The third film in the saga, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) has always been my favorite, although there are some things in it that don’t fully convince me. After all, there was a radical change on the director’s chair: bye bye Chris Columbus (here only present as a producer after directing both the first and the second movie), welcome Alfonso Cuarón! A truly remarkable change if we think that the previous film by the Mexican director was Y tu mamá también (2001), with decidedly more serious and adult tones than those of the first books of the Harry Potter saga. And so everything gets darker and darker not only in terms of cinematography and images, but also with visible changes in the increasingly gothic and imposing school of Hogwarts. Actually, the tone set by the director goes well with that of the story that immediately introduces the Grim, an omen of death that seems to follow poor Harry (even in the form of a big black dog).
Like every year, Harry’s summer is anything but idyllic and this time the young wizard runs away from home after inflating his unbearable aunt like a balloon! And, like every year, at Hogwarts things aren’t going well: the perimeter of the school is guarded by the fearsome Dementors, the guards of the Azkaban prison from which Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped. Everyone thinks that he wants to kill Harry to please Lord Voldemort! At school there’s also a new teacher of Defense from the Dark Arts, Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), and new characters are introduced such as the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) and the Divination professor Sybil Trelawney beautifully portrayed by Emma Thompson.
As said, the tone of the film is certainly heavier and deeper than that of the previous chapters of the saga. The first film was an adventure with a happy ending in which the young protagonists defeated the villain and won the home competition of the school. The second one was already noticeable for a much more epic finale, and a bloody one (even if it came out of a paper diary). The third goes much further and introduces a prison whose guards are monsters that force depression into the inmates by taking away any positive thoughts (and in fact they are defeated by positive memories). Also, the characters speak openly of executions, murders and revenge. Finally, this is the movie in which we get to know more about Harry’s parents James and Lily thanks to a couple of old friends…
Actually, for me this is the best part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Remus Lupin is a wonderful character, I enjoy so much his loyalty to his old friend Sirius (and both were inseparable friends of James Potter, as well as Peter Pettigrew played here by Timothy Spall) and it’s great to see them fight side by side… possibly due to my age, their friendship has always fascinated me, even more than that of Harry, Hermione and Ron which, although absolutely magnificent, I’ve always seen from a bigger distance (in terms of years of age). It always seemed a pity to me that the film never made it clear that the creators of the Marauder’s Map, namely Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, are precisely the four inseparable friends of the past (who of course mock Snape!). It’s not that Cuarón failed to recreate all the other great elements of Rowling’s third book (reviewed here on Book shark blog): Snape’s suspicions about Lupin, the fate of Buckbeak, Hermione and her time turner… everything is shown with amazing attention to detail!
My small criticisms therefore focus, as for the two previous films, on the absence of everyday school life compared to the pages of the book, and the lack of the quidditch tournament and the competition between the houses. Another thing that I don’t like is the flexible aesthetic of Hogwarts since, for some incomprehensible choice, most of the time the students walk around the school premises dressed casually (on the other hand, I like the fact that, when in uniform, everyone is wearing it in a very personal way). But I don’t complain much: I love every scene with either Lupin or Black (or both), I enjoy a lot the ending with the time travel, and I believe that Cuarón raised the bar in the series. So… mischief managed! I mean: ciao!