Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004)

This is the movie that drew me into the world of Harry Potter.  I had read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in college and found it clever but not engrossing, so never read any more of them.  But then the trailer for this came out, and I saw it over and over and over at the theater -- it seemed like every movie I went to for several months had that trailer before it.

And I loved the chorale rendition of "Double, double, toil and trouble."  It fascinated me, it stuck in my head, and I decided I wanted to see the movie just so I could hear more of it.  So before the movie came out, I read the first three books.  And I discovered the second book was better than the first, and the third book was really quite good.  When I got to the last few chapters, I fell irrevocably in love with a character and was completely hooked on the series.  I went to see this in the theater, and saw each subsequent movie in the theater too.

So anyway, Cowboy and I are still on our quest to watch all of the Harry Potter movies together, and so we got this from the library.  I was curious to see how it held up now that I've seen all of them, as I don't think I've watched it since it was in theaters.  And I have to say, I do think it's probably in my top 3 for this series.  For one thing, the wacky "this is for kids" tone of the first two movies is gone.  For another, the three leads have all matured and learned some real acting, which means their performances have some actual depth.

Spoilage from here on out.

I know I've talked a lot on my blogs about how much I love characters who have been wrongly imprisoned.  And how much I love prison-escape stories.  So you probably have figured out why Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite Harry Potter book:  Sirius Black.

In fact, Sirius is my favorite character in the whole Potterverse.  And while Gary Oldman doesn't physically match my mental image of Sirius from the books, he's such a strong actor that I don't mind.  He infuses Sirius with dignity and strength, with kindness and playfulness, with desperation and triumph.  In later movies, we'll also get to see his selfishness and cruelty, but here we don't get to those here yet.

One of my favorite moments from both movie and book is when Sirius hesitantly explains that because he's Harry's godfather, he's his legal guardian, and asks if Harry would like to come live with him.  Sirius is ragged and filthy.  He's still a wanted criminal.  He realizes he has nothing to offer right now that a thirteen-year-old boy might find comfortable or attractive.  And when Harry excitedly accepts, Gary Oldman's Sirius makes me cry with the joy in his eyes.

And then there's this scene, with Sirius telling Harry how much he's like his parents.  Right in the feels, folks.  But this screencap brings me to something else I love about this movie:  the cinematography.  This movie is beautiful.  I rather wish that Alfonso Cuaron had directed the rest of these movies, because this one is stunning.  Here are a few gorgeous moments:

Hogwarts is a much less twinkly place in this than the first two movies.  It has grit and grime.  There's a sense that the danger in this movie is real, not just CGI three-headed dogs and giant snakes.  It's a great transition into the increasingly grim stories ahead.

And I love how interesting Cuaron makes so many shots.  There are a few of your standard over-over-two shots, but there are also scenes like this one between Lupin and Harry, their physical distance emphasizing their differences and the fact that pretty soon, Harry's going to think he's being betrayed by Lupin.

Or how about this first look at the Shrieking shack?  That aged barbed wire is an amazing touch -- it almost has a prison camp feel to it.  Is it to keep people out?  Or something in?

And look at the great framing of this shot, the camera siding us with Harry and making Lupin and Sirius look all conspiratorial.  I love the depth.

Kind of random note, but I love the moving staircases inside Hogwarts, and they have never looked lovelier or more fun than in this movie.  They're not seen much in later movies, which always makes me sad.

Back to the main trio.  (I may have gone a little nuts with my screencapping.  You don't mind, right?)  I love how often Cuaron gets them into a shot together.  This shot from Divination Class cracks me up, because they're all so exactly Harry, Hermione, and Ron in it.  Harry is curious, Hermione is skeptical, Ron is confused.

Look!  Happy moment!

Ron has learned to roll his sleeves up just to the elbows, making himself suddenly quite attractive.

And we've got just a hint of romance to come.  Hermione grabs Ron's hand when they're watching Harry interact with Buckbeak.  It's sweet and tentative and very early-teens feeling.

Just a few more words about casting.  I've liked Michael Gambon in any number of things, from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to Amazing Grace to what little I've seen of the 2009 Emma.  But he's not an ideal Dumbledore.  Even if you don't compare him to Richard Harris, he's still too stern, not kind enough to suit me.

Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney makes me laugh a LOT.  Mostly because usually Thompson plays sensible, proper characters, and here she's all vague and wafty and... the hair!  She's obviously filled with glee at getting to do this wacky role.

David Thewlis is okay as Lupin, but I don't love him.  He's a little too wispy or something.  But he doesn't bug me much.  Maybe I'm just used to him.

And then there are the Dementors.  They are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO creepy in this movie!  Their look changes in later movies, which annoys me, because they were freaky and horrible in this.  Why mess with them?

Okay, probably time for me to shut up now.  Basically, I like this movie and I think it's a splendid adaptation.


