Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Review by Diana and MaceVindaloo

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban website screenshot Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Creator, Screenplay: J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves

Rating: Super Star Destroyer/ Death Star

[*** SPOILER ALERT ***]

Some people are going to hate this movie because it's quite different from the first two in the series, which, quite frankly, were set-up for the real adventures. Prisoner of Azkaban (POA) is really when things start to get freaky, when lies are unmasked, the darkness in Harry's soul will bubble up and bite you in the face, and the issues are never as you think they are. You know, the normal crap that happens when you're a teen.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban website intro mapHarry, of course, is not like you or me, in that he's the son of the greatest witch of her age and the most respected wizard of his era; they were killed by a powerful enemy, and Harry was raised as a foundling with resentful relatives. He's stalked by the greatest evil ever known, and protected by none other than Albus Dumbledore — the headmaster of Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the most powerful wizard alive in two centuries — as well as by a whole host of magic folk who know of his significance.

But he is also very much like you and me in that he worships that which he does not know (his dead parents), has fits of uncontrollable rage (like when he blows up his vitriolic Aunt Marge, a very nice scene), protects his friends fiercely, and is devastated when things don't work out the way he wants them to. He can be a complete prat, or rise up heroically without thinking. He is very much like all of us, and that is likely the key to J.K. Rowling's books. Yeah, he can fly a broom and he can wield that wand and do you a harm, but Luke Skywalker is a Jedi and we still think he's a whiny little bitch ... and so it is with Harry.

Admittedly, POA is "book #3" of the 7-book series so Harry hasn't gotten into his worst behavior yet (yeah, it's foreshadowing, but we all read HP5: Order of the Phoenix by now, right?), but the movie version foreshadows it, too. It ends somewhat happily, but also sadly. Yes, the prisoner(s) get away, but what do they do, where will they go? Yes, the truth was revealed, but what about the one who got away? Or the one who was forced to leave Hogwart's through no fault of his own? And will Ron and Hermione ever stop pretending they think they are simply argument buddies? And we don't find out the result of the Quidditch game in this one, but we do get to see the performance of the Firebolt! (Unlike the first two movies, this one did not end at the end of year feast, not was there any mention of who had won the House Cup this time around.)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban posterThe editing style was choppy, almost like a grainy, gritty documentary. It reminded me of those war-era reporting compilations you see sometimes on public television. The colors were stark, cold, and raw. There were several revisions to the sets which I'm not clear on. Like the little hill from the castle to Hagrid's is now a steep, rock-strewn rubble field with a ring of menhirs by the entrance of the school. And Hagrid seems to have put an addition on his hut. Hermione's use of a marginally illegal time-turner was only referred to briefly by Ron, and yet it's a key piece in the climax of the film. (Poor Ron, he seemed to be relegated in the movie to being the "announcer" of things ... he was the "Ric Olié" of this film!) But overall, they did add to the atmosphere of the story and added some practical notes to what in the books were simply left to the reader's imagination.

Because the movie is long, many of the characters only got short, short screentime. Sybill Trelawney was played brilliantly by Emma Thompson (interestingly, ex-wife of Kenneth Branagh, who played Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets; also, she, like Richard Harris and Alan Rickman, took on the roles to make young relatives happy) got two important scenes, and that's it. Percy and Ginny Weasley each got a fraction of a second; Fred and George got a few more (being custodians of the Marauder's Map, after all). Malfoy got about a minute, all up. Even Hagrid, in his new position as Hogwart's faculty member, got maybe 5 minutes total.

Some of the editing did feel brutal, was blatantly noticeable, and didn't flow as seamlessly as it might have. They were likely trying to shave as many seconds off the running time of the film as possible, but in some cases, the shaving got too close to the bone and was unsatisfying. This is another reason people might be upset about this movie compared to the first two. But in speaking to parents and children, it seems the concensus is "it's okay, we understand and liked it." Everyone seemed more concerned that the characters be "right" rather than everything be explained, which is a nice change from all the whining we'd heard about things being cut in Chamber of Secrets.

