Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (spoilery)

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Posted by gaspode (1st Jun 2004, 21:55)

First off, this review is going to be fairly spoiler-ful for those who haven't seen the movie. Though if you've read the book and don't mind I suspect you won't be surprised by much.

Secondly, I haven't actually read any of the books past the first one, which I wasn't very impressed with. I wasn't a great fan of the film of The Philosopher's Stone, and found The Chamber of Secrets vaguely entertaining though in general an unsatisfying tissue of plot devices.

Anyway, on to the film itself. Straight away it's obvious that things are different with the new director. Alfonso Cuarón has taken things in a different direction to Chris Columbus, shooting things in a much more stylish fashion. This film looks dark compared to the first too, and the cinematography is really rather good throughout. I gather that the books are supposed to get dark round about this point, so that being the case, Cuarón has effected this change of atmosphere, er, effectively. The special effects are really quite nice, and the depth and detail that goes into the background sets and effects makes the film visually rich and pleasing. Add to that the fact that there's a rather good score courtesy of John Williams and it's halfway to being a decent movie whatever the actual content turns out to be.

It's also worth noting that the actors, who have noticeably grown up, are nowhere near as annoying to me as they once were. Well, ok, Draco Malfoy is, but he's meant to be a git anyway, so not liking him isn't really an issue. It's a shame Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) isn't the best actor on the planet, but I guess they're kind of stuck with him really, and he carries his role serviceably with only a couple of patchy moments. Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) have improved significantly to my mind. I found Hermione an annoying nuisance in the first couple of films, though here she has grown up a bit and isn't half as irritating. Indeed, the three central characters have generally thrown off their 'annoying child' mantles to become tolerable teenagers. The adult cast, as ever, are excellent. The new Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is different to the previous one, though in a way which suits the shift to a darker tone. Far more ominous and threatening. Less of the friendly old grandfather about him. Alan Rickman does his usual trick of stealing what few scenes he's in, though character-wise Harry tends to dominate. David Thewlis is good as Professor Lupin (whose true nature isn't at all hinted throughout), and Gary Oldman (though I didn't recognise him) is good as Sirius Black. The rest of the adult leads all put in good performances.

The key problems I had with this film lie with the story and pacing of it. There's a fairly long buildup (probably just over half the movie), which has Harry again escaping the Dursleys, and discovering that Sirius Black, recently escaped from Azkaban prison, was responsible for betraying his parents to Voldemort, and is now after Harry himself. Via an encounter with a Dementer (the wringraith-like guardians of Azkaban, and rather stylishly executed) on the train to Hogwarts, from which the newly arrived Professor Lupin rescues him, everything is set up for another eventful year. Hermione demonstrates a tendency to turn up to more classes than she should be able, and there's the obligatory (though neither excessive nor gratuitous) Quidditch. We then proceed though various discoverings (Sirius Black is Harry's godfather, but hang on, it was Peter Pettigrew and not Black who betrayed the Potters and there's something funny about this Lupin chappy), and the apparent execution of an innocent but nicely rendered hippogriff, we reach the Middle of the Film. At this point we are presented with a series of characters walking in and going "Hang on a minute!" and generally throwing wands about until we've had so much quick-fire exposition that one loses connection and stops caring quite so much really. (Black, Lupin, Snape, Pettigrew amd Harry all get their turns in no particular order). The real villain unmasked, we then get to the second bit of the movie, which consists of a moonlit encounter between a lupine Lupin (we didn't spot that one folks) and Sirius Black, the animagus (a black dog, that's subtle too), things go a bit pear-shaped and Harry and Sirius are nearly killed by Dementers, but saved at the last minute by a figure harry assumes to be his father, who drives off all of the Dementers (it has been shown that driving off just one Dementer is no mean feat already). Hmmm. Sirius Black has been captured, and is about to be executed (only the children know the truth of his innocence, and nobody will listen to them), and that poor hippogriff got executed too. This is a poor state of affairs. But wait! Bring forth the supreme plot device! It seems Hermione conveniently has a device which she has been using to attend lots of classes at once, but which they can use to go back in time one day to set things right. Or, um, make sure they go right. Or something. Causality? Pah. Anyway, Hermione and Harry go back in time, save the hippogriff, save Sirius Black (it was Harry, not his father, driving the Dementers back), and generally restore the status quo hurrah. Well not quite, but anyway, close enough. They let Black go having proved his innocence. and he escapes on a hippogriff no doubt to be seen again (along with Pettigrew who also escapes). Bring on the 4th film...

