Sunday, July 12, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Year: 2004
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the first film the series that took longer than the normal year it required to make it. This one took 18 months and that was because producer David Heyman explained that they wanted each film to have enough time with its production, and not seem so rushed. Director Chris Columbus who helmed the first two film in the series, opted not to direct the third film because he hadn't seen his kids in almost 2 years. Columbus instead chose to serve as producer and the search for a new director began. Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) and Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace) both turned it down because they were busy with other projects. Alfonso Cuarón was the final choice because he impressed author J. K. Rowling who loved his last film, Y tu mamá también. Since the late Richard Harris was no longer with us, a search for the role of Albus Dumbledore began. Ian McKellen was offered the part, but turned it down stating his character was too similar to that of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was finally decided when director Cuarón chose Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore.

Plot Outline:
Approaching his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has had enough of his muggle relatives. He runs away after using magic to blow Uncle Vernon's sister Marge (Pam Ferris) who was being offensive towards Harry's parents. Initially scared for using magic outside the school, he is pleasantly surprised that he won't be penalized after all. However, he soon learns that a dangerous criminal and Voldemort's trusted aide Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from the Azkaban prison and wants to kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. To worsen the conditions for Harry, vile shape-shifters called Dementors are appointed to guard the school gates and inexplicably happen to have the most horrible effect on him. Little does Harry know that by the end of this year, many holes in his past will be filled up and he will have a clearer vision of what the future has in store for him.

The third Harry Potter book has always been my favorite because its the only one in the series that I read more than three times. Whats surprising is that the film also happens to be my favorite and that's solely because of director Alfonso Cuarón's vision for this movie. The way he shoots the film in wide scope so you can see more of the background or the way the scenes transition, are all wonderful and simply refreshing. Hell, even the end credits are fun to watch and worth waiting till the very end for. I'm not a Chris Columbus hater because I have good respect for him bringing this series to the big screen and I even praised the second film, the Chamber of Secrets. While I think Columbus did a good job of staying pretty close to the source, Alfonso Cuarón does quite the opposite. The film maintains the key elements of the book, but definitely changes things around. Theirs more alteration and changes here than their was in the first two films. As a big fan of the novel, I find these changes to be kind of irritating. Still, the film is a visual delight and feels very different from the first two. The art direction is amazing and the atmosphere has never looked this vivid. The story is engrossing and feels like a mystery trying to unfold. The acting is better and it definitely helps the film in the long run. Theirs more character development and also more screen time from people other than Harry. The film does tend to slow down a bit during the middle half, but its hardly something that's going to bore you. Who would have thought a change in directors would result in a better sequel? Not only is the Prisoner of Azkaban better than the previous two films, but its change in tone, atmosphere, direction and etc. is exactly what the series needed.

Daniel Radcliffe returns once more as the boy wizard, Harry Potter. Radcliffe is definitely starting to change into a good actor and its very noticeable in this film. His performance is great and very enjoyable to watch. He knows what makes Harry tick and knows where to take this character in the next few films. Rupert Grint also returns once more as Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley. Grint is also starting to become a pretty good actor. He still delivers the funny lines here and their, but since its a darker storyline, theirs only a few. This is also the first movie in the series where you can slowly start to see Hermione's affection for Ron. Emma Watson reprises the lovely role of smart mouth, Hermione Granger. Hermione is just as fun and charismatic as Harry. I really enjoyed her performance in this film and it easily outshines the ones in the previous films. Her character gets alot more screen time and its just a warm welcome to finally see it happen. Tom Felton plays as Draco Malfoy and his character is just as sinister as he was in the previous films. His character is still playing the side bench role and isn't really a key focus in this film. The fact that he gets punched by Hermione, is always a plus in my book. Michael Gambon replaces the late Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore. I always saw Dumbledore as Richard Harris and I think he really played that role good. Gambon does an alright job, but just fails in comparison. I did appreciate that Gambom chose to do his own version of Dumbledore rather than imitate Harris.

The special effects in the Prisoner of Azkaban is truly a sight to behold. Not because their better than the previous films, but the way its actually used. The film has this magical atmosphere with everything looking and feeling very real, and out of this world. Its still a dark film, but the way the effects are used on its environments, really makes for some pretty cool looking vistas. The CGI is also alot more smoother with fluid animation. The films source is an excellent condition and I hardly noticed any film grain. The image is silky smooth and free of artifacts. Colors are somewhat split and vary from scene to scene. The film generally has this overcast look to it, but theirs also quite a few scenes that feature vibrant colors such as the scenes that involve the Whomping Willow. Black levels are strong and never seem to drop in quality even during some of the darker scenes. Flesh tones are natural, but alittle pale looking. Detail is remarkably strong and improved over the previous films. Close up shots show alot more clarity and detail in the image. The film has never looked this great and it still holds up to this day.

The soundtrack in the Prisoner of Azkaban is also a step up from its predecessors. Legendary composer, John Williams returns once again to score this film. His Academy Award nominated Harry Potter theme is still here and sound better than ever. Whats really impressive is that he conducted more music for this film than before. He did some more orchestral work and you can definitely notice it during the film. Its so wonderful to listen to and really brings this film on top. I cant think of one bad thing to say about this soundtrack. Trust me, its that good. The bass is as epic and smashing as the previous films. Its alot more spread out this time and it never fails to amaze me. Theirs plenty of action scenes to showcase the strength of this bass. It seems like with every new Harry Potter film, the bass just gets more and more aggressive. This is pure reference material and definitely something to show of your home entertainment system.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is not only my favorite film/book in the series, but its also the one that's the most different. The film is beautifully directed by Alfonso Cuarón who in my opinion, should have at least returned for one more film. His take on the novel isn't quite as faithful as the previous two films were, but his attention to detail and atmosphere is simply incredible. The story is very interesting as it unfolds and very nicely edited. The cast is great and its really nice to see more screen time for someone else other than Harry, even though its mostly Harry's story. The special effects are wonderful and amazingly blended with the films environment. Their are many breath-taking scenes. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal and definitely the better one in the series. Not only do we get the famous Potter theme song, but also a host of other orchestral music. Not all of the fans are going to let go of some of the changes in the film with me being one of them. However, I still think the film is great because it proves you can still made a good Harry Potter film without staying too closely to the source. The fact that the end credits is fun to watch on its own compared to any of the films, just goes to show you how different and special this film really is.

Grade: B+


The Mad Hatter said...

Couldn't agree with you more, and call this as both my favorite book and film in the series. Likewise, I too wish that Cuaron had come back for one more film.

He seemed to have the most fun with the actual setting of Hogwarts...emphasizing the theme of passing time with the recurring shots of the clock, and the seasons passing around the castle.

Great post - can't wait until wednesday!

Andrew The Dark said...

nice post, i too love this one more than the others. the Goblet of Fire does come a close second though

Farzan said...

@The Mad Hatter:
Agree, Cuaron was an excellent choice for the series. I wish he did more, but I'm just happy we at least got one. I'm going to see the Half-Blood Prince tomorrow and will hopefully have a review for it later that night.

@Andrew The Dark:
This is my favorite of the series so far and I did enjoy The Goblet of Fire too.

Jaccstev said...

This is the best Harry Potter film for me, but I think the latest one "Half Blood Prince" somewhat comes pretty damn close to challenging this one.

Farzan said...

Agree, I still think this was the best one yet. I absolutely loved this film, but I do think Half-Blood Prince was pretty entertaining and a solid summer action film.