HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004) review

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In commemoration of the upcoming sequel, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018), I’m going to review the rest of the Harry Potter series:

First disclaimer: Before anyone freaks out, yes, I’ve seen all of the films before. When I was a kid. I haven’t revisited most of these films since they were released in theaters. I’m just taking a trip down memory lane and seeing how they hold up compared to when I first saw them and getting my opinions out there. Second disclaimer: No, I’ve not read the books. Okay, I’ve read the first three. I do not remember them. I am not planning to read these books, so please don’t freak out with sentences like, “Well, it’s better explained in the book!” I do not care. This is purely my opinions regarding the films.

Returning alumni:  Daniel Radcliffe (SWISS ARMY MAN [2016], VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN [2015], and the upcoming PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE [2019]), Rupert Grint (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Emma Watson (THE CIRCLE [2017], and the upcoming LITTLE WOMEN [2019]), Maggie Smith (SHERLOCK GNOMES [2018] and THE LADY IN THE VAN [2016]), and Alan Rickman (EYE IN THE SKY [2016], LOVE ACTUALLY [2003], and DIE HARD [1988])

Franchise newcomers: Gary Oldman (HUNTER KILLER [2018], SPACE BETWEEN [2017], CRIMINAL [2016], KUNG FU PANDA 2 [2011], and upcoming films THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW [2019] and MARY [2019]), Emma Thompson (JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN [2018], BEAUTY AND THE BEAST [2017], BRIDGET JONES 3 [2016], BURNT [2015], MEN IN BLACK 3 [2012], LOVE ACTUALLY [2003], and upcoming films MISSING LINK [2019] and LAST CHRISTMAS [2019]), Michael Gambon (JOHNNY ENGLISH 3, KINGSMAN 2 [2017], HAIL, CAESAR! [2016], and upcoming films THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONOVAN [2019] and JUDY [2019]), David Thewlis (JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017], ANOMALISA [2015], STONEHEARST [2014], THE BIG LEBOWSKI [1998], and upcoming films AVATAR 2 [2020] and AVATAR 3 [2021]), and Timothy Spall (FINDING YOUR FEET [2018], DENIAL [2016], ENCHANTED [2007], CHICKEN RUN [2000], and the upcoming THE CORRUPTED [2019])

Director: Alfonso Cuarón (GRAVITY [2013], CHILDREN OF MEN [2006], and the upcoming ROMA [2018])
Writer: Steve Kloves (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN [2012])
Composer: John Williams (THE POST [2018], STAR WARS: LAST JEDI [2017], BFG [2016], Indiana Jones RAIDERS [1981], TEMPLE [1984], CRUSADE [1989], and CRYSTAL SKULL [2008], JURASSIC PARK [1993] and THE LOST WORLD [1997], CLOSE ENCOUNTERS [1977], and upcoming films Star Wars Episode IX [2019] and Indiana Jones 5 [2021])
Cinematographer: Michael Seresin (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], and the upcoming MOWGLI [2019])
Editor: Steven Weisberg (MEN IN BLACK II [2002])

This is my honest opinion of: HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

 

(SUMMARY)

After having enough of living with the Dursleys, and having used magic, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has run away, but is quickly taken to a nearby safehouse where he’s met by Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), where they take the train to Hogwarts. However, mid journey, the train is stopped by the ghostly Dementors, torturers for the Wizarding World’s most intense prison called Azkaban, and one of their most notorious prisoners recently escaped: Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who was one of Lord Voldemort’s most trusted men, and might be after Harry. Things get even more complicated when Harry learns that the Dementors seem to be particularly drawn to Harry, who must learn how to defend himself against them with the help of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), and that Sirius Black used to be a close friend to Harry’s parents.

(REVIEW)

Holy crap, what a huge turnaround for these movies thus far. Even as a kid, AZKABAN was my favorite of the movies, and now I can see why.