Not the best of summaries, but that's what struck me overall. My two main problems with this movie are firstly the fact that it does rather seem to consist of two parts, linked by the rapid-fire plot dump in the middle. This isn't particularly good pacing overall, and I found it slightly confusing. Secondly, we again have the cavalcade of plot devices. We have the map, the time whatsit and the hippogriff (instead of the sword, hat and phoenix from last time), which generally save the day. At the end, I was left with a slight feeling that not much had changed overall. In its favour, this film concentrates more on the plot and characters than on the silly house points and Quidditch which got in the way of the last one. Also, it is quite entertaining, and most of the story is good. I have to say my favourite moment is when Hermione punches Draco in the face. I'd been waiting for someone to hit him for two whole films, and was happy to see it finally happen. Hermione was a good choice to do this, as her character has become a lot stronger (though she is still prone to crying and screaming on average more than most) in this film. To my mind, she's the best out of the main three. Anyway, worth the £5 just for that moment.

Anyway, I recommend this movie as a diverting way to spend 2.5 hours of your time. It's an entertaining, if not startlingly original, piece, which manages to capture a much more interesting atmosphere than its predecessors. Go and see it.

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- Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

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- Rowling, J K

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read biography for - Siberman

 Siberman ( 1st Jun 2004, 22:58, Rank: Mentat )  reply

Generally i agree with what's been said. In fairness to the pacing that's more the fault of the book; there being a lot of padding for the first two terms, lots of quidditch and exams and things, most of which got cut from the film, leaving merely the plot stuff, which all comes at once. This causes a bit of a problem for even the best of directors. I suspect that there will be fewer plot devices in the next film, since I can only remember the one from the 4th book (off the top of my head).

The acting has definitely improved (with some generosity of spirit you could now almost call the kids actors) and the atmosphere wasz a lot less saccharinney. Easily worth watching once or twice :-)

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 karne ( 3rd Jun 2004, 10:29, Rank: GSV )  reply

I enjoyed the film a lot, but felt somewhat let down by the lack of continuity (both in film style, Hogwarts design and over agressive removal of 'padding'). I wanted more of the school feel (in particular, a longer choir sequence), more time taken with the characters (Draco suffers badly) and a more gentle style change. Whilst I like the colder/starker feel, I would have preferd it to be introduced slowly during the film and I also found the early use of Steadycam highly distracting.

Did this bother anyone else?

Or a more positive note; Buckbeak was great and I now have this urge to go hug pumpkins..

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 Sulkyblue ( 3rd Jun 2004, 10:59, Rank: Nazgul )  reply

NOOooooo... don't mention the choir section - now I have the damn song stuck in my head again!

I think you're right that watching the 3 films in sequenec is going to cause a rather jarring effect with the switch to the third. The books get past the change in style by having that additional padding which is ok enough to read, but really doesn't work in a film. More than the style change, what I found jarring was the sudden tectonic shift causing Hagrid's hut to relocate to the bottom of a hill. I loved this style etc of the film in itself and thought it was a great improvement over the saccharinney-ness (great word, just keep adding sylables) of the first 2. Great film, poor continuity for the series, I suspect a no-win situation.

The pacing was intersting, at no point in this film was I bored, unlike the previous two which desperately needed the aggressive hacking to turn them into good films. I suspect that this is something that works a lot better for the films if you've read the book, you can automatically fill in additional bits and pieces and don't need to actually see them or be bored by them.

I think this film is easily the best of the lot, with some courage taken with style, music (I adore the choir piece but am not sure about John Williams' channeling Beethoven at the end credits), pacing etc. The kids are doing impressive jobs I think, yeah, they're not oscar worthy, but lets remember they're 13, Emma Watson in particular is stealing scenes from some of the adult cast.

Not sure about hugging pumpkins, but I'm glad I'm not a small blue bird ;0)

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 karne ( 3rd Jun 2004, 11:05, Rank: GSV )  reply

Maybe you're right about the books. I haven't read them and I found the first two films gave a much better feel of a living world than this one did. My overwelming memories of the film consists of tree trunks and pumpkins.