In contrast, what was with the choir singing (and taking up valuable time?) or all that film time spent on the Monster Book? Cute, but did Harry subduing the book justify cutting the scene at Flourish and Blott's on Diagon Ally to obtain the book? And a considerable amount of (necessary) time was spent on the Knight Bus, but not quite enough, nor were the gags completely worth it. But honestly, overall it was a tight, good effort, and it goes a long way toward establishing a style for future movies with longer story lines. And no time was spent on taking points from Gryffindor House. Not important, but a bit strange considering how much that was used in the first two movies. Just another thing that lends this movie an air of being "different." In fact, it it wasn't for the cast, I'd wonder if this was an entirely different production company, at times.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban website screenshotWe agreed that the production company is trying to establish a style for the more complex, brooding, longer stories to come. After Chamber of Secrets came out, we realized the shortest of the books still took over two hours to present on the big screen, and we wondered what major revisions would be needed by screenplay writer Steve Kloves to tell the story for Goblet of Fire. Cuarón is giving us a taste of what to expect: more focus on Harry and his point of view, less on what other's are feeling or experiencing. After all, the series is called "Harry Potter and ..." There is also no effort to explain who is who and why things are happening ("You Know Who" is not explained, of course). It's expected that you've viewed the first two set-up movies, making this the first movie of the series not to be a "stand-alone" effort.

Richard Harris, who played the august Dumbledore so perfectly, died from the effects of Hodgkin's Disease before the release of Chamber of Secrets, and Irish actor Michael Gambon was selected to replace him. The look and feel is similar to Harris's take on the great wizard, but his voice is not. Harris's voice was weakened by the lymphoma, and that quaver in the soft spoken delivery was perhaps more powerful than a loud bellowing option. Thus, Gambon's Dumbledore was more energetic and conspiratorial, as opposed to stately and wizened. It's as if the headmaster had had a nice holiday and got his voice, vim, and vigor back.

The children of the cast have all grown! They are all thinner, lankier, taller, with cracking voices and messier demeanors. Their school uniforms are worn untucked, half-tucked, rumpled, unlaundered; their hair is incredibly messy (even Hermione is prompted to gasp at one point, "Is that what my hair looks like from the back???") — in the great boarding school tradition, they look like they sleep in their clothes and run to classes straight after rolling out of bed. Even Neville Longbottom is losing his pudginess and Vincente Crabbe may not be as fat as he lets on. Draco Malfoy is no longer a beautiful boy, alas.

The casting for this film was perfect, just like the first two movies. The two new major characters are Remus Lupin and Sirius Black (played by David Thewlis and Gary Oldman, respectively, as well as by some nice CG animations), and we admit, we worried about them. The pre-preview freeze-frames which came out as publicity stillshots were not encouraging, but Thewlis and Oldman exceeded our high expectations. Oldman is known for "getting lost inside his characters" and he did so completely here. Just as Alan Rickman will forever be Severus Snape, so now Gary Oldman will be Sirius Black — twisted around and under raving madness, but avoiding it through untold means. Here's a hint: he has small prison-style tattoos on his body, most visible on his knuckles. Another person was saying she didn't think this was realistic, for Azkaban was not that type of prison. But I thought it was probable, in that one sort of pain can often save you from another — in Sirius's case, the agony of knowing the truth and being accused of the most horrible crime could be endured by inflicting physical pain on yourself. It's the equivalent of "biting a bullet" when the medicine men of olde would pull an arrow from your rump. These and other costuming decisions were reportedly made by the cast, and they give depth and a horrible beauty to the suffering each of these men would have experienced since the rise of you-know-who.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban website screenshot map

We have a confession to make ... we went to the 12:01 a.m. showing at a theater in the next borough. Even though the real reason we did that had to do with the fact that we simply would not have had the time to do so for the next fortnight otherwise, I'm still awfully glad we did! Okay, so we might be geeks ... We thought the Marauder's Map effects were terrifically cool, and the solution regarding how to show multiple floors on a flat piece of parchment was brilliant! We stayed through the long, long end credits, simply because they were written onto the map itself. It's a beautiful piece of calligraphy and draftsmanship, something we wish we'd done for the "Art & Stuff" section of the 'Hut! So sit through the end titles; not only will you not have to fight the crowd out of there, but you'll get to enjoy the map in it's considerable glory.


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