The very first thing that made me impressed with the movie is that we finally get some serious character out of Harry. In the previous two films, he’s barely had any. He’s brave. Okay, but that sort of describes nearly every single character in any sort of action film. But now we get a lot more from him. He actually has a breaking point with the abuse he suffers from the Dursleys. Well, Aunt Marge, anyway, but it’s easy to understand why. For one thing, Harry’s now thirteen years old, so those hormones that make everything a crisis and cause are in full effect. But it’s hard to blame the kid when the Dursleys are talking crap about his parents. Pretty easy to see why he gets angry. But not only that, Harry runs away! Oh my god, it’s at least one reaction that I’ve been waiting for! I never understood why the Dursleys kept Harry to begin with, or why they keep welcoming him back into their home. Hell, the last we saw them, Harry’s friends took out an entire wall of the house and Vernon (Richard Griffiths) fell from the second story. Seriously, that was potential broken back stuff, and yet, here he is, still in Dudley’s second room. But if someone has to react according to circumstances, Harry running away is a great alternative. More than that, he’s got a pretty fun sarcastic side. Ron wakes up in the middle of the night, dreaming of spiders wanting to tap dance against his will, and Harry’s only response is, “You tell those spiders, Ron.” I got a legit laugh from that. And when Snape finds him in the hall with the Marauder’s Map, he blatantly insults Snape! Where the hell has this defiance been all this time?! I mean, I guess I understand this for the first movie, being the new kid and all, but this was great to watch. And if his cockier side isn’t showing, he’s much more vulnerable this time around as well. <<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ When Harry learns that Black was not only a close friend of his parents and betrayed them to Voldemort, Black is also Harry’s godfather, putting so much into a complex perspective. Harry breaks down crying and vows to kill Sirius. Once again, a new side to Harry that we’ve never seen before and I adore it. This is also a big moment for Harry’s character, that he’s not someone completely driven by revenge. He doesn’t want Pettigrew (Timothy Spall) to be executed because without his confession to his crimes that Sirius was blamed for, then Sirius remains a wanted criminal. So Harry is calculating, smart, forward-thinking, multiple aspects of his personality are shining through this movie and it’s the best I’ve seen from the character. By the way, Spall as Pettigrew is laughably perfect. I know they’re just fake teeth, but no one could have perfected the look of Pettigrew like Spall did. Just… God, standing ovation brilliance. Probably one of my favorite castings in this entire franchise so far. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>

I really like the dementors in this movie. Their build-up is really chilling, literally. I mean, like many things in Harry Potter being some kind of rip-off from Lord of the Rings, if you were going to make an all CGI version of the Ringwraiths, then the dementors are a pretty good way to go. They move like ghosts and when the appear, everything starts freezing over or rotting away, and what I can definitely appreciate, they don’t really make noises. Outside of the soul-sucking things they do, they’re completely quiet, making them so much more frightening. And hey, wouldn’t you know it, monsters that don’t look angry. They have no facial expressions to read. Loved it. And when you have those shots of dozens of them just staring at Hogwarts, or meandering around the grounds, that stuff really hammers in the darker tone of the film.

Oh my god, here’s something that the previous two movies never had: actual lessons being taught to defend against the dark arts. Not even just one, but two lessons! Yeah, Professor Lupin does what two, debatably three (if you count Snape’s brief substitution), teachers have never actually done. And it plays legit roles in the movie! The Patronus is actually used against dementors and saves his life. Who would have freakin’ guessed?!

Little or quick details that I enjoyed. The choir scene was pretty pointless, but it was still a nice, brief number. I actually really like throwaway scenes of Harry just hanging around with other kids and having fun. There’s really not enough of that in these movies. Pointless as they may be, they’re human moments and reminders that these are just kids. Would have rather enjoyed them hanging around girls to give the group some diversity, but I’ll still take it. Oh, stand-out performances! Emma Thompson was hilarious to me. I adored her clumsy, odd-ball take on Professor Trelawney. Really endearing. Once again, serious credit for the wonderful cinematography. Although I might claim to be tired of overhead shots of Hogwarts. I really like the scenes with Harry and Lupin, constantly talking about his parents considering how great friends he was with them. Very heartfelt. I loved that punch that Hermione gave to Malfoy. There seriously should have been more of that in these movies and AZKABAN has a couple moments like that when Harry charges Sirius when he meets him for the first time. I absolutely love Dumbledore and his trolling. Slapping Ron’s injured leg in a joking fashion. Or toward the end when Harry and Hermione run into him and say, “Professor Dumbledore! We did it!” to which he responds with, “Did what? Good night.” I couldn’t stop laughing.

<<<SPOILERS>>> [Gary Oldman as Sirius Black is absolutely fantastic. Most of his wanted posters are of him clearly hamming it up and acting crazy, but when you meet him for the first time, it’s sort of explained why. What with the build-up of the dementors and making them terrifying creatures and how they suck away all sense of happiness, and that Sirius has endured that form of torture for twelve years, I suppose anyone would be driven insane from that experience, and he plays it exceptionally well. You could argue that his crazed laughing is actually a twisted and desperate way for him to hold on to any measure of happiness, but overtime because hysteria and likely ruined what he was intending it for in the first place. It could possibly be argued that Sirius snapped out of his insanity a little too quickly when that whole “beneath the Whomping Willow” scene happens, which could be a legit criticism, but I accept it only on the grounds that Sirius knew he was innocent of his crimes, he still loved his friends, and held on to an undying promise to find Harry and clear his name with the boy who likely believes that his godfather is the reason for Harry’s crappy life, and that’s what anchored him in reality easier. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>

With all my praises, however, I do have a few complaints. Not many, but a few worth addressing for my tastes.

Did Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) really just tell the entire school that as long as they don’t provoke the dementors, they’ll have no reason to attack? Um… did the incident on the train somehow not make it to his ears? Harry never provoked the dementors either on the train or the Quidditch match, yet they pursued him like he was Sirius Black himself. Hermione also says that the dementors aren’t supposed to come onto school grounds after the attack during the Quidditch match. So… why do they? To attack Harry? Again, this is barely explained why. And if the dementors are going to break the rules already established, then why don’t they come inside the school and suck out Harry’s soul while he’s asleep? Very little about what they do makes any sense.

