Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron (OSCAR-winning director of "Gravity"- making this the only Harry Potter movie to have an Oscar-winning director, albeit several years after the fact)

Writers: J.K. Rowling (novel), Steve Kloves (screenplay)
Composer: John Williams (his final "Harry Potter" film)



Cast:
[returning cast]
Harry Potter- Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley- Rupert Grint
Hermonine Granger- Emma Watson
Draco Malfoy- Tom Felton
Professor McGonagall- Maggie Smith
Professor Snape- Alan Rickman
Hagrid- Robbie Coltrane

[newcomers]
Fred and George Weasley- James and Oliver Phelps

Professor Dumbledore- Michael Gambon
Professor Lupin- David Thewlis

Sirius Black- Gary Oldman
Peter Pettigrew- Timothy Spall
Professor Trelawney- Emma Thompson
Minster of Magic Cornelius Fudge- Robert Hardy
"Aunt" Marge- Pam Ferris

Notable Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Original Score- John Williams [lost to "Finding Neverland"]
OSCAR- Best Visual Effects [lost to "Spider-Man 2"]
Grammy- Best Score Soundtrack album- John Williams
[side-note: somehow I get the feeling Harry Potter got NO love from the Academy despite being nominated loads of times]
Write-up:

Opening Remarks

I still have a vague recollection of what it was like when this movie came out. We went to the mall and got there kinda early and were waiting around at the food court. It was the one Harry Potter movie that was released in June rather than its usual November "time slot." And it was the largest gap in film releases- Chamber of Secrets coming out November 2002 and Prisoner in June 2004.
Not surprisingly, this meant that the actors will have aged considerably between the two films and [despite our 3 year age difference] I developed a crush on Daniel Radcliffe that lasted a couple weeks after seeing the movie :P Maybe it was the maturity he'd gained in the past months or the fact his hair wasn't long and unruly (as it got in the succeeding film, "Goblet of Fire") or this movie having a particular juicy/personal story arc for Harry. What I knew for sure was that I drafted a bit of fanmail I never finished/sent and I bought a blue hoodie very similar to the one he wears in the latter portion of the film. (Except his didn't have an actual hood).

At the time, I was reading the book and I think I got as far as the scene at the lake where Harry, Hermonine and Sirius were overwhelmed by dementors and saved by a stag Patronus... except I came into the movie still believing Sirius Black was the villain...
I don't know how I could have missed that because I vaguely recollect reading the book a previous time and being lost in the time-turner sequence... or maybe that's my recollection of "The Deadly Hallows" and how they explained the killing curse NOT killing Harry.

Either way, that was the last time I came into a Harry Potter without fully reading the book first :P but it is fun coming across surprises in the movies. I still revel at the shock & awe of the Professor Quirrell revelation- one of the best twists I'd seen in any movie, although knowing about it now takes away from all that.

Of all the movies, it's probably my favorite as far as the storyline. Behind "Order of the Phoenix," it's my favorite of the books. But I admit that I had misgivings throughout this time around. Minor pet peeves here and there. Some of which I'd just made peace with by going into IMDB's FAQ section. Other had me convinced I'd seen one too many episodes of "Cinema Sins" on YouTube.
I can make due with the fact that we didn't see Gryffindor win the Quidditch Cup. That was a nit-pick one of my classmates in 12th grade college-prep Calculus had about it.

Story

The Prisoner of Azkaban is Sirius Black and supposedly he'd escaped from the wizard world's equivalent of Alcatraz... but an Alcatraz in the middle of the treacherous North Sea and surrounded by soul-sucking dementors.
Harry Potter endures one of his worst experiences at the Dursleys, being reduced to his uncle's visiting sister's waiter and kept within earshot of her insults towards his deceased parents. The end result is another of his "magical accidents," which makes "Aunt" Marge float away like a balloon, and he runs away from home where he gets picked up by the Knight Bus- a service meant to transport stranded witches and wizards.
Leading up to his latest year at Hogwarts, Harry gets wind of Sirius Black's escape and is warned to be on alert as he is rumored to be the reason he escaped.

