Friday, November 18, 2016
RECENT WATCHES: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” director Chris Columbus would step away from the franchise, reportedly because he wanted to spend more time with his kids. Stepping into the director’s chair was Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican director best known for ribald coming-of-age story “Y Tu Mama Tambian.” This led to many crude jokes about Harry Potter getting into steamier adventure, since people evidently forgot that Cuaron also made “The Little Princess.” The resulting film would receive the best reviews that series had gotten up to that point, while also grossing slightly less at the box office.
J.K. Rowling had always intended her famous wizard to grow up alongside the audience. Since Harry and friends are officially thirteen year olds now, “Prisoner of Azkaban” is easily the darkest of the films up to this point. The story revolves around a dangerous criminal escaping prison and pursuing Harry, presumably with the intention of killing him. Soul sucking spectres, called Dementors and resembling the Grim Reaper, feature prominently in the story. A werewolf and an ominous black dog show up too. The tone is growing chillier too, to match the darker story and the stormier hormones of the main characters.
The first film seemed satisfied to be a simple story of discovery while part two was basically a murder-free murder mystery. The third entry delves a little deeper, thematically. “The Prisoner of Azkaban” is interested in how the past connects with the present. Harry’s death filled history comes back to him literally, as Sirius pursues him. Later, Harry learns more about the legacy he has inherited from his parents, one that comes with quite a bit of baggage. Moreover, an atmosphere of secrets characterizes the film. Truths are being kept from Harry, about his parent’s death. Soon, he discovers, yet more secrets lurk among people he’s been told to hate and people he’s been told to trust.
“Prisoner of Azkaban” also features some sweet fucking monsters, an opportunity which Cuaron seems to revel in. The Dementors, written by Rowling as a metaphor for her depression, appear as wispy spectres that suck the souls right out of people. Their appearances are treated as appropriately sinister, the air freezing around them. A boggart – a British boogieman – also makes a memorable appearance, a sequence that concludes with a spider on roller skates. Black Shuck, the ominous black dog of Anglian lore which Rowling calls the Grim for some reason, puts in several memorable appearances, each one creepier then the last. This seems to foreshadow a honest-to-God werewolf showing up. Instead of the wolf-headed man we usually see in fiction, the werewolf is portrayed as an emaciated large dog, frightening but pathetic.
“Prisoner of Azkaban” features a prolonged denouncement, involving time travel. As has often been pointed out, this more-or-less breaks the entire plot. Not just of this film but all of them. Which is true. But the time travel reversal of the last act provides plenty of fun for the audience. It gives us more of Buckbeak, the delightful hippogriff that features in several key scenes. Previously seen events are revisit but somehow become more exciting then they were last time. It also pays off nicely on several small moments introduced earlier in the film.