Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
March 22, 2016 9:22 AM - Subscribe

The third movie in the Potter series. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the movie takes a darker and more mature tone that the previous films.


AV Club: With so much at stake, would Cuarón infuse the material with his own vision, or would he be hamstrung by expectations, the stand-in conductor of a runaway train?

Miraculously, Cuarón does a little bit of both in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, which keeps the Potter universe intact while wresting it out of kiddie-land, introducing a sophisticated style that's simultaneously darker and more whimsical than the previous films.

NYT: This is surely the most interesting of the three Potter movies, in part because it is the first one that actually looks and feels like a movie, rather than a staged reading with special effects. ''Sorcerer's Stone'' and ''Chamber of Secrets,'' both directed with literal-minded competence by Chris Columbus (who has stayed on as a producer) may have been more faithful to Ms. Rowling's text, but ''Azkaban'' attempts, and for the most part achieves, a trickier sort of translation. This film may disappoint some dogmatic Old Hogwartsians: a few plot points have been sacrificed, and Mr. Cuarón does not seem to care much for Quidditch. But it more than compensates for these lapses with its emotional force and visual panache.

Roger Ebert: Is "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" as good as the first two films? Not quite. It doesn't have that sense of joyously leaping through a clockwork plot, and it needs to explain more than it should. But the world of Harry Potter remains delightful, amusing and sophisticated; the challenge in the films ahead will be to protect its fragile innocence and not descend into the world of conventional teen thrillers.
posted by toomanycurls (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ebert's reviews of the Harry Potter movies were interesting because he never read the books, so he approached them like a wide-eyed innocent, not knowing what was to come. But his assertion that the challenge for the later films would be to "protect its fragile innocence and not descend into the world of conventional teen thrillers," is pretty far off-base in retrospect.

The stylistic shift from Chamber of Secrets to Azkaban is huge. Even the grounds at Hogwarts seem wildly different, more hill-y, more highland-y, bigger and more mysterious. The three leads are starting to actually be good actors at this point in the series, so there's fewer cringe-worthy moments (I think the only one is Radcliffe's "HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!!" outburst at Hogsmeade).

David Thewlis is amazingly well-cast as Lupin and his quiet conversations with Harry in this movie are a real highlight of the whole series. Emma Thompson does a perfectly loopy Trelawney, but that's not really surprising I guess. I mostly like Michael Gambon's Dumbledore. Being younger than Richard Harris, his Dumbledore is a bit more spry and spritely. His only real performance misstep is in the next movie though, so I won't talk about that here.

One thing that bugs the hell out of me is the opening sequence where Harry is using a Lumos spell to read a book under his covers. Shouldn't he be getting in trouble for that already under that under-age magic rules? Plus apparently he sucks at that spell, because he keeps having to relight his wand. Dude, just use a flashlight.
posted by wabbittwax at 11:19 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The film's yelliest moment has been my source of instant laughter for years. It was a cringe-worthy moment when I saw this in theaters but thank the internet for making it funny.

Stylistically, I really enjoyed the change in tone but not so much the physical changes to the school. This movie changed the ghosts (specifically dropped John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick) and didn't bring back Oliver Wood.

2004 me hated this movie when it came out because it wasn't as detailed as the books but looking at a Book/Film comparison, I realize I was a bit of purist then. I do wish they could have gone a bit deeper on the Marauders and the whole secret keeper business. The Firebolt drama and the awkward Christmas meal with Trelawney would have been nice to see but really didn't add to the plot.

The intro scene with magic really, really bothered me too (especially as they kept the trial in OotP).

David Thewlis and Gary Oldman were brilliant as Remus and Sirius. They had the feel of old time friends the instant they were on screen together.
posted by toomanycurls at 1:22 PM on March 22, 2016

I already rambled in the book thread so the only thing I'll say here is that I quite like the soundtrack for this film. I feel like John Williams could easily have phoned it in. He's John Williams, and this movie was always going to make a gajillion dollars, he could have scored it for kazoos and been fine. Instead we get a few wonderfully evocative moments in the score. The award noms for the soundtrack were well deserved.

