Sunday, September 13, 2009

#471: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint ...

Harry is back at Hogwarts for his third year, and danger seems to be following him around every corner. Over the summer, the mysterious Sirius Black escaped from the island prison of Azkaban. Black was convicted as a supporter of You-Know-Who, and is believed to be hunting Harry to help Lord Voldemort come back to power.

Out of every Harry Potter movie, this is the only one that deserves particular attention. Firstly, the plot is spectacular. Out of most Potter fans (based on personal experience and my quick rummage through the cyber-world), most claim that this is the best book of the series. There are twists everywhere in this film. There's a twist in the main plot, a twist in Hermione's subplot, and even a twist that was first set up from the very beginning of the series.

The budget was clearly larger in this film than the previous two. The special effects are far superior in quality than the previous two, and Cuarón wasn't afraid to strut his stuff. The most obvious scenes in which Cuarón laid the special effects on thick are the dementors and Buckbeak's flight. The dementors are legitimately creepy - I couldn't imagine being a young kid watching the scenes with them. Buckbeak's flight has some great music, but aside from that, it's really just an excuse to use some great special effects.

It's not just the special effects that set this film apart from the rest of the series. In my personal opinion, this is the last film of the series in which each character is a caricature. After this film, all of the characters are known so well that there's no surprises to be found, perhaps partly because of the longer plots that had to be squeezed into a film.

This film also separate from its predecessors because it is the first to reach out to its English audience. Previously, there was nothing but a mention of Harry living in London. Finally, in this film we see some shots of London itself in Harry's ride on the Knight Bus. Aside from the visuals, the film also includes some of Rowling's ideas on British culture that was occasionally hinted at in her novels. For example, it is the first time we see the Minister, who represents the conservative views of members of Parliament who rarely look at what is actually happening in their own homeland. I also personally believe that the opening seen with Aunt Marge is paying homage to one of England's greatest achievements, Wallace & Gromit.

This is the first Harry Potter film that can be taken seriously, thanks to its abandonment of solely child-friendly material and an introduction of a dark style and a sense of foreboding. This is also the only Harry Potter film that I had absolutely no complaints over, as far as changes from the book.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Honeydukes "is floor-to-ceiling psychedelia" and includes Mexican skulls made of sugar. The cast was told that the Honeydukes candy was lacquer-coated, when in fact it wasn't, to prevent candy from disappearing between takes.
  • The tattoos on Sirius Black's body and hands are borrowed from Russian prison gangs. They are markings which identify the person as a man to be feared and respected.
  • Alfonso Cuarón coached Daniel Radcliffe in one scene where the latter had to act awed: "Pretend you're seeing Cameron Diaz in a G-string". It worked.
  • The film contains several commemorations to director Alfonso Cuarón and his Mexican heritage. On the fountain in the courtyard in front of the clock tower, there are several statues of eagles eating snakes. This exact image appears on the Mexican flag. Also, among the many candies offered at Honeydukes are skulls made of sugar, which are a popular treat in Mexico on "El Dia de los Muertos," or the Day of the Dead. And, after Dumbledore says his final lines outside the infirmary, he goes down the stairs humming "La Raspa", the Mexican Hat Dance.
  • When Harry, Hermione and Ron are returning to the school from Hagrid's hut after witnessing Buckbeak's execution, Hermione hugs Ron and Harry hugs Hermione, a reference to Alfonso Cuarón's movie Y tu mamá también (2001).

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