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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

October 29, 2010

VERDICT:
8/10 Expecto Patronums

Thank you, Mr. Cuaron. Thank you showing us how it’s done.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban picks up with our guy HP heading off to his third year at Hogwarts after turning 13 and surviving yet another Summer with the worst effing muggle family on the planet. On the way there, he’s almost killed by soul-sucking dementors, but thanks to the help of a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and his endless supply of chocolate, he dodges that bullet and eventually makes it to his dorm nice and safe like. As if that wasn’t enough, the dementors are now shacking up at school until further notice because a homicidal wizard said to be in kahoots with good old Voldy escaped from wizard prison and is looking to finish off Harry for good. And Malfoy got a new haircut, but he’s still fuckin’ jerk.

Never a dull moment at wizard high school, man.

So, no more Chris Columbus. That means no more cracking voices, no more Hagrid hug-a-thons, no more Moaning Myrtles or any of that kiddie crap that got real old real fast in Chamber of Secrets. Thank God. About damn time these kids grew the hell up.


But how the Hollywood bigwigs came to the consensus that the guy who wrote and directed Y tu mamá también (arguably the least child-friendly movie next to Requiem for a Dream and Debbie Does Dallas) would do a bang-up job of revamping this PG series with a healthy dose of looming death and ambiguously raging hormones, your guess is as good as mine. Jesus, you look at the guy’s resume and the words “Harry Potter” will make you do a double-take. But whoever that wacky producer was, hat’s off to them for taking an inspired risk on one of the best directors out there that paid off big time for everyone.

From the opening scene where Harry’s playing with his wand under his bedsheets (get it?), it’s easy to see that Cuaron is out to inject some new, borderline-PG-13 blood into this sucker. Then Harry finds himself getting a lift from a magic bus with a wise-cracking shrunken head from Jamaica, and you start to wonder how much acid Harry’s been taking all Summer because it starts to feel more like a Terry Gilliam movie than anything else. And that’s what’s great about Cuaron, that he totally gets rid of all the cutesy, childish elements of the past two entries and replaces them with a whole new kind of dark weirdness that perfectly complements the tone of the storyline and adds a whole new life to a world that was getting to be old hat.

It feels like a new Hogwarts, like we’ve only been allowed to see the east wing of the joint up until now and it’s just wild the difference a new set of eyes can make. In short, shit has gotten real in the wizarding world of HP, and, boy, was it in need of some realness.


But maybe I’m biased. The novel is one of my favorite of the seven and I love how awesome the story is without even having to throw V. Dizzle into the mix. Only issue is with the whole Time-Turner sequence (which is generally awesome) and Harry’s reasoning behind how he was finally able to cast his stag thanks to the aneurysm-inducing complexities of time travel, but at least Hermione is there to tell him that he’s talking like a fuckin’ lunatic. All the same, there are a number of knockout additions here, Time-Turner included.

First off, how about the introduction of two of the best characters this whole series has to offer: Remus-effing-Lupin and Sirius-effing-Black (is that not the coolest name or what?). Never seen David Thewlis in anything before, but he is so likable, so casually cool in tweed and plays Lupin to a tee. Great character in the books, might even be better in the movies. But come on, this movie belongs to Gary Oldman. Dude’s one of my all-time faves (I don’t even wanna hear that “overactor” noise) and if you ever want anyone to play a certifiable madman like no other, he’s your guy. God, just that “tattooed hobo” look of his and those wanted posters of him screaming in silence are more than enough to do it. Talk about a badass godfather. Guy makes Don Corleone looks like a cat-stroking chump.

And while Michael Gambon is good as the peppy, new Dumbledore, I miss wise, old Richard Harris. Just doesn’t have that same quiet strength going for him, but whatcha gonna do? At least Emma Thompson is fantastic as the one hippie witch in all of Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney.

But Rupert Grint is getting noticeably better as Ron now that he’s hit puberty and Emma Watson is still good as Hermione. Although Daniel Radcliffe does look flat-out ridiculous whenever Harry gets angry now. Other than that, Danny Boy can keep on doing his thing.

Man, I was really surprised by The Prisoner of Azkaban. Alfonso Cuaron was just what this baby needed, I love how dead-on he matched Rowling’s increasingly mature tone and I love what a noticeable change this is from Columbus. Wish screenwriter Steve Kloves had taken an extra ten pages or so to flesh out the back story of Black, Lupin, Pettigrew and HP’s dad from back in the day, also would have liked that to have been tied back into The Marauder’s Map, but whatever, his script has a solid sense of humor that the past two were very much missing and he hits enough of the important plot points that the nitpicky stuff doesn’t seem so big in the long run. That’s why you read the book anyway.

That Goblet of Fire‘s sure got a good deal to live up to. Still can’t wait to see Ed Cullen get offed though.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2010 5:30 am

    This is my favourite Harry Potter film – love the styling and the time-travel bits are exciting every time I see the film. It’s a shame Cuaron didn’t make another Potter film.

    • October 29, 2010 9:53 am

      Agreed. He should have stuck around. Interested to see how the series looks from here on out. Thought he captured the world perfectly.

  2. October 29, 2010 6:34 am

    The best in book and movie 🙂
    But Lupin is not how I imagine it…Kenneth Brannagh is the one I was imagining when reading the book, I was surprised when they cast him in the second movie (I’ve forgotten his character’s name), Hugh Grant is the one I imagined for that role.

    But, overall…the movie is goos.

    • October 29, 2010 9:55 am

      Gilderoy Lockhart, and Branagh was a saving grace of that one even though you’re dead-on about Grant. He would have been awesome.

    • November 1, 2010 1:12 am

      Agreed here that Lupin was nothing like what I had imagined while reading the books, but it does work well for the film.

  3. October 30, 2010 10:39 am

    Best of the bunch by far, although the new director that’s been helming all of them since ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is getting better and better, so DEATHLY HALLOWS might be really good. I say might, but I have hope.

    • November 1, 2010 12:48 pm

      Yeah, I’m thinking this is gonna be tough to beat, but I’m pretty pumped to watch Goblet of Fire this week. I’ve got hope for Deathly Hallows, too. At least they didn’t try to cram it all down into one movie. Mostly curious if they’re gonna keep the “15 years later…” ending in Part II.

  4. November 1, 2010 1:17 am

    I think it’s the back story of Black and company that makes this my favorite book, so I agree that it would’ve nice to see a little more screen time dedicated to the Marauders.

    But, I generally hate the use of time travel in movies, even though this one doesn’t get to extensive with it. But just introducing time travel into the series messes things up. Why wouldn’t Voldy or Lucius use such a device to go back and change the night when The Dark Lord was defeated? Or off any potential enemies on the crapper?

    • November 1, 2010 1:00 pm

      Damn. Good point about time travel. Guess even Voldemort wouldn’t want to fuck around with that stuff. Definitely a ballsy move on Rowlling’s behalf to throw time travel into the mix, but then again, it seems awfully fitting for this kind of story.

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