Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) -Re-watch Review

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Hey guys, and welcome to another re-watch review of the Harry Potter film adaptations. This week we’re on the third film of the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Released in 2004 and still written by Steve Kloves, it was the first of the films to change director. Alfonso Cauron’s Prisoner of Azkaban has thirteen year old Harry move into full-blown angsty teen territory. The film begins with Harry stuck with the Dursleys again, a situation made worse by the presence of Uncle Vernon’s hateful sister, Marge. After one too many insults, Harry loses his temper, literally blows her up (like a balloon), and tries to run away. He is found and forgiven by the Minister of Magic himself, even though underage magic outside of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry usually results in expulsion, and learns about the threat of an escaped prisoner, Sirius Black. Back at school, Harry struggles with what he comes to learn about how his parents died and the looming presence of Black, a man supposed to be the Dark Lord’s favourite servant.

Prisoner of Azkaban was adapted from my favourite of JK Rowling’s books but, unlike the previous films, it was not obsessively loyal to the source material. This is perhaps where my problems lie with it. The first few scenes, before Harry returns to the wizarding world, are brilliant. It subtly hints towards Harry’s on-coming rebelliousness, has some great acting by all involved, and manages to communicate everything that it should without doing it scene for scene like the book. Then everything goes to pot in a number of ways (which I will get to), including its fidelity to the source material. It is easily the shortest of the films, cutting a hell of a lot from the source material including the story of the Marauders – Harry receives the Marauder’s Map but the significance is never explained, leaving big questions unanswered. Harry just suddenly jumps to the conclusion that his dad is a shining deer, even though he was never really told about James Potter being Prongs. And yet they had time for the long, lingering scenery shots and random extra scenes that don’t feature in the books. I can accept that adaptations require streamlining but I feel that Prisoner of Azkaban goes too far, eradicating storylines that were a key part of the brilliance of the narrative.

The additions to the cast unfortunately do not help this situation. Though brilliant actors, some of the allocations just do not make sense to me. Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black, Timothy Spall’s Peter Pettigrew, and David Thewlis as Remus Lupin are just too old. Their characters are supposed to be in their thirties and none of these actors could pass as such. I suspect that they were aged up to match Snape but it still frustrates me. There are other characters that have inexplicably changed throughout the film as well. Dumbledore had to change after the passing of Richard Harris, I get that, and Michael Gambon is… tolerable, though not my Dumbledore. But some of the others… I just don’t get them. Tom from the Leaky Cauldron – I know he’s a minor character but it’s a huge, jarring change – is suddenly a bald, humped weirdo. Professor Flitwick is played by the same actor but looks completely different for no apparent reason. The Fat Lady changed artistic style and actress. Other secondary characters suddenly appear, like one of Draco Malfoy’s new friends, replacing their book counter-part with no explanation. I don’t get why these choices were made – they make no sense.

Prisoner of Azkaban also marks the moment where the filmmakers make the choice of Hermione over Ron/Ginny/everyone else. Ron from the books is brave, even if he is quick to anger and occasionally ungrateful/selfish, and this is never more true than in the third book when he stands up to a presumed murderer, Sirius Black. Ron from the films gets relegated to comic relief, an idiotic just-above-secondary character and Hermione gets his big moment. She also gets lots of lingering looks and hugs with Harry. Because what is a big film without a romance (that will suddenly come to nothing in the final film)?

A bigger problem though was some of the acting, which I can only attribute to problems with the direction as it’s never as bad in any of the other films. There is so much over-acting in Prisoner of Azkaban. Daniel Radcliffe is especially bad for it. The scene after he finds out about Sirius Black’s relationship with his parents is just utterly painful to watch, with the fake crying and the forced emotion that falls flat. I’d blame it on his age, trying to live up to the expectations of the big names around him, but there are other scenes where he’s fine. Before he rejoins the wizarding world, Daniel Radcliffe is Harry as he should be – sassy, a little moody, and a little defensive. There are moments where that true Harry comes through. Then we get horrible, awkward scenes where Harry waxes lyrical about his parents being his best memory. Not only are these not really from the source material, but they are also not executed well and screw up the pacing of the film.

As the shortest of all eight Potter films, you would think that they’d be economical with what is included in Prisoner of Azkaban so that the structure and pacing works. It is adapted from a book so, in all honesty, I don’t expect the traditional three acts of a film to be perfect. There is a lot crammed in and I accept that. The problems with pacing in Prisoner of Azkaban though… Harry’s emotional monologues happen too frequently and throw things off every time. Add in a few too many lingering moments (presumably meant to build tension) and you end up with a film that just feels a bit off. And then, quite suddenly, it ends.

Stylistically though, this film is one of the most beautiful. This is easily the best thing about Prisoner of Azkaban. It moved the look from a rather cheesy, childish series, to something darker and more adult. And it works. The spells shown look mystical, the dementors are threatening, and almost every shot is has a kind of colour-leeched quality to it that fits well with the tone of the film. Some of the transient shots, like when the camera zooms smoothly into a mirror shot and through to the class, are just utterly phenomenal. If only everything else matched up to it.

An adaptation of my favourite Potter book, Prisoner of Azkaban just doesn’t do the source material justice. Though it is a beautiful film to look at, there were just too many cuts and too many odd changes made for it to work in the set.

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