Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Directed by Alfonso Caurón, 2004

"Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" is directed by Alfonso Caurón and what a little masterpiece it is.

 

Plot

This time the plot is clear from the beginning. All the usual incoherent stuff has been removed and thus the film is the shortest HP-film so far - 136 minutes – and the plot appears ten minutes into the film. It’s all about Sirius Black, the only prisoner who has ever managed to escape from the wizard prison Azkaban. Black is believed to have helped Lord Voldemort kill Harry’s parents and now he’s on the hunt for Harry.

The film introduces the Dementors – the creepy guards of Azkaban who can suck out souls. Other highly interesting additions are the Knight Bus, the Marrauder’s Map and the Monster Books. I really like those!

The bridges between the scenes are, however, what make the film so good compared to earlier HP-films. Not only do they show the passing of time, they also lead up to the climaxes at the end. The highly amusing Whomping Willow, the full moon, the use of nature and animals, the big clock and pendulum and the dreaded Dementors all point to the end where the willow, werewolves, animaguses, time travel and a fight for life or death all play major parts in the final outcome of the story.

I love the way time travel is used in the film, by the way. It’s always interesting to see a scene from different points of view, but to be honest it’s a bit too long. Like, oh, now we have to watch the whole film? Again?

On the other hand I’m impressed with how the film comes up with ways to handle the tedious bits in Rowling’s book. The exposure of Peter Pettigrew (a friend of Harry’s father) and the scene in the Shrieking Shack are so much better, comprised and exciting.

 

Cast

The story concentrates on two characters in the film. One is the new teacher in Defence Against the Dark Arts (there’s a new one each year), the other is Harry Potter. David Thewlis as the ragged, soft-spoken Professor Remus Lupin is just brilliant. And as for Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter… Whoa! What happened here? It’s plain to see that TWO years have passed since the last HP film! The kids are no longer kids, but teenagers and it is very becoming. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter is no longer the innocent, polite boy of former films, but a lean, rebellious youth with a vulnerable side to him and it does wonders for the Harry Potter character.

Because the film concentrates so much on these two characters, there’s hardly room for anyone else, though. The rest of the young cast has matured as well, of course. Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley has grown from an impish little boy to an awkward teenager, spending most of the film being hilariously scared and funny, and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger has become a true beauty, although she acts as badly as ever. It’s strange that neither her lines nor her reactions seem to come natural to her. She looks what she is; a young girl pretending to be something that she isn’t!

Also, Tom Felton doesn’t seem able to widen his character Draco Malfoy in HP3. He has become static and rather one-sided in his nastiness and the added cowardice seems as phoney as Emma Watson’s acting. The rest of the young students like the unlucky Neville (Matthew Lewis), the in sync speaking Weasley twins (James and Oliver Phelps) and the stuffy Head Boy Percy (Chris Rankin) are hardly in the film at all, which is a bit of a shame, really.

Of the adult cast Alan Rickman as Professor Snape is always worth watching, here mostly in the Boggart scene where he is dressed as Neville’s grandmother. Gary Oldman, too, does it well, managing the mix of madness and mildness as Sirius Black to perfection.

As for Dumbledore, Richard Harris sadly passed away before the making of HP3 and Michael Gambon has replaced him. To me it’s a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved Michael Gambon ever since I first set eyes on him in BBC’s six-part serial "The Singing Detective" (1986) where he played Philip Marlow, but he’s just not Dumbledore!

In Gambon’s version Dumbledore is a blunt, stern old man – he reminds me a bit of an aggressive bulldog – not at all the mild eccentric that the books make Dumbledore out to be, and whom Richard Harris portrayed so well. I’m afraid that to me Dumbledore died with Richard Harris.

 

Frightening and fantastic

"Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" is both frightening and fantastic. It is much darker and scarier than the previous HP films and what a relief it is! It makes you feel that the film series has finally found its right tone, maybe too scary for 11 year olds, but definitely more interesting than the books and the first two films as well. It is clearly the most artistic HP film so far and Caurón has really paid attention to details, which a phenomenon like Harry Potter deserves.

Also it’s great to be able to leave the cinema without thinking, "What the heck did really happen here?" as has been the case with earlier HP-films. One can only hope that Caurón gets to direct the rest of the series!

Four out of five stars: ****

@ Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2004

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