Incoming – new director. Chris Columbus has set sail (sorry) and left us in the hands of Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men). If I had one guess I would have thought Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a Tim Burton film, given the shabby clothing, wild hairdos, and general degree of tooth decay. The Prisoner of Azkaban may be the o movie everyone forgets (primarily because Voldemort’s AWOL), but it’s actually an interesting turning point in the series.
We have entered year three at Hogwarts School and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is thirteen. He’s also on the cusp of his emo phase. Every adult in The Prisoner of Azkaban makes it their mission to pull Harry aside and warn him that there is a prisoner (from Azkaban) on the loose and Harry may be his next target. Without meaning to Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) get swept up in the facts surrounding the murder of Harry’s parents, and end up with more reasons than the average witch or wizard for wanting the convict, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), back behind bars.
With a new year comes a brand new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. What dimwit did Dumbledore dig up this time? Meet Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) – the best thing to happen to Harry’s academic career since befriending Hermione Granger. At some point we’ve all had a teacher like this: someone who cares about their lessons, who’s respectable and approachable, who will look you in the eye and tell you the world isn’t easy but you’ll be all the stronger for facing it with purpose and not joining the Death Eaters. Thank Haven for Professor Lupins.
Lupin fits perfectly into this darker, damper, grimier Potter. It’s like Cuarón took some serious inspiration from the sewer slime of The Chamber of Secrets and added in a touch more graveyard. A far cry from The Philosopher’s Stone, The Prisoner of Azkaban is shot primarily in the drizzling rain of our early teenage years. A “bright day” equals a layer of thick overcast. The general dampness finds its soulmate in Harry’s discontent. We’ve traded the bright boy who’s just happy to be here for a sad orphan who can’t stop thinking about his parents’ death.
There’s no shortage of new characters, however, to liven things up. Along with Lupin we also meet the far-sighted divination instructor, Trelawney (Emma Thompson), who’s more or less a storyboard sketch come to life. There’s also the thin, tattooed, felon/mentor, Sirius, and one random, chubby, black kid who has no name but is the spokesman for ominous bad news. With our favourite Gryffindor trio dealing with so much drama and hormones, it feels like there was a desperate need to occasionally lighten the mood with new personalities. Swing and a miss.
The Prisoner of Azkaban also takes a weird straddle between too much detail and not quite enough. Under the ‘too much’ column we have multiple rooms adorned with talking Jamaican heads. They’re annoying and totally unnecessary. In the ‘not enough’ column we see Lupin scolding Harry for walking around with a magical map that, at this point in the story, Lupin shouldn’t know exists. On top of that, Harry never stops to wonder how his favourite teacher found out about his favourite cheat sheet.
Even so, we still get to enjoy classic Hogwarts with its strict learn-in-the-face-of-danger methods. It’s just another Saturday morning with kids flying their broomsticks into a lightning storm, but as soon as one student gets knocked over by a hippogriff it’s time to review the health and safety policy. The Prisoner of Azkaban is a much darker chapter of the Harry Potter series and is no longer appropriate for young viewers. I re-watched it after a few years away and I enjoyed it as much as ever. Its creativity, gloominess, and casual plot holes amount to a 6.5/10.