Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
After an accidental altercation with a visiting relative at the Dursley household, Harry takes it upon himself to run away and essentially rid himself of the tyranny his aunt, uncle, and cousin have so openly subjected him to. Just when Harry thinks he’s finally in the clear, he receives Intel pertaining to a murderous lunatic, Sirius Black, who’s inexplicably escaped from Azkaban prison. Unfortunately, Black’s intentions are abundantly clear: to finish what Lord Voldemort hadn’t almost 13 years prior. With Harry’s life in jeopardy once again, he must struggle to uncover even more secrets pertaining to his relatively hazy past, all while avoiding the dreadful, school-appointed Dementors amongst other obstacles.
This folks, is the Potter film I’ve been waiting for. The bluish haze that so freely looms over every scene almost immediately paves the way for an altogether darker, exceptionally brooding take on the series, with Cuarón taking the elements director Chris Columbus emphasized so wholeheartedly and essentially throwing them out the window. This isn’t to say that Prisoner of Azkaban isn’t a faithful adaptation; it is by all means, but for what it’s worth, the obvious physical maturity that’s taken place within each of the main protagonists is mirrored within the newfound emotional depth the film so openly explores.
With said depth comes some terrifically fleshed out characters, including that of newcomers David Thewlis and Gary Oldman as werewolf professor Remus Lupin and notorious criminal Sirius Black. In fact, the scenes showcasing the often heartfelt interaction that takes place between Potter and these two are easiest to appreciate given Cuarón’s fantastic personal approach, of which truly makes the film as enjoyable as it is. When it comes down to nitpicking, I couldn’t help but feel that despite the seriousness of Potter’s rendezvous with Black within the novel, the interaction between them here sometimes feels a tad rushed, but most certainly not in a fashion that takes away from the film as whole. However, it’s easy to see that fans of the first two films might have difficulty swallowing this one at first, given the absence of childhood innocence and less of a focus on the wizarding whimsy present within the confines of Hogwarts.
Furthermore, the third installment in the franchise can also be perceived as both the funniest and the scariest of the lot, mostly on the basis of how the source material was translated to the big screen once again. The lively “Knight Bus” scene that takes place near the start of the film is handled with great ease and fervor, and the obviousness of the terror surrounding any sort of altercation with the Dementors is all too present whenever necessary. Even Professor Lupin’s troubled past and true nature are handled as deftly as possible, further reconfirming that the liberties Cuarón so willingly took with the material are more than welcome for fans and non-fans alike.
Sticking with the aforementioned emotional maturity of the three main protagonists, said maturity seems to have opened the gateway from the world of child actors into that of respectable ones, allowing them to pass through it with great determination. Thewlis and Oldman are surprisingly terrific in their respective roles, and Michael Gambon takes over the later Richard Harris’ post as Dumbledore with great ease. The rest of the supporting cast is just as good as they were in previous entries, so no major changes in this regard, but in this case, more of the same is better than nothing.
So, to say Prisoner of Azkaban is just an improvement over its predecessors would most definitely be an understatement. In fact, it can very much be considered a respectable stand-alone piece of cinema, thanks to the much-needed liberties director Alfonso Cuarón took with the source material. If you’re a huge fan of earlier Potter films though, you just might have some qualms with such a creative approach, but when it comes down to it, you’ll find it hard to simply not enjoy a film of its stature.