The scene with Buckbeak's flight is a love letter to the Hogwarts castle and grounds, as well as a nice reminder that Harry is an absolute maniac for flying (though the CGI didn't age well at all).
posted by Wretch729 at 1:29 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I really loved the teen drama in this movie. I know that sounds frivolous, but it's just done so well, and the dance seen is just ... so great in capturing how big events like that can be so fraught and so combustible at that age.
posted by lunasol at 3:24 PM on March 22, 2016

(Wrong movie - dance is in the next one)
posted by wabbittwax at 3:55 PM on March 22, 2016

posted by lunasol at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2016

This movie is the best of the Potter flicks. It's a real mystery where we have real characters, and even if the audience figures the mystery out before the characters do, it still manages to surprise the audience with who figures out what when (as demonstrated by the shifting dialogue during the reveal scene). Every aspect of the film induces that wonderful frisson that only the best mysteries with great characters can make. When the harpischord plays with the Scabbers reveal... that's the good stuff.

And of course, it takes pride in being a real movie, as opposed to its predecessors (as the NYT notes in the links). I particularly enjoyed Cuarón's playfulness with filmmaking techniques to highlight the theme of Hogwarts's past existing alongside the new. When the dementors browbeat Harry into unconsciousness, Cuarón uses an iris-close transition to black like the early silents; and yet, this is the first film in which we see the students wear regular stylish clothing. We see the Wizarding community outside of Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. And Ron playing up his injury to Hermione is delightful.

Oh, such a good film. None of the others were quite as good as this one.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:33 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think it marked, for me, the period at which the Harry Potter films started to become a much darker and more menacing series. The score and scenes gradually became more filled with a sense of danger, which was a trend that continued until the last moments of the franchise.
posted by ComicsSleepRepeat at 10:10 PM on March 22, 2016

I'd put this at second or third, but it's definitely the best of the early movies. The reveal of Hermonie's time travel is a particularly well handled twist.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:01 PM on March 22, 2016

From the leaky cauldron's list of differences

" Percy and Penelope’s Romance: The romance that blossoms between Percy and Penelope is left out completely from the film."

Eh? I don't remember that happening in the book... at all?


" In the book when Snape calls Hermione an “insufferable no-it-all,” Ron defends Hermione, yet in the movie Ron agrees with Snape’s comment."

Ron really does get shafted by the films. When Harry brings Ron on the horcrux hunt in the books it makes total sense, in the film it feels like he thinks "oh wait, we will need comedy relief!" I think this is partially due to him probably being the weakest performer of the three.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:34 AM on March 23, 2016

Percy and Penelope was CoS.
posted by brujita at 2:08 PM on March 23, 2016

Their PoA relationship entailed Percy getting mad when Ron spilled water on his photo of Penelope, them meeting on the platform for the Hogwarts Express, Percy betting on the Gryffindor/Ravenclaw game with her, and spouting off about the Ministry not catching Sirius. I don't think there was more than that in this book.
posted by toomanycurls at 3:24 PM on March 23, 2016

This movie was such a breath of fresh air after the first two. I remember being so, SO excited about the trailer and thinking it couldn't possibly live up to the expectations the trailer set up and then it totally did. The casting is great and Cuarón gets fantastic performances out of all of them. I agree with toomanycurls that it really felt like David Thewlis and Gary Oldman were old, old friends.

I love Michael Gambon's Dumbledore, personally. I felt Richard Harris played him as a wise, eccentric, but ultimately Good, Morally Upstanding, Above Reproach Guy, whereas Gambon's has a bit more of an aura of menace. This is a Dumbledore that Voldemort would be scared of not just because of his power but because of his tactics. Gambon's Dumbledore might fight dirty, might play politics, might manipulate people who love him to achieve his ends. I think Dumbledore should be a little scary - ultimately he's been the general on the underdog side in two wizarding wars, you don't get there by being Santa Claus - and I think Gambon brings that to his performance.