On a different note (hee):

Dooouble dooouble, toil and trooouble..

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 Siberman ( 3rd Jun 2004, 14:22, Rank: Mentat )  reply

I agree that there ae some continuity issues with various buildings moving vast distances and changing shape etc, but then let's remember that this is a magic school :-)

I liked the choir scene, although I also thought that it was a bit random. I didn't notice any camera effects so I guess that it can't have been too distracting.

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 Beale ( 3rd Jun 2004, 14:36, Rank: Cylon Centurion )  reply

On those notes, would it really have been so hard to CGI the conductor actually conducting, rather than just waving arms vaguely?

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 Sulkyblue ( 3rd Jun 2004, 17:29, Rank: Nazgul )  reply

Maybe it was special frog conducting ;0) I was impressed at how tight the choir were considering they'd been away for the summer holidays. Maybe Hogwarts has a special summer music program or something ;0)

read biography for - gaspode

 gaspode ( 4th Jun 2004, 11:34, Rank: Killer Rabbit )  reply

I thought conductors just turned up, got paid inordinately much compared to the actual musicians, waved their arms about then went home safe in the knowledge that people would remember their name but probably not that of anyone else. It's not like the orchestra don't know what they're doing anyway...

I'd have thought any more of that infernal singing would've dragged, and certainly would have annoyed me. I'd much rather they prioritised telling the story and let some of the background stuff slide than vice versa. But then, I haven't read the books, so I don't much care if the film-makers dance up and down on JK Rowling's grave (damn she's not dead yet) blaspheming, as long as they make an enjoyable film out of it.

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 John Kirk ( 4th Jun 2004, 15:29, Rank: Patrician )  reply

Amusing story from Peter David about the surreal thing that happened when he went to see the film: (

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 Sulkyblue ( 9th Jun 2004, 15:58, Rank: Nazgul )  reply

( - an interesting review, I agree with the comments that this film could not really have been done without the first two films being what they were. (Or some slightly better formed sentance)

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 John Kirk ( 14th Jun 2004, 23:41, Rank: Patrician )  reply

First up, a disclaimer. I didn't enjoy this film as much as the first two, but that's partly because the guy sitting next to me was delivering a running commentary (e.g. reading out loud every name that appeared on the Maurauder's Map), so I may be unfairly biased towards the film as a whole. Anyway, that said...

There were obviously some changes between the book and the film, and that's ok; I recognise that some of them were necessary because of the length. So, I'm generally trying to treat the film on its own merits. That said, one thing that seemed to be a pointless change was when Lupin told Harry off for wandering around the school alone (saying that it was a poor way to repay his parents' sacrifice). In the book, Lupin was criticising him for sneaking off into Hogsmeade, which I think makes more sense, since it's more risky. And he didn't seem to learn his lesson in the film, since he then continued to walk around the school alone (e.g. when he returned the crystal ball to the classroom). Granted that was during the daytime, but Sirius had slashed the Fat Lady's portrait during the daytime too (while everyone was in dinner).

One other significant change was when Hermione and Ron were turned away from the pub ("no underage drinkers in here"), whereas in the book they went inside to drink butterbeer. I suppose I can see why that change was made, although arguably butterbeer is no more alcoholic than ginger beer or root beer. Still, given the concerns about child obesity, it did make me grateful that they didn't change the references to chocolate ("eat lots of it, it's good for you!"). The other approach would have been "Here, have some rice cakes - by the time you've eaten a packet of them, you'll be begging for the Dementors to come back..."

Speaking of the Dementors, I don't think that the film version of the Patronus spell actually made sense. In the book, they feed off negative thoughts, and are repelled by happiness, which is why you try to think of a happy memory (which is difficult under the circumstances). Whereas in the film the idea seems to be "Hmm, I have a deadly creature after me - I know, I'll feed it, to make it stronger!" Also, using the film's logic, why not just have an unhappy memory Patronus instead?

My point with all these examples isn't "change is automatically bad", but rather that these particular changes were bad. In other words, the film could have been better, and the makers don't have the excuse of "Oops, we didn't think of that".

