Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Movie #241: Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban

Hey, we're back, after the crazy of Oscars and the other assorted madness!

Anyway, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third movie in the Harry Potter series, but the first really good one. That's because they got Alfonso Cuaron to direct it, as well as the stars from the first two, plus David Thewlis as Remis Lupin, Michael Gambon replacing Richard Harris as Dumbledore, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawny, and Timothy Spall as Peter Pettigrew.

I really like this movie, and it's not just because I'm a big fan of Cuaron. While the first two Potter movies were hamstrung by worrying too much about what to put in or leave out, Cuaron just kind of said "fuck it" and kept the important stuff.

Anyway, it's year three at Hogwarts, and Harry, after having a row with his aunt and uncle and storming out (as teens are wont to do), nearly gets attacked (he thinks) by a big black dog. Then he goes to Hogwarts, but first he learns that Sirius Black, supposedly one of Voldemort's biggest fans and the man who betrayed Harry's parents (despite being Harry's godfather!), has escaped from Azkaban. On the way to Hogwarts, he's attacked by horrible wraith-like creatures that suck the joy right out of you, but upon getting to Hogwarts...keeps getting attacked by them (this, by the way, was the story in which the uncomfortable truth that the adults of the wizarding world are complete flaming idiots becomes readily apparent). He learns from his new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher how to defend against them, and, more importantly, meets some of the people who were friends with his parents in school.

And then Sirius shows up, and no, it's not Sirius who betrayed James and Lilly Potter, it was Peter Pettigrew, who has spent the last 12 years disguised as Ron Weasley's rat. Consternations! Uproar!

In the end, Pettigrew escapes, Sirius is forced back on the lam, Lupin leaves Hogwarts because he's a fucking werewolf, and Harry goes back to the Dursleys because fuck that kid.

Now, plot holes aside (and there a few, but they're intrinsic to the series and I don't care about them much), there are a few issues with this movie. First, Cuaron assumes you've read the book. We never learned that Lupin was one of the creators of the Marauder's Map. Sirius never signs the permission slip for Harry to go to Hogsmeade, which was kind of a big deal in the book. And so on. These things are deleted scenes, sure, but it's weird that they were deleted.

But now let's talk about the good stuff. Cuaron taught Daniel Radcliffe to act. He taught the kids to have some chemistry with each other. He got Grint to stop mugging for the camera. And the movie itself is just rich with imagery and business in the backgrounds. The first two had magic; this one obviously takes place in a magical world. Cuaron might have done well to respect the source material's letter a little more, but he sure did right by the spirit.

Sadly, it's the only one he directed, and even more sadly it's followed by Goblet of Fire, which is easily the worst of the movies (and the only one I don't own). But this one is probably my favorite.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix