Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Review by Kelly M. Grosskreutz
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Rating: Imperial Star Destroyer
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the few movies I have been both anticipating and dreading from the moment I heard that they were filming the first movie in the series. It is my favorite book in the series and I am so attached to the plot, the characters, and the backstory that I was afraid of how this book would be translated to the big screen. However, on the off chance that they got it right, I was anticipating it as well, because I really wanted to see some of these scenes played on the screen by talented actors.
Upon seeing it, I have to say I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. The one thing I really, really loved was Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. I knew he was a good actor, and was excited to see how he would play Sirius upon seeing a few pictures from the movie featuring him and Lupin, but that was nothing compared to seeing him on the big screen. Everything about him screamed Sirius, from his body language and voice to the dialogue he was given. The winning point for me, however, was his eyes. There are certain actors that can convey their entire character just by allowing us a glimpse into his or her eyes. Oldman is one of these actors. Simply brilliant.
One other person I thought was a great choice to be in this movie was Timothy Spall as Peter Pettigrew. Spall seems to be getting lost in all the hype surrounding all the other new characters, but he did an amazing job of bringing Pettigrew to life. He played Pettigrew pretty much as I had imagined him in my mind.
The other newcomers to the series did a decent job in portraying their characters. David Thewlis in particular deserves a mention, as I had great reservations about him playing Lupin. I wasnít judging him by his acting, since I didnít remember actually seeing him in anything, but on his looks. For some reason, he just looked like a man who shouldnít be trusted to be alone with young boys. Maybe itís the coat they had him wearing, I donít know. As I hoped, though, actually seeing him act did much to dispel those thoughts. Much of Thewlisís portrayal of Lupin was low-key, but if one really watches his eyes and body language, one can tell that Thewlis truly understands his character.
There were many good scenes in this movie, including the first Defense Against the Dark Arts class with the boggart, the Quidditch match, and the action in the Shrieking Shack toward the end. The latter scene is the one scene I was terrified they would get wrong, and it was a close thing, I am afraid to admit. About 85% of the Shrieking Shack sequence was cut from the movie to avoid exposition and get to the heart of the sequence, meaning that a lot of backstory was lost as well. However, from the second Lupin arrives, the scene just shines. The very heart of the events that transpire there in the book are shown in the movie, allowing one to become emotionally involved and forget for a moment just what has not made it into the movie. Especially delightful was finally getting to see on screen the confrontation between Sirius, Lupin, and Snape.
Unfortunately, thatís pretty much what this movie has. Scenes. Lots of scenes that quite often are only loosely connected together. The film appeared to be rushed, especially in the first portion of it, and many times I felt like we were being jumped from scene to scene with little transition. It took me almost a full minute to realize that, yes, Hermione and the Weasleys were at the Leaky Cauldron and no, I didnít miss anything, meaning that I didnít catch everything that happened from the moment Harry saw them to when Arthur Weasley pulled him aside for their little chat.
Also, a lot of the backstory was missing. I donít have a problem with sacrificing some of it, as I knew they would have to do so to accommodate the time frame and not bog the movie down with exposition, but at the same time the lack of backstory and explanation did hurt the movie. At times, things happened for no apparent reason and/or characters had knowledge that, according to what we saw in the movie, they shouldnít have. A great example of this comes at the end. Lupin and Harry are talking in Lupinís office, and Lupin tells Harry he can have his map back. He then demonstrates that he knows how to work it. In the movie we are given no indication of how he knows this. Would it have really hurt Cuaron, Kloves, and the others to have taken another minute or two to explain that Lupin is a co-creator of the map and just who exactly Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs are?
Overall, a decent movie and one I will definitely see many times, both at the theater and on DVD, but with many flaws as well. It is because of these flaws that I cannot give it a higher rating.
Reviewed June 5, 2004 by Kelly M. Grosskreutz.
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