As I say though, I think that the film should be able to stand on its own merits, and I'm not sure that it did. In particular, there were some things that were needlessly confusing, that then distracted me from the story.

For instance, there was a scene near the start where Harry fled out of the Dursleys' house, taking his trunk with him. However, he left Hedwig in a cage in his room. For the next five minutes or so, I was thinking "Hang on, where's Hedwig? Surely he hasn't put her cage inside his trunk?!" That was resolved when she turned up on her own, and I'll accept the premise that he let her out of the cage off-camera, but I think it was poor editing. Similarly, when Fudge said "He arrived just after you did", I thought "Hang on, when did Hedwig become male?" I'll accept that Fudge isn't an expert on owl biology; neither am I for that matter, and for all I know they do have a male owl playing the part of Hedwig. However, I don't see any benefit to putting in a line like that.

There were also some scenes which were needlessly mysterious. For instance, we saw that the Whomping Willow was dangerous to anyone nearby, but when they all came out of the shack at the end they didn't seem to be in any hurry to get clear. None of them even asked whether they were safe. Yes, it turned out later that Lupin had frozen it, but the characters didn't know that in the first "iteration". I don't mind a mystery (e.g. who opened the Chamber of Secrets?), but this was something that only confused the audience (or at least me) and not the characters. Ditto for the stones being thrown through Hagrid's window. In the case of the tree being still, I knew how they did it in the book (pressing a certain knot on the trunk), but the film shouldn't rely on the book to make sense. Ok, it turned out that it didn't, but since I thought that it did at the time, that lessened my enjoyment, and again I think that comes down to poor production.

A related issue is communication between characters, although admittedly this is a bit of an ongoing flaw in the series. In the confrontation in the shack, Ron said "If you want to kill Harry, you'll have to come through us", and Black made cryptic comments about "There will only be one death here". Why not just say "I'm not trying to kill him"?

By contrast, when Harry and Ron kept getting surprised by Hermione turning up, that made sense - it was a mystery for the characters as well as the audience. Although I really think that she should have known better than to appear in a populated area like that (rather than using an empty classroom/cupboard).

I also wasn't too impressed by the bus sequence at the start - the whole manic style seemed to be aimed more at children than adults. That's fair enough, if I'm not the target audience, but it did affect my enjoyment.

More generally, there is obviously a different style in this film to the previous two, and I wasn't overly impressed by it. For instance, I can understand the pupils being allowed to wear casual clothes into the local village (at a stretch), but it seems bizarre to me that they were allowed to wander around the school with uniforms being optional. I'm guessing that the idea was to make it seem more like a state school and less like a private school, for whatever reason.

As with the bus, I think there was a conflict between style and substance. For instance, I liked it when Hermione was leaping over the swinging branches of the tree, since that demonstrated her agility. But when she was able to pick up Harry one-handed (with a delay of a second or two between her grabbing hold and him leaving the ground), I had trouble suspending my disbelief to that extent. Yes, I know that it's a story about magic, and it wouldn't bother me if she'd levitated him with her wand, but I don't accept that a young girl could lift someone weighing more than her, especially not while also clinging on to a branch. It seemed like "cartoon physics", which was out of place here.

Another example was Pettigrew's transformation. When we've seen animagus transformations in the past (in this film and the first one), it's clear that the clothes get included in the transformation. E.g. McGonagall went from a cat to a clothed human. And Pettigrew did the same thing when he changed from rat to human. But when he changed from human to rat, he left his clothes behind, meaning that he'll be running around naked when he changes back. Why do it that way? It's inconsistent, and it makes no sense. The only benefit I can see is to make an interesting visual effect of him shrinking and leaving a pile of clothes behind - again, style over substance.

This may be related, or it may just be me misinterpreting what happened. But when they had a short part of a Quidditch game, that ended with Harry falling off his broom, I assumed it was just a dream-sequence (on the basis that Harry wouldn't actually go splat), and so I didn't get much sense of suspence. This may be related to the previous issue about changes from the book, since the Dementors couldn't fly there. But I think it's more because of how abruptly the scene started.

