“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the Best Harry Potter Film Adaptation?

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JK Rowling published “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in 1999, the third of seven “Harry Potter Novels.”  The story centers on the wizarding world of Harry Potter as he and his friends enter their third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The story, while mentioning Lord Voldemort, has a different antagonist in Sirius Black.  As the characters are growing older, around the age of thirteen or fourteen, the themes become darker.  Revenge, betrayal, and confronting your most intimate fears are all present in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.”  Introducing Professor Lupin, the kind and intelligent werewolf, also presents some of the less glorious aspects of the wizarding world.  He is discriminated against and once the fact that he is a werewolf is revealed, parents no longer want their students to learn from him.

Alfonso Cuaron, a highly regarded and awarded Mexican filmmaker, took on JK Rowling’s acclaimed “Prisoner of Azkaban” in 2004.  The film was the first Harry Potter film to not be directed by Chris Columbus.  Attempting to maintain the spirit of the novel, Cuaron presented a much darker version of Harry Potter’s world.  While Columbus gave the audience a crisp, clean, and upbeat Harry Potter, Cuaron provided an artistic, gritty, and “British” Harry Potter.  The tone and the visuals of the film are simply just darker; no longer is Harry Potter an upbeat but downtrodden young 12 year old.  Now, Potter is a teenager and his newfound wizarding world is beginning to demonstrate its darkness.

Cuaron really captures one essence of the original novel in his adaptation.  In the previous two novels, Harry Potter’s journey into Hogwarts was an escape from his muggle life.  The pain Harry experienced for the first twelve years of his life was blocked out once he became a wizard.  However, in this film we see that the wizarding world is not without its own darkness.  While Harry had met Voldemort before, the epitome of evil, he now meets a more complex evil in Sirius Black as well as the dementors.  Black not only betrayed his parents, but is a more tangible and real evil to Harry.  Cuaron really captures this essence.  Additionally, one of the best aspects of his film is he matures the magic.  By this I mean that JK Rowling always emphasized that magic was a part of life for the characters, they were not wowed by it.  The novel is character-driven and the magic is secondary to the story.  With Columbus’ films, the magic was meant to bring the audience in and “wow” them.  Cuaron has the magic secondary to the characters, it is just a regular part of their lives.  Finally, Cuaron truly understood the role of Professor Lupin; he is a metaphor for prejudice within a segregated community.  The whole wizarding world is a segregated community for the rest of the world, a community that Harry finds comfort and acceptance in.  However, Lupin shows Harry that his accepting community is actually not-so-accepting.  Lupin as a werewolf destroys Harry’s innocence.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2004/06/01/alfonso_cuaron_azkaban_interview.shtml:  Cuaron states that an important aspect of this film is that the characters are teenagers.  “Teenagers recognize other teenagers.  From the moment I read the material, it was something that I connected with.  This is a the story of a kid who is seeking his own identity as a teenager.”  Additinoally, Cuaron felt that he really wanted to “ground” the magical universe by choosing Michael Seresin as the cinematographer.  “One thing that I felt was perfect for Michael was that we have this magical universe that we could really ground.  Because he has got that grittiness, and that grittiness comes from the fact that he is a single-source light cinematographer.”  Finally, Cuaron says that he gave the film a more “British” atmosphere because he stuck so close to the material; he didn’t have to tinker much to give it that feeling.

http://movieline.com/2010/11/03/why-does-everyone-think-alfonso-cuarons-awful-harry-potter-adaptation-is-great/:  Christopher Rosen feels that Cuaron’s film was “mostly trash,” failing as both a movie and a good adaptation.  He feels that the film never “captures the spirit of Harry Potter.”  One of the main things that Rosen states is that the relationship between Sirius Black and Harry is never truly fleshed out and that the later films suffer because of this.

http://thefairytalesite.net/2012/11/harry-potter-flashback-an-interview-with-azkabandirector-alfonso-cuaron/:   Cuaron states in a separate interview aht all he hopes to do with his film is not to make an “Alfonso Cuaron Movie, just to serve the material.”  This is advice he received from Guillermo del Toro.  He found it a great deal of fun to transition from Columbus’ world to his own.  He made sure that people didn’t feel like they were “suddenly in an alien world.  You want them to feel as though they’re in the same universe.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is considered by some critics to be the best Harry Potter film adaptation. It is considered by other critics to be the worst. What do you think? (This question implies familiarity with both the books and the films).

Overall, some critics have claimed this version of Harry Potter to be the best adaptation of the books.  Others claim that it is one of the worst.  I feel that this movie, apart from perhaps “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. II,” is the best adaptation.  Like stated, I feel Cuaron did the best job of putting the characters and the storyline first.  The characters used magic as part of their lives and not as a method of keeping the audience interested.  Additionally, he made the film feel inherently British and “grounded” the magic.  The main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, truly felt like teenagers.  Cuaron got them out of their wizard robes so that the audience could better identify with them as people, not just as wizards.

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One thought on ““Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the Best Harry Potter Film Adaptation?

  1. I agree that this was one of the best Harry Potter film adaptations. Unfortunately this Harry Potter film is the only one directed by Cuarón, but he definitely left his mark on this series. His idea of taking the characters out of their uniform robes to help viewers not see them as so foreign was one of his best. I believe that he also introduced the darker nature of the film well. There is a good amount of fear induced in viewers to invite adults on the Potter journey but not enough to turn older children away.

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