Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis and Michael Gambon
Written by J.K. Rowling (Novel) and Steve Kloves
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
After the success of the first two Harry Potter films in the early 2000’s, the rapidly growing franchise was looking to distance itself from the label of ‘children’s films,’ and instead be seen as an adult-friendly series also. In an attempt to do so, the producers turned to director Alfonso Cuarón, who at the time was fresh off the success of his latest release, ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien,’ a road trip movie that explores the sexual awakening of two teenagers when accompanied by an attractive older woman. Whilst not many people’s first choice of director for adapting a novel about a school for witchcraft and wizardry, Cuarón’s trademarks of floating, insightful cinematography and complex, fantastical characters perfectly suits the world of Harry Potter, and ultimately resulted in arguably the greatest film in the series.
‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ serves as a clear turning point for the films, and to show that the stories are descending into darker and more complex themes, Cuarón is quick to introduce the menacing characters of Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black, as well as sinister phantoms – the Dementors. Often these intriguing elements of the story are seen as the clearest moment that the franchise changes in tone, but what is also often overlooked is the introduction of some great humour into the story that injects life into films that could all-too-easily become repetitive, as well as emphasising what is at stake in the moments of darkness. Scenes such as Harry’s trip on the night bus and the directors choice to allow the cast to wear their Hogwarts uniforms however they wanted provides the film with a more light-hearted tone, and creates a better relatability between those on-screen and the audience, allowing the viewer to become better invested in the story.
As previously mentioned, Alfonso Cuarón is often cited as a modern master of storytelling through cinematography, and ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ is no exception. Often many of the locations used within the film have already been introduced to the viewer before anything important happens there. Simple moments within the narrative such as a bird flying through the grounds of Hogwarts may seem relatively unimportant in the moment, but actually introduce us to a clear layout of the school, allowing the film to flow smoothly from one scene to the next later on without having to make reference to how one location is linked to another. Furthermore, the themes of the film are often very clearly visually referenced whilst being explored within the narrative. For example, the time-turner used by Hermione and Harry allows them to travel back in the hopes of finding a way to free Sirius Black later on in the film, but as they move through the corridors in the hopes of liberation, the camera glides along behind them, only to travel through the inner workings of a giant clock, representing clearly their utilisation of such a device. This idea is later reinforced when they return from their adventure, and the camera travels back through the clock, visually articulating the journey that the two characters have just been on.
It is this clear attention to both narrative and visual detail that makes Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban arguably the greatest in the series, as well as serving as a great demonstration for Alfonso Cuarón being one of the best directors working today. Though many may label the Harry Potter series as not being for adults, this film serves as a testament to the fact that even young adult stories deserve the same level of detail and care as any others being told.