Revisiting Hogwarts: Prisoner of Azkaban

Continuing along at a nice pace through the Harry Potter movies, I move on to The Prisoner of Azkaban, traditionally my least favorite of the seven movies thus far. Cue the trailer:

Well, Alfonso Cuaron got his hands on the franchise, and man did he have a different way of doing things. The director of the first two films, Chris Columbus, clearly wanted to remain as loyal and truthful to J.K Rowling as possible. Cuaron, more of an auteur, wanted to take Harry Potter as inspiration and make a great film. The truth is, the Harry Potter movies would have been best carried out somewhere in the middle of the two. That said, let’s look at Cuaron’s work.

My absolute least favorite thing about the third movie are the DRASTIC changes that were made to things already very much in place. The landscape of the school is so wildly different that it’s almost unrecognizable from the earlier films. All of a sudden there are bridges and mountains. Gone are the grassy slopes the kids ran across to get to Hagrid’s–now it’s a steep hill. Flitwick looks like an entirely different character. The portrait of the Fat Lady has been moved to the top of a staircase and doesn’t seem to be in a tower at all anymore (and why couldn’t we get the same actress for the Fat Lady anyway?). And, of course, there’s the New Dumbledore. Richard Harris–the perfect Dumbledore, in my opinion–died between the second and third films. This obviously could not be helped, and I don’t compeltely hate the new one, although I think his beard tie is just plain weird.

Other casting decisions were not so great. The actor they chose to play Remus Lupin–one of my favorite characters from the books–looks like Hitler. Gary Oldman, who plays Sirius, is all wrong. He does not have the look of a man who was once a smooth-talking teenaged womanizer. They borderline give him a Jew-fro.

Cuaron totally lost me when it came to the decisions he made before the movie–casting, setting, and consistency. If he would have kept the decisions made early on, perhaps so many wouldn’t have cried out in outrage at Azkaban.

When I was thirteen and this film came out, I was also completely distressed by the interpretation Cuaron decided to take. Massive parts are taken out, and what he keeps is often rearranged. He takes so many more liberties than Columbus ever dared to. There are poignant artistic shots that I felt were eating up time that could have been spent being more faithful to the books.

Now, seven years later, I see that those moments make the third installment more of a film than the first two ever dared to be. There are things that most definitely should have no left out–like how the Marauders became Animagi. That was a severe injustice to the books. Still, the other changes are a bit easier to swallow now. The third film seems to fly by where the first two definitely lagged. Cuaron did a good job laying the foundation of picking and choosing what was truly important.

It’s still my least favorite movie though, tragic considering the third book was my absolute favorite for a long time.


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