Hogwarts Has Me: My take on the Harry Potter series - Volume Three ("Prisoner of Azkaban")
There are some movie-going experiences I will never forget, and this one, I remember quite vividly.
Four years ago in the summer of 2004, my dad, my sister, my brother and I ventured to the new Rave theatre in Little Rock, Arkansas. We decided to have a carefree day and see Garfield: The Movie. After all, we had each seen and enjoyed the cartoon series, and Bill Murray's voice seemed perfect for the role.
None us of had any idea how tremendously awful the movie would be. From the first frame to the very last shot, the film was nothing but absolute garbage. There was even a moment when the film was so bad, my sister turned to me and said, "The only thing that would make this worse is if they started singing."
Well, guess what. . .
We all started laughing at how the film managed to consistently raise its crap level as the seconds dragged on. Even the younger kids in the audience seemed offended at how unnecessarily stupid the movie was.
After that, we decided to wash that putrid taste out of our mouths and see something that maybe wouldn't lead us to kill ourselves. The only thing playing when we left was the third Harry Potter film.
Before this, nobody's interest in the franchise was above mild curiosity. My dad and I had been the only ones to see the first two (and we weren't exactly obsessed with them). My brother was indifferent, and my sister had zero interest in the films or the books altogether.
All that changed after Azkaban. Everyone liked it. Since then, I've seen each of the recurring films in theatres, yet none of them has been able to top this one. Not yet.
Up to this point, I've enjoyed each of the books. I was surprised at how easily I could relate to a character in a children's book, let alone his friends and teachers.
But as engaging as I found the first two books to be, Azkaban was the hardest for me to put down. Part of that has to do with the early introduction of Harry's aunt Marge, who's both brutal and brutally funny (and nicely played in the film by Pam Ferris, the principal from Matilda).
In a relatively short time, she produces some of the best lines in the book ("If you can speak of your beatings in that casual way, clearly they aren't hitting you hard enough"), and she has a memorable exit.
The two major draws for me, however, had to have been the two new professors: Lupin and Trelawney. I can't tell you how many teachers I've had that acted like either of them, but rest assured, there have been many.
Each time Trelawney had a bit of dialogue, I found her to be quite funny. She's definitely my favorite character from the entire series. The interest she generates makes me think if I had been behind the production of the film, I would have opted for a television series, giving the secondary characters (and their stories) much more prominence.
I like how she and Hermione don't like each other, and I find it funny that it's pretty much a school-wide fact that she's crazy (even Dumbledore admits that).
Lupin reminds me of a film professor currently employed at my university. He, too, is quite a bit awkward and shy in public, but he has a nice warmth to his personality that encourages you to impress him. Unlike Lupin, however, I don't think he's a werewolf. But then again, he does have some pretty hairy arms. . .
As always, many of my favorite moments from the book are brief and, honestly, not terribly important to the plot (which is why virtually none of them show up in the film).
Still, here are some highlights:
- Hermione getting Crookshanks
- Percy being made Head Boy and shamelessly walking around with his badge (even in his pajamas)
- Harry and Ron having to partner up with an 'injured' Malfoy in Snape's class
- Snape's interrogation of Harry after he secretly returns from Hogsmeade
- The finals' segment, especially once it's revealed on Lupin's exam that Hermione's fear is failing all her classes
- Discovering that Lupin wrote the Marauder's Map as 'Moony' with Peter Pettigrew ('Wormtail'), Sirius Black ('Padfoot') and Harry's father, James ('Prongs').
I also really enjoyed the nearly friendship-ending moments between the boys and Hermione, particularly after everyone thinks Scabbers has been eaten by the cat. It comes up somewhat in the film (and a deleted scene), but only briefly.
I remember when the film came out, several of my friends (who had read the books) hated it. They felt it was not that faithful to the literary series at all.
Well, I will admit that while the first two films were nice adaptations, the third installment took many more cinematic liberties. And you know what? I think they worked.
Sure, the first few pages (including the entire first chapter) aren't exactly copied and pasted into the film. And once again, certain characters say lines here that they didn't in the book. But there are some things the movie does take from its original source that should please fans of the book as well.
For instance, Rowling describes Trelawney's classroom as a cross between an attic and a tea shop. I think the film nails that look. And the way director Alfonso Cuaron handles the Time Turner situation is ingenious.
Here are some things the movie cut out or altered that turned out for the best:
- Black turning out to be Harry's godfather is put front and center in the film, making sure you see this seemingly odd family connection. It's mentioned in the book, of course, but it doesn't stop characters dead in their tracks like it does in the film.
- A LOT of dialogue is cut out during the chapters regarding Scabbers transforming into Peter Pettigrew. That was a good move. The whole ordeal goes on for way too long with people just standing around explaining things. It's fine in the text, but it would have bored audiences on film.
- When Harry and Hermione try to lead Buckbeak out of the pumpkin patch, he's much more resistant, and Dumbledore spends more time stalling the execution with small talk (i.e. pointing out the strawberries along the mountain)
- The werewolf chase scene is much more thrilling and elaborate in the movie
- Harry gets the Firebolt a great deal earlier in the film, but having it as the last scene of the film makes for a fantastic and original ending that stands apart from the other five movies in the franchise
Also, the film interjects the notion that there is an awkward yet blossoming relationship between Ron and Hermione, evident in the hippogriff flying lesson and when they're by themselves outside of Hogsmeade.