  1. I agree that the Sirius/Remus castings are wonky if looked at from the perspective of the books. I pictured Sirius as kind of Timothy Dalton ... look at the second pic down on this page (TD as a young man. I can so see him as young Sirius.

    And I could have seen Gary Oldman as Remus -- he kind of has a wolfish vibe to him. I didn't warm up to David Thewlis either (he's a fine actor, but he's just not how I envisioned Remus).

    This was my favorite of the books, but my favorite movie (which I watched again last night) was Deathly Hallows II. I still think Alan Rickman should at least have gotten a Supporting Actor nod for the Oscars ...

    1. I've always kind of envisioned Sirius as looking a bit like Chad Kroeger in the early 00s. (I know Nickelback is a punchline now, but their first couple albums rocked my world back then.) So kinda like that, but with black hair instead. But I like Gary Oldman too. Not sure I could see him as Remus, though. Remus needs to be kind of erudite. And grey. I always think of him with greying hair and grey clothes and just altogether being greyful.

      How interesting that this is so many people's favorite book of the series!

    2. Did you see "Immortal Beloved"?

      He does grey, too :) And erudite. Take a look at the roles he's played.

    3. I think he's one of the best actors out there, and have seen 10 or 11 of his movies, but I don't know, I just don't feel him in the role of Lupin. He's too feral or something -- even when he's buttoned-up and quiet, he's still got an edge.

  2. My favorite book, because Lupin is wonderful. Not my favorite movie, because it left out everything about the Marauders. I like the setting the director established (a new, more interesting design for the castle grounds) but not his choice of werewolf depiction -- Lupin looks like a drowned rat without any fur. (I'm a big fan of werewolves in general, so to have such a wimpy, pathetic, hairless thing running around insulted me. LOL)

    Wasn't sure about Gambon at first, and he is a bit stern, but I got to really like him by the end of the franchise... more than Harris, who felt a bit too frail in the part. But this movie is quite fun to watch.

    1. PS: They also miscast Lupin, which is unfortunate. I like David fine in other things but... as Lupin? No. Just... no. Should have used David Tennant.

    2. Oh my goodness. David Tennant as Lupin. Brilliant. WHY didn't they use him???????

      And yes, I was sad that the Marauders got no mention, and it kind of bugs me that they moved Sirius sending the broom to Harry to the end because that was so finger-nail-chewing-inducing in the book.

      I'm not a huge fan of werewolves, and the only other one I'm familiar with at all is Oz. But I agree, the FX in this are cheesy and weird. He looks like a toy. Also, I always think of Sirius as being a lot huger in dog form.

    3. I KNOW, RIGHT?? Why waste David Tennant on Barty Crouch, in the fourth film, when they could have used him all along as Lupin? He looks much more like I imagine Lupin to be, and would have captured Lupin's sweetness in the book better than weasel-voice did. =P

      The ending is cringe-inducing, it really is. Lame closing shot. I actually wince every time I see it. They should have left the broom sequence where it was, and at least talked about the Marauders, and where the map came from, and their connection as children. I think not doing that removed some of Sirius' humanity from the film. (That whole, "James and Sirius guarded me as dogs" thing.)

      Um, don't know if you've seen the "Twilight" werewolves, but THAT is my idea of a werewolf. Not a human-wolf, but an immense, furry wolf-wolf, twice the size of a normal wolf. Much scarier. Much cooler. And yeah, Sirius needs to be bigger too. :P

    4. Nope, haven't seen any of the Twilight movies. Did read the first book, was not inspired to read more. I'll have to find a clip on YouTube or something sometime to see what their werewolves were like.

    5. Just realized that I wish they'd cast David Wenham as Lupin instead. He fits my mental image much better. (This brought to you courtesy of me getting stuff ready for the Tolkien party.)

  3. The Prisoner of Azkaban is also the film that made me think, "Hey, it makes sense why this Harry Potter franchise is so popular." Unlike virtually everyone else my age (20), I did not watch the movies or read the books until two years ago, so after the first two were very childish, I was wondering what made so popular, but Prisoner of Azkaban made it clearer why. It is not my favorite, but it was the first one that I consider to be a genuinely "Great" movie. Like you have said, Cuaron's cinematography is just amazing!


    1. Yes! It's like the movie series suddenly realized it needed to appeal to people other than 11-year-olds if it was going to survive. The books grow up more gradually, but this one is a huge leap forward from the first two.

      Don't feel bad -- I was 24 when I first got into the series. You are four years ahead of me.

  4. Just a note...but have you seen Wives and Daughters?? Michael Gambon plays Squire Hamley in that. He’s pretty intense as the squire--but it’s an intense role so he’s very good. I also really like him in Emma. :-)

    1. Haven't seen it OR read it, but I have the book, and I believe the library has the movie. I'm about to start reading "Middlemarch" for the first time, so holding off on other chunksters for a bit!

      And I did like him in that first ep of Emma I watched. Hope to watch the rest... one of these days!!!


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