As the third movie installment in the strong Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has to overcome several things: the fact that it is a sequel, a new director, an older cast, and a darker story. It succeeded admirably.
Whereas Chamber of Secrets really didn’t do much for the overall Harry Potter story – only that you find out how Volde-…err, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named started, this story moved forward significantly with the interactions around Harry’s parents and their death, and starts leaving the seeds of the future story line (we should see reappearances of several characters in the fifth movie).
Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematic style certainly is different. In the early scenes in the Dursley’s house, you can tell a handheld camera is used – a bit jittery and unsteady. Now I think this may have been the fault of the theater, but it also appeared grainy and perhaps not lit as brightly as it should, and this made it almost seem home movie-ish, and I was dreading the whole movie would be like it – but after a bit I didn’t notice. There was definitely a darker style to the filming – darker scenes in general, with a lot taking place at night, and fade outs to black followed by fade-ins usually with a closeup on Harry.
Hogwarts has changed – things have obviously been relocated, perhaps to give the appearance of a larger grounds. Hagrid’s hut is not at the bottom of a hill after a long covered elevated walkway, used in several scenes. The Whomping Willow is on the side of a hill (birds definitely need to be more careful there). The whole castle is different – the courtyard gives a more ancient castle feel, there is the giant clockworks – the only things that didn’t seem to change were Harry and Ron’s dormroom and the Dark Arts classroom. Probably a bigger budget, but these kind of inconsistencies bug me, like the ever-changing bridge of the Enterprise. Heck, even Dumbledore changed – well, that obviously due to the passing of actor Richard Harris, but picked up well, and with a different style if perhaps not as “majestic”, by Michael Gambon.
The three main actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, have grown up a bit, and the storyline is advancing with them. We start to see shades of teenage issues, and perhaps a bit of budding but grudging romance between Hermione and Ron, at least in a kind of love-hate way. I think both Daniel’s and Emma’s acting has improved from the previous movie – Daniel to me seemed a bit stiff in Secrets, but was more fluid and showed more emotion this time. Rupert may have improved a bit as well, but I think with Secrets he lost something (not just his voice), and still seems awkward up there.
I was actually undecided at first with David Thewlis as Remus Lupin. He didn’t seem the part to me – I expected someone perhaps a little more grizzly in appearance. However, I noticed some fidgetiness to the acting, and realized this would probably be appropriate for someone in his “condition”, and yet it wasn’t overblown.
Gary Oldman was excellent as Sirius Black – so much so that if I didn’t know it was Gary Oldman to begin with, I may not have recognized him – he is a great character actor, really taking on new personas. I did think the “you could come live with me” scene didn’t work though. Side note: is there any significance to the fact that both Sirius and Remus are named after stars, whereas the others were not? Trivia: Sirius is called the “Dog Star”, and Remus, and his brother Romulus, founders of Rome according to Mythology, were saved by a wolf after being abandoned as infants.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see some more of some of the supporting characters. We only see the rest of the Weasley kids in passing – Percy has a couple of shots and a couple of lines even though he is Head Boy, Ginny has one line, and Fred and George, who I think would be great for the comic relief, have only a few of lines each. Even Arthur Weasley seems to have lost his bumbling nature, but that may be due to the “Sirius”-ness of the situation 🙂
As to the story, as usual a lot had to be left out and this movie still clocked in at 2:22. Notably absent (understand I hadn’t reread the whole book before seeing the movie) is the interactions with Sir Cadogan (although he can be seen in the background), any sense of the intense hatred of Snape for Lupin and Black, and the explanation of how exactly the Potters were betrayed. Few scenes seemed to be altered (I don’t remember Dementors flying), but certainly nothing detrimental. If anything was really missing, is was setups for the next couple of movies. I did get a slight feeling of being rushed through the story, especially towards the beginning, but the end story seemed pretty well intact and at a good pace.
For scenes, some of the best were Quidditch in the thunderstorm, both sides of the scene of the dementors at the pond, and of course Draco getting what he deserves. Although Tom Felton may be outgrowing the part of Draco quickly (he seems to have changed most in appearance), he’s got the perfect Cries-Like-A-Girl voice 🙂
Overall, a very enjoyable movie – definitely better than Secrets, and perhaps better than Stone, but it is tough to surpass an establishing movie. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, definitely you should see it as soon as possible. Even if you didn’t like the second movie, you should still make an effort to see this. IN terms of the scariness factor: we expected this movie to be significantly scary. Our 4-year-old, who likes the Harry Potter movies, wanted to see this but we said we had to see it first. Interestingly very little scares her in general – she’s seen Chamber of Secrets several times, and frankly the spider scenes still give_me_ the willies. I found Azkaban not not be as scary as I expected, but that isn’t to say you should bring a young child to the movie. If my daughter insisted I’d probably take her, but she’ll probably wait for the DVD.