Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
It is absolutely astonishing to discover what all can happen when one puts a promising story that’s full of imagination, wonder & endless possibilities into the hands of a master storyteller and witness him or her elevate it to an entirely new level. Breaking from the monotony of the previous two chapters, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the first time we get a genuine taste of how magical, enchanting & mystifying the world of Harry Potter really is and the film as a whole is the best instalment in the Harry Potter franchise.
Based on J.K. Rowling’s third novel of the series & covering the adventures of the famous wizard during his third year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban tells the story of the young wizard who is in danger yet again as the convicted murderer Sirius Black, who is considered by many to be The Dark Lord’s most faithful servant, has escaped from Azkaban prison & is coming after him. To make matters even worse, the vile creatures known as Dementors are appointed to guard the school but they also happen to have a haunting effect on Potter.
While the first two chapters of the franchise was directed by Chris Columbus & followed the events from the novel quite faithfully, it also suffered due to its juvenile dimension that kept looking less impressive as the years passed by. For this instalment, the director’s helm is taken over by Alfonso Cuarón who brings invigorating changes to the smallest of details in both story & technical aspects so that the film is equally appealing to viewers of all ages. The story does deviate from the novel when compared to last two films but all the changes eventually stack up in the film’s favour & makes for a great cinematic ride.
Coming to the technical aspects, its vivid cinematography is absolutely dazzling for it adds a magical vibe to the entire film & makes terrific use of colour palette throughout its runtime. Even something as small as transition from one scene to another or the sound made by the wand when a spell is cast ends up adding flavours of its own to the whole film & enriches the cinematic experience. Thanks to its tight editing, there isn’t a single moment in the picture that feels irrelevant to the plot. The costume design adopt a much more trendier look this time while production design undergoes a complete overhaul.
Also, this is the final time we have John Williams composing for a Harry Potter film and although the signature theme of the franchise stays in tact, the rest of the film’s score is rewritten from the ground up to go with its much revamped look. From start to finish, Williams’ composition here resonates a profound sense of warmth & feelings of various emotions that flows in harmony from one scene to the next. And just like the picture, the soundtrack of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the finest in the series and, in my opinion, also ranks as one of the finest works of John Williams’ illustrious career.
Coming to the performances, it’s heartwarming to find the young cast slowly maturing into capable actors which is evident in the excellent efforts put in by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint & Tom Felton in their respective roles of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley & Draco Malfoy. But Harry Potter is possibly the only franchise in which I’ve enjoyed the work of supporting actors more than the lead ones & the third chapter is no exception for the ensemble here gets even better with the addition of fine actors such as Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis & Timothy Spall.
The veteran theatre actor Michael Gambon takes over the role of Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore after the unfortunate death of Richard Harris & while his version of the renowned wizard may not be in sync with the novel’s description of him, Gambon’s enthusiastic performance infuses a new energy into the character that was missing in the last two films. Alan Rickman is as reliable as before in the role of Severus Snape. David Thewlis plays Professor Lupin; the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Timothy Spall is in as Peter Pettigrew while Gary Oldman leaves a lasting impression with his fascinating take on Sirius Black.
On an overall scale, the third chapter in the world of Harry Potter does everything right from start to finish. It manages to find the right balance between its drama, adventure & action elements and takes a remarkably fresh approach in adapting the novel on the film canvas. Brilliantly directed, deftly scripted, nicely performed, exquisitely photographed, elegantly edited & wonderfully scored, this wicked adventure is quite possibly the best chapter of its series, one of the best films of its year & one of the finest works of its genre. A truly magical experience in every sense of the word, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban comes delightfully recommended to every witch, wizard & muggle out there.