Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry Potter and the AIDS Allegory

I’m fairly tolerant of the Chris Columbus outings, but reviewing Prisoner of Azkaban is like a man wandering the desert reviewing a glass of water. It’s so refreshing and invigorating to see a Harry Potter movie made by a visionary filmmaker interested in crafting something that feels like a whole, intentional piece of cinema, not just a series of episodic scenes.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Hogwarts is less of a classic boarding school and more of a teenage wasteland. Buoyed by Michael Seresin’s brilliant cinematography, Cuaron leverages a rich yet steely color palate that captures a colder and bleaker reality of soul-sucking Dementors and unleashed serial killers.

From a craft and production perspective, this film is something of a revolution for the series. It’s the first time that a director broke with the established “house” style and imprinted his own voice. Mike Newell would also refine the film’s texture in Goblet of Fire before David Yates became the permanent steward of the series from Order of the Phoenix onwards.

Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the best Harry Potter books, with a rousing double climax. Cuaron and writer Steve Kloves ditch the fastidiousness of the Chamber of Secrets film in favor of a story that cuts out large chunks of fat from the source. Most of the writing decisions pay off in the movie’s amazing final act, filled with time travel and layered twists and bittersweet victories.

The acting is better than ever, and would continue to improve throughout the series — minus Michael Gambon’s very bland turn as the new Dumbledore upon Richard Harris’s passing. The adults are as good as always and, for the first time, the kids are legitimately good rather than just “not movie-sinking.”

So many moments just click in Prisoner of Azkaban. Every other scene feels iconic in some way, especially as you get towards the end of the film and you have David Thewlis transforming into a werewolf, etc. And when Timothy Spall is involved, you know things are going to be good and freaky.

The biggest complaint I can think of is that the movie prunes its source text (or perhaps the stylings of films 1 and 2) too aggressively, resulting in something incoherent as a standalone. It’s plausible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t know, as I’ve read the book 10+ times.

If I finish my Harry Potter rewatch with any other movie ranked as my favorite of the series, it would be a big surprise.

Is It Good?

Exceptionally Good (7/8)

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