I wasn't impressed by the choir in the trailer, and I'm glad it was only a small part of the film. I don't generally listen to choral music for pleasure anyway, but their choice of song was rather odd. Why choose a (presumably muggle) poem that gives a negative stereotypical view of magic? Is it supposed to be post-modern irony or something? Similarly, while "something wicked this way comes" turned out to be accurate foreshadowing, it's not the most inspirational way to start the school year. Admittedly, Dumbledore has gone for doom and gloom in the past ("avoid the third floor on pain of death"), but it wasn't particularly specific.

As mentioned here: (, one scene I was particularly waiting to see was the Dementors at the lake. I'd say the way they did it was in between the two extremes I'd considered: could be better, could be worse. Much like the film as a whole, really.

On a more positive note, I did like the flying scenes, since I think they did a good job of conveying the sheer joy involved. That particularly applies to the scene where Harry had his arms outstretched while flying on Buckbeak, although it did remind me of "Titanic". (Between that and the ringwraith/Dementor similarity, when does a homage become a rip-off?)

But staying with things I liked, I thought that the CGI was done well. Again, Buckbeak gets a special mention here. And there were scenes that made me laugh.

Lots of people have commented on the cast getting older, which is certainly noticeable. I think they are now appearing as young adults rather than children, which is appropriate. Draco was as unpleasant as ever, but he now seems more capable, rather than just sniggering in the background. And I was impressed by how many of the cast have stayed the same across all three films so far, particularly for the more minor parts (did Ginny Weasley even get any lines in this film?).

Ah well, rant over. I doubt I'll buy this one on DVD, but I will still go along to see the next one at the cinema, and it's motivated me to read the books again.

read biography for - John Kirk

 John Kirk ( 14th Jun 2004, 23:50, Rank: Patrician )  reply

A couple of other thoughts that I missed out...

What was the point of the huge pendulum thing swinging a few feet above the ground, near the main gate? A random hazard to keep people alert?

Thinking about the Fat Lady's attempts to break a glass with her singing voice, Hermione seemed to be closer to achieving that goal - impressive pitch there.

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 dormouse ( 15th Jun 2004, 09:21, Rank: Jedi )  reply

john - and anyone else in the same situation - feel free to post that as a new review! i'm sure we'll end up with many mini-reviews in comments on reviews, as we have been, but that is long and independent enough to be worth a new post i think.

It will make our linking shinier (try clicking on "Rowling, J K" just below the original review).

Also you get better ranking for reviews vs comments ;)

read biography for - Sulkyblue

 Sulkyblue ( 15th Jun 2004, 10:47, Rank: Nazgul )  reply

Personally I think it makes more sense to keep all the reviews together so that they can be discussed together, otherwise it'll start getting rather complicated.

I thought the plot hung together pretty well on the first viewing - i haven't read the book for a couple of years now and only remembered the main plot bits, not the detail. I suspect many things would jump out at me on the 2nd viewing that weren't actually explained, but on the 1st at least I was happily engrossed. The only things that jumped out at me were that pendulum and Pettigrew's clothes. It made sense that the kids wouldn't be allowed in the pub - most pubs don't allow kids in and they all serve non-alcoholic drinks. As for the casual clothes, they weren't in lessons in casual clothes (i don't think), kids at boarding school don't have to wear uniform 24-7 do they? The occasionally-whumping-willow did seem a bit random, I'd guess they trimmed some explanation there for flow, same with leaving Hedwig behind. The rocks through the window made me go 'huh' in the same way as Hermione's sudden appearances, but I rather liked the lack of gormless "what was that, i wonder if we'll find out later..."

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 John Kirk ( 15th Jun 2004, 12:37, Rank: Patrician )  reply

Re: uniforms, I can tell you how it was at my boarding school, but I don't know how typical that was. Basically, you had to wear school uniform all day, every day, unless you were doing a sporting activity (in which case you'd change to appropriate clothing), or unless there was a school disco. (On a side note, that's why I've never really got nostalgic for the adult "School Disco" industry.) The other exception was when you were in the final year, in which case you were allowed to wear casual clothes on a Saturday evening, as long as you stayed on school grounds. But you certainly had to wear uniform if you went into the local town. When I read the books they felt familiar in some ways, so that may be why this was more jarring for me than for other people.

The pub is an interesting thing, since we had a "Grecians' Club" on school grounds (for final year pupils), which had a special licence to serve alcohol to 17 year olds. I'm not quite sure how they wangled that one...

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