HBP is my favorite of the films but this is a close second.
posted by town of cats at 9:34 PM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is my favourite of the films, I just love the atmosphere, and the look of it (and it was always my favourite book too). For a start, Hogwarts really starts to feel like a single location rather than various sets and bits of Oxford and Durham, and as infinitewindow says, with Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you start to get a real sense of the Wizarding World.

I love the imagination that Cuaron brings to the film as well - even if JKR didn't always agree, and despite the fact he inadvertently reveals Ian Brown to be one of the most powerful wizards in the world because he doesn't always follow the internal rules of the universe.

My favourite scene in any of the films is in this one, and doesn't even come from the books - it's the animal noises scene in Gryffindor Tower - this tiny glimpse of everyday Hogwarts/wizarding life. I would watch a whole movie of just the hijinks those five get up to at Hogwarts, with no peril needed.
posted by featherboa at 4:49 AM on March 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

BTW Evan Puschak ("TheNerdwriter") has a great YouTube video about this film.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:53 AM on March 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

JKR said somewhere that Cuarón intuited things that hadn't yet been published.

In the book Sirius is described as a ravaged beauty, which is completely NOT Gary Oldman.
posted by brujita at 11:02 PM on March 24, 2016

Part of me still wishes that Alan Rickman had been Lupin.
posted by brujita at 11:03 PM on March 24, 2016

Came here to see if Ian Brown's wandless magic had been mentioned - not disappointed.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:15 PM on March 24, 2016

Just rewatched this last night, and there's Wandless magic all over the shop! Dumbleton, lupin, all the teachers seem to indulge. Which makes it all the more amusing that pettigrew needs a wand to transform to a rat, seeing as he didn't in the book! Bonus question, do wizards need their wands to apparate?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:14 AM on March 25, 2016

Wandless Magic isn't as incredible as everyone assumes it to be, after all one of the very first magic acts we see in both book and movie is Harry making the glass in the snake enclosure disappear and reappear. It's very common to young wizards to inadvertently cause magical effects before they ever get a wand, so harnessing that after you gain an understanding of magic and get used to casting spells with a wand is just an effort in recapturing that youthful talent. Plus, there's always the possibility what looks like wandless magic is just someone interacting with a enchanted item, like say a spoon that moves on its own with only gestures on the part of the user.

Still, Wizards reading A Brief History of Time is exactly what Harry Potter needs more of. It's continually stupid how little everyone in the wizarding world knows about how the majority of other Humans live.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:03 PM on March 26, 2016

In the book Sirius is described as a ravaged beauty, which is completely NOT Gary Oldman.

Are you implying that Gary Oldman isn't a hunk, because I will fight you
posted by cooker girl at 6:37 AM on March 29, 2016

Taking into account that he transforms into a big black dog, I think it's reasonable to call Gary Oldman's Sirius Black a sexy bitch.
posted by wabbittwax at 12:09 PM on March 29, 2016

Mr Encyclopedia, the drawback of youthful "wild magic" like Harry vanishing the glass is that children's magic potential field can cause magic things to occur but the children can't control when they happen; a magically powerful child can hope for the best but ultimately magic doesn't do their bidding. Wands allow the average magic wielder to focus and drive that magic potential, and call it up on command. It follows that being able to focus and drive one's magic without the help of a wand would be tricky, or else nobody would bother to carry a wand. Being dependent on it makes one vulnerable to losing it or breaking it, after all. This is why in canon only the most badass wizards manage much wandless magic and they more often use it as an intimidating parlor trick; you never see Voldemort roll into a battle and start casting combat spells against important enemies wandless (as far as I can recall) because the stakes are too high. And if he *could* cast a wandless AK he would, because his wand has that bad resonant effect with Harry's. Instead he spends all that effort questing for the Elder Wand.

I do agree that the mysterious Leaky Cauldron wizard has probably just enchanted that spoon to follow his finger, though.
posted by town of cats at 8:49 PM on March 31, 2016

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