Meanwhile at Hogwarts, Harry spends his third year helping Hagrid after his disastrous debut as Care of Magical Creatures teacher, dealing with Grim [death omens] sightings and learning more about his parents and tackling dementors from the newest Defense Against Dark Arts professor- Remus Lupin.

Peeves and Nit-picks
Two nit-picky things that I went to check on: there are two characters randomly thrown into the movie that weren't mentioned in the book.
One of them had two lines of dialogue that delivered very specific information- explaining the Grim in Divination class and trying to catch Sirius Black is like trying to catch smoke. Rumor is that he was the one who won a contest to get cast in this movie.
The other was a random Slytherin crone of Draco Malfoy's. His presence was explained as a way to fill a void left by Goyle- the actor broke his arm and couldn't participate in a few scenes because of it. They did something similar in the Deathly Hallows when the actor who played Crabbe was fired for marijuana possession and his role in the story went to Goyle. But for whatever reason, Draco Malfoy has to have a minimum of two cronies with him at all times.

Other things that were bugging were merely transitions from one scene to the next. I realize the Whomping Willow was integral to the third act, but cutting away to it because you had no better way to transition... I don't know, it felt kinda lazy to me. Not that they don't do this in the other movies, but still...
Then there's the opening scene where Harry casts Lumos Maxima... the only purpose it had was showing us the movie title and giving Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon) a smidge more screen time. Aside from that, Hogwarts students aren't allowed to use magic at home, so that's a major factual error... and no one uses this spell in the entire movie.

Also, considering how Lucius Malfoy (Draco's father) is one of the governors of the school and he's so upset about him getting attacked by that hippogriff in Hagrid's class, why didn't he show up for Buckbeak's execution? [IMDB answered that for me: Jason Isaacs was unavailable to shoot the scene]
Just for the heck of it, I revisited Cinema Sins's YouTube video on this movie...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gWHuiCIGG0

I still don't quite see eye to eye with them on these so-called "errors." Most of what they complain about it is explained in the books. I gotta quote Hermonine from the first movie: "Honestly, don't you two read?"
I will give them the student choir that sings "Something Wicked This Way Comes"... I realize that was the director's idea, but to me it just felt very random. As did the fact Professor Flitwick looked completely different in this movie and its sequels than he did in the original.
And the fact Pavarti changed the boggart from a cobra into an even scarier clown... WTF is up with that?

Additional Commentary

including some spoilers...

I love the moments in these movies (as well as the books) where Harry gets to learn more about his parents. It gives us more back story and Harry gets more of a sense of who he is and what his parents were like.
Remus Lupin wasn't just the best DADA Hogwarts has had so far (although to be fair, we didn't really see Quirrell teach and Gilderoy Lockart was incompetent) where he had a more practical approach with teaching the students magic. He was also a friend of Harry's dad, James, when they were in school. However much time they had together, Lupin was like a father figure to Harry that really looked out for him.

Although it would have been nice if Harry found out in the movie who created the Marauder's Map... clearly Snape and Lupin recognized it, but Harry never got to find out from Lupin that the four "marauders" that created this map of Hogwarts and all its secret passages and tunnels were him, his dad and two other characters we meet later in the story.
I can understand them not including the Quidditch Cup match, but that bit of backstory would have been a cool addition. Just saying...

The antagonism between Snape and Lupin harkens back to their school days. Although Lupin's "secret" has an stigma that has plagued him from a young age and made friendship and relationships difficult for him to maintain. According to Pottermore, J.K. Rowling imagined Lupin's being a werewolf as the magical equivalent to having AIDS. Granted, being a werewolf is more deadly and harder to control.
Also interesting to note from Pottermore was that Lupin disapproved of James's bullying of Snape, but was afraid speaking his mind would cost him their friendship. It was simply part of his character that he never asked for too much, simply wanting to be included when his condition made life very lonely for him.

What wasn't covered as much in the book was additional Care of Magical Creatures classes, although it wouldn't have been as engaging to the audience. Hagrid started so big with the hippogriff, as impressive as it was (the CGI still enamors me), but after the incident with Draco Malfoy (who really did deserve to be attacked by Buckbeak after Hagrid explained how hippogriffs are EASILY OFFENDED and insulting them may be "the last time you ever do"), he lost confidence in himself and resorted to lessons on lesser/boring and/or unpleasant creatures like Blast-ended Skewts. [I believe the level of excitement of that would be dissecting worms with slight chance of small explosions].

