Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

I find it singular that this should be my favorite book and least-favorite film. Perhaps when one has high esteem and adoration for a particular source material, it is impossible to live up to the greatness of the page and thus I am harsher on this adaptation than the others… or maybe it is a matter of simple taste. What I loved most about the book was its emphasis on Professor Lupin: his relationship as a mentor to Harry, his rivalry with Snape, and eventually, the tragic outcome of his presence at Hogwarts. I also loved the Marauders — the explanation of their identities, and the role it played in the climactic conclusion. It allowed me to see a different side of James Potter than before. Sadly, in the movie Lupin makes only a handful of appearances and the Marauders are never mentioned.

The greatest problem I have with the third film is that visually it does nothing for me. There are some spectacular shots but it seems as if the arrogance of the director has derailed the story… he wanted to make Hogwarts “his own” but in doing so, pretty much eviscerated the vision of the earlier films, making it somewhat inconsistent and changing the mood entirely. I don’t like how dowdy and ugly the movie is as a result. Hogwarts is a magical place and what I loved about earlier films was how colorful it was, how magical it seemed, but somehow the magic is lost or displaced in this production… and I’m uncertain as to why. I also dislike that the kids are almost never in their school uniforms, and that he completely changed the landscape of the castle. Suddenly, the Whomping Willow is at the edge of the forest, and it’s quite a trek to Hagrid’s Hut. (Which is how it should have been in the first two films… but I explain it by claiming that Hogwarts is magical; who is to say the grounds would not change now and again?)

Second in the blows against this film is probably the most dreadful casting misstep in the history of the film series. I know many people would digress with me on this, but in my opinion they botched Lupin completely, not only in the choice of actor but their presentation of him. Lupin is described as young and I pictured him rather attractive, but here they have grubbed him up and given him horrific scars across half his face. I have nothing against the actor and find him very talented, but he’s not how I imagined my favorite character. I literally cried when I saw the first images of him, since the gangly Lupin from my imagination self-destructed. They got Sirius right. They got Snape right. They got Professors Trelawney, McGonagall, and Flitwick right. So why on earth not get Lupin right??

And great scott, what happened to the werewolf?? Did they run out of money and scrimp on the CGI? Because that is THE single most pathetic werewolf in the history of film. My dad actually snorted when he saw it and said, “What is that, a were-rat?” I literally am embarrassed for the CGI department whenever I see it. Werewolves are giant and vicious and covered in hair, not skinny, hairless things. Why not just use a real wolf, then? Much more magnificent and impressive than cheap, demented imitations.

These points aside, there are likable things about the film, revolving primarily around the strength of what I consider to be a good script (minus the exclusion of the Marauders, of course). Budding romanticism appears between Hermione and Ron, for example. Draco Malfoy has never been more irritating (and wonderfully so). What could have been a dull and repetitive climax is also handled very well, in new and interesting ways. The dementors are also brilliant, and oh, how I love Snape and Sirius snarling at one another, Hagrid skipping boulders across the surface of the lake, and Hermione socking Draco in the jaw. PRICELESS. The marvels of the Time Turner, and Professor Trelawney crashing into tables and spouting woe and misfortune left and right. And that fantastic shot of the trio with their arms around each other… gorgeous, and so revealing.

But mostly, what they got right is Professor Dumbledore.

In the books, he is basically a big kid. He loves lemon pops and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. He makes magnificent speeches that end in a jumble of clever but meaningless words. There is an aura of mischief to him that Harris simply could not bring to the big screen. But Gambon has it — that twinkle in his eye, the quirks in his movements, his enthusiasm. Harris seemed rather tired; Gambon seems vivacious and alive. He is truly MY Dumbledore. I love him — and I will be the first person to admit that I thought he was a bad choice in the beginning. Boy, was I wrong.

Whatever changes or mishaps came of this movie, it is still a fantastic foray into a world I have come to love. Best of all, the messages about friendship, compassion, and reconciliation are untainted. That’s the genius of the author shining through.

And yes, even some humor remains.

“Is that really what my hair looks like from the back??”

One thought on “Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

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  1. I loved Dumbledore in the third movie because he was finally on screen how I pictured him in the books. I missed some of the more important things that they neglected to include but compared to other movie adaptations of books it was good. I am glad that since then the quality of the movies has improved. 😉

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