I should also add that the film moves along with lightning quick speed. The first few movies (particularly the second) felt like marathons at times, but as soon as you're ready for another hour here, the film's over.
I can safely say that four years later, Azkaban isn't a good film only when compared to something as horrid as Garfield. It's just good. Period. And it strikes a nice balance of kid-friendly playfulness and young adult maturity that can surely appeal to all ages. Definitely, without question, I'd rank this in the 1st place slot.
I absolutely cannot imagine another person on the planet playing Trelawney like Emma Thompson. While the professors are secondary to the students here (particularly the main three), I found myself wanting to see more of how the actress played the craziest and most interesting teacher from Hogwarts. Her giant glasses and hippie getup sealed the deal from the start.
The only other thing I had seen David Thewlis in before now was Dragonheart, where he kind of freaked me out. Like Thompson, though, he was someone I really enjoyed watching. There was an easiness to his portrayal of Lupin that made the character instantly likable.
I was very much entertained by the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore. But I was thoroughly engaged with Michael Gambon in the role. Whereas Harris showed the headmaster as a sort of good-natured grandfather, Gambon gave the character much more of a cynical personality that worked in several scenes, especially in his delivery of "Did what? Goodnight."
Why even waste breath talking about how great Gary Oldman is? Whether he shows up in big budget films (The Dark Knight), low budget dramas (Leon the Professional) or sci-fi pictures (The Fifth Element), the man is unable to impress me, even if his performance is the only thing I like in a movie I otherwise couldn't stand (I'm definitely talking about Bram Stoker's Dracula.)
Though you can never get enough of them, the regular supporting players (Rickman, Coltrane, Smith) are fantastic as usual. And notice how in this film, there are fewer cuts when Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are on screen. They can now perform in longer takes and balance conflicting emotions like pros.
THE VISUAL EFFECTS
As of right now, Azkaban is the only film from the Harry Potter franchise to earn an Academy Award nomination for its special effects, and boy did it deserve it.
The dementors, complete with their deathly hands and gracefully floating bodies, look like the true pictures of death. And the many transformations (Lupin into a werewolf, Pettigrew into a rat, Sirius into a dog) look fantastic.
There are a few times when the effects don't look completely lifelike (i.e. the boggart classroom practice), but more often than not, they do.
The standout effect is definitely Buckbeak the hippogriff. Aside from the fact that the animal looks real, you can actually believe that Harry is riding it, or that it almost bites Hermione when trying to eat a dead ferret off her shirt.
John Williams earned himself another Oscar nomination for scoring a Potter film with his composition here. I have enjoyed all of the movies' soundtracks, but Azkaban is the creme de la creme.
Buckbeak's Flight is a soaring piece that would likely lead you to believe you were flying over the ocean even if you hadn't seen the film before.
A Window to the Past utilizes the soft touch of a flute to paint a calm, peaceful picture that could easily act as meditation music. Probably the best track from the album.
Secrets of the Castle is a score that feels so delicate at first, you'd swear turning up the volume would break it.
The first time I heard Hagrid the Professor, I didn't think much of it. Now, it's probably my favorite track. It has a nice Irish flair to it.
Lupin's Transformation and Chasing Scabbers starts off with a gorgeous piano beat before transitioning into a kind of exciting pursuit.
Finale really gives the feel of dementors circling above you, until something breaks the chain, and you get a sort of revised "Window to the Past" in the latter part of the score.
Finally, Mischief Managed! has to be included here, being what I call a master score. That is, it incorporates several other tracks into its makeup ("Hagrid the Professor," "A Window to the Past," "Buckbeak's Flight," "Double Trouble"), and it's a fun piece to hear while the title cards change at the end of the film.
THE DVD FEATURES
Here, the bonus material is presented as you navigate your way through an onscreen Marauder's Map.
- Trelawney's Class - here you get only 5 deleted scenes, the majority of which aren't too amazing. The final clip, however, is worth a look.
- Creating the Vision - there's an interview with filmmakers, mainly director Alfonso Cuaron and author J.K. Rowling. Even though he had his own vision for her book, they seem to get along quite well.
- Head to Shrunken Head - an interviewer (along with the shrunken Jamaican head) talk to several members of the cast and crew. Gambon and Coltrane, in particular, appear to enjoy playing along the most.
Defense Against the Dark Arts:
- Magic You May Have Missed - a game where you look through Lupin's projector and see if you can guess what's been changed. It'll put your observing skills to the test.
- Tour Lupin's Classroom - the tours are always the weakest part of the DVD sets, though you have a moving audience this time.
- Another tour where you go into the candy shop and look around. Very Willy Wonka.
- Hagrid's Hut - you can either check out Care of Magical Creatures, an interesting segment on the animals used in the film, or Conjuring a Scene, which yet again illustrates how ridiculously creative the designers are.
- Game Preview - it's more a teaser than anything. You don't actually see any levels being played.
- Catch Scabbers! - interactive game where you try to catch the rat in three levels of play.
- Choir Practice - you don't actually participate. The lyrics to "Double Trouble" just appear on screen as different clips from the film play on.
- The Quest of Cadogan - another game, this time with the focus on following different portraits to help Cadogan, one of the most useless characters in the books.
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