Friday, June 26, 2009

Top Films: Prisoner of Azkaban

If the third book took the Harry Potter story from a mere children’s fantasy series and sent it into literary greatness; the third film signaled the producers’ complete embrace of changing everything and merely sticking to the bare structure of the plot; in other words a step in the wrong direction.

There are good things about this film to be sure. Alfonso Cuaron was praised by critics and Rowling alike for best capturing the feel of the stories. The art direction and visual style of the film is great. The sets and cinematography are better than the first two films. Little touches here and there such as the transition shots that push the time frame and seasons forward through the film are great. Best of all the kids feel somehow more authentic than in the first two films.

However, the story has been heavily altered and has lost a lot. Some of it just feels like a complete lack of understanding of the book; the opening scene, for instance, where Harry is doing his homework under the covers at night. In the book he works on essays; here he practices spells, which is more cinematic. Not five minutes into the film, though, we are reminded that any use of magic outside of Hogwarts will get him expelled!

Even worse, entire plot elements are lost. (The book has something like ten plot-lines all interwoven and perfectly balanced.) The Firebolt sequence (clumsily moved to the end), Ron and Hermione not speaking for much of the year, and the best year of Quiditch in the series is glossed over. Unforgivably, the entire storyline about Harry’s dad and friends being Missers Mooney, Padfoot, Wormtail and Prongs is gone! We can thank Cuaron for the series going down this path, as he advised the next director to excise over half of the next books plot rather than make it into two movies.

Finally, something needs to be said about Dumbledore in this film. Richard Harris died before the film was made and Michael Gambon took over the role. In some ways a lot was lost, as Harris skillfully (and visually) embodied the wise older guide role. However, Gambon introduced some of the lacking quirk found in the books. The only questions as the film series continues are, does it become too silly and does he inject too much into the character that is not on the page? (Another question perhaps best addressed in the next installment.)


  1. This movie was actually my favorite of the ones made so far. It's impossible for a movie to copy a book completely (the mistake of the first movie - which was unavoidable as the masses would have screamed bloody murder). I thought Azkaban did a good job of interpreting the book and telling a great story that even a non-reader of the book could follow (the mistake of the 4th movie). This movie has a good sense of humor and as you said, the visual style is great.I love the boggart scene where the camera moves through mirror in the cabinet. I'm also sad that the next 3 movies weren't split into two so the story could be told thoroughly. Ron and Hermione's characters really suffered from that decision, as they aren't allowed the chance to develop as in the books. And for me, they are as much of the fun of the story as Harry. Especially Hermione, who ends up being more than just the cleverest witch in her class, but the hero who stands by Harry to the end and saves him and Ron time and again. I"d love a character driven post, by the way. There are some great ones in the Harry Potter universe. Thanks for the series!

  2. The biggest mistake in the filming of the movies was the casting of Gambon. Mike and I will be glad to see him go in #6. I've read he refuses to read any of the books, which could explain his terrible portrayal.I, too, couldn't believe they didn't explain the Lupin/James/Sirius/Pettigrew background better

  3. Yes, I agree. This is my favorite movie so far (although 5 has it's moments). It is just frustrating to know what is coming. And you both are getting ahead of me into the next movie. I was really frustrated going back to book and movie 4 last week. I really sort of hate the next movie. Anyway, I have written my reviews for both and am on to reading 5 (or at least trying to when Cheryl is not rereading it) but won't post them until next Thursday and Friday. I need to space these out or I won't have time to finish reading and thinking about books 5 and 6 before the movie comes out!


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