My favorite scene is probably the Hogsmeade scene where Harry find out that Sirius Black betrayed his parents' whereabouts to Voldemort, leading to their murder. One of the few instances where the movie far surpassed the book. In the book, Harry, Ron and Hermonine snuck into one of the pubs and overheard the revelation under the Invisibility Cloak. The chapter ended with Harry just being lost for words. In the movie, he's alone, rushes out of the pub and Ron and Hermonine come after him for answers.
Daniel Radcliffe doesn't often to get enough credit for his acting, but even though we can't see him [with the Cloak], hearing him cry in response to all this really pulled me into this scene. But maybe that's me being a sucker for a guy who's able to show that degree of emotion. The opposite sex is always so safeguarded about that stuff, to see otherwise in film or TV makes me respond to them more. (Ironically, when I'm crying, it's always awkward and when girls cry, it ranges from embarrassing to comical).

And knowing the truth about Sirius Black doesn't diminish this at all... mainly because the emotion is that tangible [okay, I'm done gushing about that :P] but also because Harry's parents were still betrayed... just by a different friend/marauder. (Heck, this book/movie could have been called Harry Potter and The Marauders... except that it might be mistaken for a movie about pirates, lol).
Apparently, the Potters went into hiding when Voldemort marked them as his next target and hiding included the Fidelius Charm. Only one person, the Secret-Keeper is given their location and only out of free will can he reveal it. Sirius Black was known to be this person. But what wasn't known before the events of this book/movie was that he passed the charm onto someone else and that person [who is possibly the world's biggest coward] betrayed them to Voldemort.

What I will say about this big reveal... I had a different reaction than I did with Professor Quirrell [amazing twist! okay, I'll stop]... first it was very confusing how Lupin was embracing him and it was revealed that they were friends so I was afraid Lupin was an additional villain.
Then when all the dust cleared, my reaction was either "Are you serious?!" or "Give me a break! He was GOOD this entire time?!" It was just kinda ridiculous... but maybe I should blame JK Rowling :P for making us believe "the least likely suspect" is the bad guy and the guy you thought was bad was good. But then I spent the entire series thinking Snape was evil and waited to see him reveal himself.... but more on that in future Harry Potter reviews.

It also kinda sucked how we got teased into believing Harry could finally get away from the Dursleys and live with Sirius (who happens to be his godfather) and ultimately all he gets is a signed permission slip to Hogsmeade (no invisibility cloak or Marauder's Map required).

Final Words

Of course I can't finish this without discussing the most obvious topic: the new casting of Dumbledore. [I think it was Robot Chicken that had a sketch with a black Dumbledore joking "I'm played by a different actor in every movie."]
I read the books with Richard Harris in my head as Dumbledore and even today, that remains true. I became more accepting of Michael Gambon through the course of the rest of the movies... but in many instances, I still don't feel that same connection. The whimsical nature of his dialogue remains through much of it, but that goes more to the script than the acting.
It's also kinda astounding Michael Gambon never read the books while filming and neither did the director (who saw neither of the movies). Considering the creep factor this movie has in places, he was definitely the right director for the job and I appreciate he wanted to cast it in his own style. The shrunken heads were a nice touch :P it certainly helped make the Knight Bus sequence funnier. It was also interesting how he had the three actors do an essay on their characters... if only my assignments in school were that cool.

The dementors were definitely scary in this movie... not as bad as the spiders in the previous movie, but they were scary. Even without Harry's specific weakness to them, I probably wouldn't have lasted a minute with them.
My assault on the adaptation of "Order of the Phoenix" will come at a later date, but as a preview, I HATE how they changed the look of the dementors. They were reduced to a cartoonish visual effect that would only give a Syfy Original movie a slight boost of realness.

And last: my second favorite scene is where the Weasley Twins give Harry the Marauder's Map. Other than a few quick witty lines, they had nothing to do in the previous films. Here, they got to work the magic of their chemistry ala twin clich├ęs :P you know, how they finish each other's sentences. Sure, the dialogue reads like you're getting a task in an RPG video game, but I just enjoy it so much.

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