Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Bambon
Homogeny can set in within any franchise of films either through storytelling or the visual look it presents to the audience. Copy and pasting in order to move along appears to be the easy choice, but making larger shifts shows a level of cinematic bravery as shown in the third installment of the beloved wizarding world Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A film taking bold risks and having it pay wonderful dividends.
Returning for his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) learns about the escape of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) from Azkaban Prison and how the convict may be coming after the young teenager. This all coincides with the increased presence of dementors who do not discriminate in the efforts of getting their target.
With the first two features of this franchise doing a splendid job establishing the world and the dangers it holds for Harry, it’s in this feature where this series of films well and truly takes off. Keeping on with the creepy elements and turning it up to 100 along with other storytelling methods allows this feature to really kick things up a gear and so much of the credit must go the direction of Alfonso Cuarón. With the first two features helmed by Chris Columbus, who by all means is a good director, his films still lacked a certain visual flair to them, which this feature establishes and then pushes forward to the remaining films. Cuarón establishes this from the very onset of the feature and it carries throughout. It’s rare to see such a shift within a franchise where safe storytelling gets met with praise from audiences simply wanting to see what they read translated to the screen. Instead of just doing the basics Cuarón makes this feature a cinematic triumph.
Each passing year presents a new challenge for Harry Potter with similarities appearing in different people looking to put his life in danger. It almost begs the question of how normal things were at this school prior to Potter attending. I almost needed to hold back laughter when Harry learned about Sirius Black and how even the young teen knew this man, who he has never met, escaped prison and wants to kill him. The line forming to want to kill this poor kid is just beyond unfortunate to an almost comical degree, but it certainly makes each of these films lively. Along with a new evil trying to take him out, Harry receives more context surrounding his parents as we get closer to piecing together the full picture of what his parents represented and who was involved in their eventual death.
As the narrative continues to push forward, the structure in this film allows for some trickery in telling a story and a way to correct previously made wrongs. The way it all loops together causes a bit of confusion while also creating a richer impact on the themes of the film. While the other films have moments of hope for Harry to hold onto for his future from the relationships he has with his friends and other professors, certain moments in this feature outline impacts for his personal life and how he could eventually stop living with his horrible uncle. While all of these hopeful moments do not necessarily play out, it adds little kernels that could eventually pop into something meaningful for him.
While the central villain of this along with Voldemort’s presence provides some surprising and revelatory moments, the most threatening antagonists come in the form of dementors. Supposed guards of Azkaban Prison, it may be time for the Ministry of Magic to rethink the image of these horrifying creatures. Yes, they’re meant to scare the prisoners with the damage they can do physically and psychologically, but when interacting with other people like Harry, as shown in this feature, they sure are terrifying. Reminiscent of Ringwraiths from Middle Earth, these things have a hard time presenting themselves as one the side of the good. Characters keep mentioning it but the number of times Harry finds himself on the run from these things begs to differ in what their purpose serves. Their design is frightening as the series of films continues to get scarier from the first two in the imagery they display.
As with all reviews of this series, I must touch on the new additions of famous British actors continually added to the ever-growing cast. In this instance, we have Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, and Emma Thompson. All who could headline their own films but serve as part of the larger story here. The MVP of the new additions undoubtedly proves to be Thewlis and how his character steps in the ill-fated position of Professor for the Defence Against the Dark Arts. I mean, at this point, anyone taking this position at Hogwarts has a death wish with the rotating door of professionals making their way through this position. Thewlis handles the charming aspects of his character in being a helpful guide to Harry while also carrying a few secrets he wishes not to disclose to others. Comes par for the course with those who take on this position.
Majestic in its visuals and thrilling with its storytelling techniques, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sets a new tone and standard for the franchise. It elevates the visuals to a whole new level and pushes forward with more mature storytelling as the protagonists enter their teenage years and can handle the hard-hitting truths about their lives. Not everything appears as clean-cut as one believes when they are kids, and this film pushes forward with this in questioning the institutions of the wizarding world and the part it has to play in Harry’s journey.