because Hermione is a very uptight character, but let's stay realistic. She improves her performance vastly though in this part, especially the second half. The one whose development stands out most however, is Daniel Radcliffe. Re-watching bits of the first film just this past weekend made for a good time with a friend - and Radcliffe's yet slightly underdeveloped acting skills were definitely occasion for laughter. He makes it all up in the third film though, where he doesn't only look just the way I always pictured Harry - his hair has never been this perfectly messy - but also acts the way. Very brave, a tad stubborn and slightly stupid.
It also struck me that Prisoner of Azkaban is a very well-written film, as well as just a good story in general. How I ever thought I "wasn't that much in to" time travel, when this was my favourite movie of all time, I have no idea. Having uncovered my affection for all things wibbly wobbly, it becomes more apparent what's so fascinating about the ending of Prisoner of Azkaban. It just all fits so well! And since I promised to keep an eye on the change from Richard Harris to Michael Gambon, I must say I do enjoy Gambon's performance a lot in this film. He brings the twinkling humor from Harris but also adds a shade of darkness - both to his appearance and behaviour. In a way, he seems more active and energetic than Harris, while on the other hand, he's a more worn-out and on-guard kind of Dumbledore. A description that just as well fits the whole movie in comparison to the first two.
Unlike Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban is no bridge between the two degrees of Harry Potter. It's no magical port into the darker side of the series, but the movie that the others simply had to follow, whereas the book isn't that significantly different from the previous ones. I realize that I didn't write much about the book, it's just that the story is very similar to the one in the film but unimaginable without the filmic details in mind. - Can you imagine the Snape of your imagination nailing the 'Turn to page 394'-line anywhere close to what Alan Rickman did with it?
Make sure to GRAB A PORTKEY near you next month to read about the FOURTH entry in the Harry Potter franchise; The Goblet of Fire.