Once again, I have to question the intelligence of Hogwarts’ teachers. Why was Hermione given a time-turner? So she could take more classes? It’s later explained that messing with time can cause some serious problems. So… why risk it for a school-obsessed overachiever? Also, seriously, with that Time-Turner in hand, why not just go way back in time to prevent every bad thing that’s ever happened? Like, oh, I don’t know, Harry’s parents’ deaths?? It’s not like there’s defined rules on how far back one could go. Even if history changes drastically, it can’t be worse than what is currently happening in the Wizarding World.

I know later on Draco Malfoy is a huge danger to the school, but these movies make him seem like a dunce to the point where I will never take him seriously as a legit threat to Harry. For someone who will scramble over his friends to run away from Hermione’s punches, the dude has the most confusing sense of self-preservation. A fellow student forbidden from killing another student should seem far less threatening than a ten foot tall wild animal. Just saying, he’s incredibly stupid.

Since when can paintings refuse to follow orders? Her singing was that important to show off? Does this happen often? And since when could they jump from one painting to another? If they can do that, why aren’t the people in those paintings recruited to look for Sirius, or report on anything abnormal, like, oh say, a stray red-eyed, mean-looking dog casually roaming the halls? Just saying, I feel like if you’re going to establish rules like this, you need to utilize them. Logic, people! It exists!

Question, the “feeling” that Harry uses to conjure up his Patronus is simply his parents talking to him. My question is, why didn’t he use the actual memory of him seeing his parents for the first time in the Mirror of Erised? Up to that point, Harry’s never had the slightest idea of what his parents even look like. Even if you wanted to argue that they weren’t really his parents in the Mirror, he still gets that album from Hagrid at the end of the movie. Either way, I would think the very first time he actually got to look at his parents’ faces and actually get to address them for the first time in his life, that would have been a hugely happy moment for him and would have shown the far-reaching effects of this kid slowly getting to know his parents.

The Knight Bus gets a little too forced with its visuals and humor. Not my favorite scene. Neither is that random scene with the monster book. An excuse for some forced jump scares. Was it ever really explained why the dementors attack Harry to exclusively? Okay, he’s experienced a lot of horrible things in his life, but so did Luna Lovegood. So did Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis). So did Professor Lupin. Were they ever attacked by the dementors? I think some details were left out. And who was the woman that was screaming when Harry fell unconscious? I know that Harry thinks it was his mother, but… was it? I don’t think the movie says. Now everyone gets to Hogwarts via horse-drawn carriages? What happened to the boats? How many Whomping Willows are in and around the school? Um… they’re dangerous! Chop those things down, for crying out loud! Why does Harry breathe so hard when he’s under his Invisibility Cloak? Especially when he’s in such close proximity to those that can get him into serious trouble. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ So… we later know that Buckbeak wasn’t executed, so… what, the executioner chopped a pumpkin out of frustration? Seems like a dumb fake-out if I ever saw one. And why didn’t Harry think that it was he who saved himself from the onslaught of dementors at the lake? He knows he’s time-traveling and that his father is dead. I’m wondering why two and two didn’t equal four right there. And what a weird closing shot for the movie when Harry is riding on his Firebolt broomstick. Like… why? ] <<<SPOILERS CONTINUED>>>

<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [ The only real issue I take between Harry and Sirius’ relationship is when Sirius offers Harry to live with him, to which Harry eagerly responds with a yes. It’s strange because I used to love this bit as a kid. This was the reason why I loved AZKABAN more than the rest of the franchise. As an adopted kid myself, I adore movies about kids or young adults finding new and better homes to live happier lives. But while I acknowledge that this movie has wonderful emotions from Harry and the thought of no longer living with the Dursleys and with his godfather instead… I have to say that I wish the relationship between the two characters would have been fleshed out a little bit more to make the audience more emotionally invested. Really, in the span of maybe ten minutes, Harry went from vowing to kill Sirius, to wanting to move in with him. That’s not nearly enough time to process the hurricane of emotions he was likely going through within this time. I would have respected this movie a lot more if Harry said that he needed to think about everything that’s happened to him in recent minutes. Hell, I wouldn’t have even blamed Harry for running away from the offer and later saving this emotional vulnerability until after Sirius died in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, later regretting not saying yes to the offer to live with him, even if it was only a symbolic response at the time. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>

Overall, AZKABAN has always been my favorite of the Harry Potter films and now I’m reminded why. While it’s still far from a perfect film and has many MANY problems, I give it credit that it’s far superior in terms of character development and portrayal, Harry himself being the chief character that desperately needed it. While I’m far from finished from seeing these movies, I’m so happy to see the franchise take a turn for the better. Objectively flawed, but significantly improved.

My honest rating for HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN: 4/5

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