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Prisoner of Azakaban is the best Harry Potter movie so far

By on Dec 9, 2010 in Reviews | 9 comments

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I chose not to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 immediately after it was released; I wanted to re-watch the whole series of films before I did so. (I would have liked to read the books too, but between end-of-semester exams coming up next week and applying for industrial placement for next year, I haven’t much time.) I completed that last week, and saw Deathly Hallows yesterday.

Deathly Hallows is a good film; there’s no denying that. David Yates gets the luxury of spreading out the narrative in a two-parter, and that obviously helps. What I enjoyed about his direction is how in this film (and Half-Blood Prince), Yates touches up emotional scenes through the judicious use of silence. That Radcliffe can’t act out anything that requires anything beyond the ’emotional range of a teaspoon’ was amply clear in his botched up crying scene over the dead body of Cedric Diggory in Goblet of Fire – and Yates, to his credit, realizes that.

Having Harry/Radcliffe sob stiflingly, or keep his trap shut, instead of hamming his lines adds that much more gravitas to important scenes. This propensity towards silence works with the soundtrack too; rather than going for a questionable score as in certain scenes of Order of the Phoenix, Yates opts to have no background score at all during fight scenes in Deathly Hallows. Fight scenes that shine, as if they are quiet gunfights. It’s a tiny, almost unnoticeable change from previous films – and yet, it makes measures of difference in driving home the ‘reality’ of what’s happening within a fictional world.

I found this frame from the movie so funny that I *had* to put it in this blog post. Also, clicking on the image will take you to a high-larious 'ginger' joke.

No matter how much I or anyone else deny liking the Harry Potter universe – being a guilty pleasure – its undeniable how pervasive this ‘liking’ is. Watching back the older films the past week and reading critical reactions of the Harry Potter movies after each one’s release, I observed how even hardcore film critics – from whom nary a word of praise is uttered unless a movie does something spectacularly extraordinary – gleefully award top-notch ratings to Harry Potter films. The same critics also join the chorus of Potter fanatics screaming “THIS ONE WAS THE DARKEST INSTALLMENT EVARRR!!!”

Every pixel of this image screams out "PHOTOSHOPPED!" (including Robbie Coltrane)

One of the aspects that stands out clearly is how painfully fake some of the then-cutting-edge CGI looks. This makes me wonder whether Warner Bros will go down the Lucasian route of releasing ‘digitally remastered’ iterations in the future to milk profits from this franchise. It’s clear in the earlier films how the directors tried to avoid anything that required a lot computer-generated animation by trying to merely hint at action happening off-camera. As the franchise progressed, the use of CGI just got bolder and bolder – to the point that the yet-to-be-released second part of Deathly Hallows will digitally ‘age’ the actors for the epilogue, à la The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Having seen the whole series including and up to Deathly Hallows, I stand by a statement I have made many times over the years: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movie of all time. Now, I know that among most fans this is the least loved one, for a variety of reasons – but I want to list why I think it’s the best of the series (and will probably remain so) for a variety of reasons.

You see, Prisoner of Azkaban was the first AND only movie in the series to visualize magic as a part of the Harry Potter world, rather than an artifact that had to be worked into the script because of the storyline. From the guy stirring a cup of tea while reading a battered copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time

…to the cleaning lady with a bewitched broom who has to deal with magic gone wrong in her daily work…

…the wacky interpretation of the Knight Bus…

…every one of these fleeting scenes makes Prisoner of Azkaban a better film. The choice of the book, for instance – A Brief History of Time – reminds the viewer how Harry Potter is set in the present ‘Muggle’ world, not some distant lost land in the mists of time.

Look at the kids! They just can’t wait to get out of their school robes and into casual clothes – just as you’d expect from teenagers of their age. I feel it’s one of the reasons why this movie feels so out-of-sync in comparison to the others, because the later films don’t adopt the same liberal sartorial policy.

And how can I ever forget the Hogwarts choir singing Something Wicked This Way Comes (the lyrics were inspired by William Shakespeare), each singer holding a bulbous toad in their hands that chimes in with a subtle croak every now and then in the song!

Each director in the series has brought something unique to it: Chris Columbus brought his slavish adherence to recreating a picture-perfect version of the book (exemplified by how he had to have an announcer at Quidditch matches – utterly pointless!); Mike Newell, with his focus on making Goblet of Fire a B-grade action film; David Yates, adding an impish touch of humour running through an incrementally ‘dark’ storyline. But only Alfonso Cuaron put the leeway implied in based on the novel by JK Rowling’ to good use; he was the only one with the vision to imagine a world where magic and reality coexist. Each of the examples I mentioned above adds a spark that bring Prisoner of Azkaban to life in a way that none of the other movies in the series do.

Sadly, the immaturity of Potter fans (at least, ones that I know or have read personally) shows in how fixated most get with “But…this is not in the book!” when judging Azkaban. I’d rather have Cuaron be the Chosen One to direct Deathly Hallows.

****

One last thing. This might sound a bit…awkward…so I’m just going to spill it out. I find the way “the actor who plays Voldemort” handles his wand…exciting. You know…the way he always gently – almost reverently – caresses his wand…and then is suddenly, like, all “Avada Kedavra!” and shit. I just can’t stop myself from clapping and cheering on in those bits.

Oh, the jokes that can be made about 'pieces of wood'. "Birch?" "No. Elder, actually." "Naice..."



9 Comments

  1. Vivek

    December 9, 2010

    Post a Reply

    Can totally understand the “lack-of-a-pointless-background-score-adds-value-to-the-scene” sentiment. Since I haven’t had the time to go through the entire series recently, I can’t say much else about Azkaban.

  2. rachit

    December 9, 2010

    Post a Reply

    yep, prisoner of azkaban was the best. followed closely by deathly hallows, of course. the visual flair, the visual flair!
    btw, yates isn’t using VFX to age the actors, he went the make-up route. you can see pics of the actors in make up if you do a simple google search.

  3. Arushi

    December 29, 2010

    Post a Reply

    To be frank, I’m not a huge fan of the Potter movies as they unfailingly manage to mislay the very essence of the books, somehow(a feat greatly aided by that undeserving moron who tries to portray Harry).
    But if I had to choose the lesser among the many (seven, to be precise) evils, I would go with the Prisoner Of Azkaban too,
    for reasons not too different from yours. :)
    Cheers,

    P.S. : I find your style of writing quite terrific.
    Now that is saying something, as I don’t commonly appreciate just ANYTHING. In fact, my enjoying a blog is unprecedented. :)

    P.S. 2: Your reaction to the above should be along the lines of……..say, winning a Nobel. :D
    :D

    • Ankur Banerjee

      December 30, 2010

      Post a Reply

      Yay me, I won a Nobel! Thanks, glad that you liked my blog. :)

      What I always say to people who say the Harry Potter movies don’t match the book is this: the movie clearly states “Based on the novel by JK Rowling”. As such I don’t expect them to stick religiously to the books. The reason why the Lord of the Rings books could be adapted into such good movies is because essentially the story is easier to transfer onto screen. Harry Potter books, by contrast, have relatively more complex storylines. It’s inevitable that some parts need to be chopped away.

      • Arushi

        January 1, 2011

        Hmm…….. When I said that they tend to lose the essence of the books, I did not mean that they “don’t match the books”. I just meant that they fail to create ( or perhaps I should say ‘recreate’) the magic I felt when I read the books. The movies seem stupid, really.
        A poor imitation.

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