Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
—Michael Ray Review
—About this Film
There comes a time in the life of all boys and girls when the wistful days of childhood begin to blur into the awkward world of growing up. The high-pitched song of a child in the sandbox is replaced by the cracking voice of a young adult in junior high. Just as the humans in this series are growing up and advancing in their maturity, so the films themselves should get better with each new addition. However, as any film buff knows, most series do the opposite, the glory of the original regresses upon further entries. Thankfully, in the Harry Potter series, this hasn't happened. The third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is a fantasy gem that reaches its glorious adolescence along with its young stars.
Credit director Alfonso Cuaron for Potter's new step into maturity. This director brings a fresh style and dark moodiness to the proceedings. The artistic design of the film is different from its two predecessors: pale light washes the walls inside many rooms, looming clocks chime with a gothic stature, and skulls and bones decorate the fringes of many shots. Gone are the neatly trimmed lawns at Hogwarts; the on-location shots capture a more rugged outdoor landscape. Strange, exotic creatures appear, including an amazingly believable hippogriff. Costumes are also different, as the kids have put away their classic school uniforms for a more contemporary teenage look. With his best work in recent years, John Williams' score adds to the magical, creepy tone of the movie.
The core child actors have continued to improve in each movie, especially Daniel Radcliffe. He seems much more comfortable in front of the camera now, and his chemistry with the other kids is fun. Speaking of chemistry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) have some ever-so-slight romantic subtext to explore this time. Other notables are David Thewlis as Professor Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, and Michael Gambon as Dumbledore (replacing the late Richard Harris). Gary Oldman also has a brief turn as Sirius Black.
Harry (Radcliffe) is indeed no longer the wide-eyed boy of the Sorcerer’s Stone or Chamber of Secrets. When teenage anger and insult lead to a humorous encounter with the Dursleys and his visiting Aunt Marge, Harry leaves home. He ends up back at Hogwarts, where he learns that an escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, is on the loose and may be after him.
Part of the joy of the Potter series comes through the incredible plotlines that spring from the mind of J.K. Rowling, and Azkaban's twists and turns are no exception. This is a mystery, fantasy, time-travel science fiction, and prep school flick all rolled into one. Unfortunately, while the overarching plot is indeed intriguing, some of the finer details (such as new character relationships) are left unexplained and can be confusing to the nonreaders in the audience. In this sense, The Chamber of Secrets was superior, for the story translated better onto the screen.
Overall, the best part of the Harry Potter series is the grand themes that Rowling weaves throughout the stories. She uses bits of mythology, fairy tale, and folk stories in her work, which have always been vehicles to carry profound human truth and morals. In addition to incorporating her wide knowledge of British folklore and history, she includes stories and characters from other cultures as well (Look for some of Cuaron's Mexican influences). Rowling thus follows in a grand tradition of using fairy stories to convey Truth.
A major theme running through Azkaban is the nature of identity. In Harry's case, he continues to identify with his parents, specifically his father, and Harry learns that some of his father's gifts and abilities are his as well. We as humans all share in the image of our Father God and His image remains irrevocably part of us. All the love, joy, peace, happiness, and goodness in the world identify us with our Creator.
The Professor Lupin character tries to veil the darker side of his identity because of the destruction it causes, but he cannot completely hide it and it's eventually revealed. We all have a dark part of our nature that we try to conceal from others. This part of our identity doesn't match the image of our Creator. For Harry, he wants to hide his fear and be brave like his father. Then there's the character Peter Pettigrew, who ultimately becomes more like an animal than a human as his dark identity consumes him.
The nature of thoughts is also an important theme in Azkaban. Positive, hopeful thoughts are the only defense against the terrifying Dementors. Harry can defeat the Dementors only by focusing on uplifting beliefs. Also, the shadow-dwelling Boggarts are eliminated through humorous thoughts and laughter. The Bible tells us to focus on virtuous thoughts (Philippians 4:8) and even to change the evil thoughts we have about life in general (Romans 12:1,2). Like Harry, our minds must be transformed in order to overcome evil and achieve victory.
The universal themes, the sharp directing, and a twisting plot combine to make Prisoner the most mature Potter film yet. It’s a joy to watch these characters grow into their place in movie history. Adolescence can be an awkward stage, but in this case, the film handles it with ease.with ease.