Thursday, July 9, 2009

Three Times Should Do It

(This the third in a series of retrospectives looking back at the first five films in the Harry Potter franchise.)

Back upon its release, I was not the biggest fan of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I remember the day I saw it. It was a warm summer's day, I was only 14. My mother took me to see the earliest possible matinee showing. I was extremely excited for the film, so excited that I could barely contain myself, and what followed was initial disappointment.

Back then, I still had the innocence of a child, yet to grow out of my childlike shell and begin the journey towards young adulthood. For starters Prisoner of Azkaban was a far darker installment than the previous two films. At that age I preferred the far warmer look of the first two, as opposed to the cold world in this particular adventure. As well my taste in films had still yet to truly mature, so at the time I was still a zealot of the books, and when this film came out I was quite upset at all that was cut from the final version. Up to then, Prisoner of Azkaban was the sparsest film in the series, which quite angered me for the longest time.

For the next couple of years after its release, I always felt sadness whenever I saw this film. I felt as if it had not lived up to its amazing potential, I even went through a slight snap where I almost ignored this film completely. More time passed, and sometime around when I turned 17 I decided to revisit the film once more. I had not seen the film in nearly a year at that point and figured I'd give it another go, thinking my thoughts on the film would still be the same, and boy was I in for a surprise.

Over that year since I had last seen the film, what I didn't know is that my taste in films had slowly, but surely matured. As naturely comes with age, I had started to begin my metamorphosis into young adulthood. I had developed a greater appreciation for things in which I did not care much for when I was younger, and what I discovered with this particular film is the opposite of what often happens with films from your childhood. As I mentioned earlier, that films of your childhood very often do not hold up once you have fully grown, and the opposite can apply to films in which you did not like as a child but now have a newfound appreciation for them as a grown human being.

When I rewatched the film, I was overcome with a sense of rediscovery. I fell in love with the film, its complexity, its depth. Pure magic overcame my body. I sat there wondering why I haven't always loved this film. For that I may never truly know the correct answer, but what I do know now is that I am madly in love with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and strongly believe that it is the best of the series thus far.

Prisoner of Azkaban is by and large a far darker adventure than the previous two Harry Potter films. When I was younger I didn't fully understand why, I wanted the more carefree feel of the first two, but what I came to realize was that the story in Prisoner of Azkaban reflects its cold visuals. Prisoner of Azkaban is a far darker story than the first two films, and while the look and tone of the first two films was great, this particular film would feel awkward and out of place if done in the same style. As I've gotten older I've begun to appreciate this facet of the story a lot more and its been a major factor as to why I've now become a champion of the film. Of course what makes Prisoner of Azkaban my newfound favorite is its emphasis on character and its individuality.

Prisoner of Azkaban got a new director in Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron decided to rid the story of all subplots that had nothing to do with Harry, which as a fan is still slightly sad because you know what's missing, but it overall made the film far better. While the narrative is a tad more scarce than the other films in the series, it brought us deeper inside the mind of Harry than any of the other films have done. Cuaron gave the audience the same rich experience that you get when you read the books, bringing us to Harry's core, making us feel his emotions and read his thoughts. By bringing us inside Harry's mind, Cuaron gave the film an all encompassing sense of foreboding, perfectly layering the film with its very resonant themes of battling your inner demons and discovering your inner strength. For this reason alone is why I've become such a big fan of this film, but it's not the only reason.

Cuaron imprinted the film with an individuality that no other director has done with the series thus far. He took the world Chris Columbus created in the first two films and made it entirely his own while still letting us know that it noticeably takes place in the same universe. That is a remarkable feat for any director to do and I applaud Cuaron for it.

I could seriously go on all day about this film. The visuals are amazing, this film featuring some of the finest cinematograhpy I have ever seen in my life. The special effects and makeup work is superb. Production design is top notch. The acting is in my opinion the best of the series. Cuaron coaxed the very essence of the three main characters better than any of the other directors have done thus far. Daniel Radcliffe delivers a performance for the ages here. Not to mention the film is just genuinely funny, but it also has some truly spectacular sequences. The Aunt Marge scene is hilarious and brimming with invention, the Knight Bus sequence is enthralling and funny, Buckbeak's flight is pure fantasy at its finest, and not to mention the frightening Dementor sequences, or the beautifully staged Patronus scenes.

Cuaron gave the film a birthright. He made a film that is the closest that you could get to reading the Potter books other than actually cracking open the spine for yourself. It's deep, funny, highly emotional, and in the end has a ton of resonance.

Looking back now I can see why I wasn't such a big fan at one time, but I can also see why I became a big fan. The film is far more grown up, it deals with the darkness inside yourself and having to overcome it and discover your inner strength. As a 14 year old I had yet to experience anything in life that needed that kind of poignancy, and while I'm still young I feel that I've had far more battles with similar things recently than ever before. So on that note, it's not a children's fantasy, but rather an adult's fantasy.

Prisoner of Azkaban is a powerful film, beautiful in its own right. While it is very dark, it is a film that in the end has an uplifting message for anyone who has ever struggled with anything in life. It is so much more than just an adaptation, it actually bests the book upon which it is based and simply becomes a sublime film. This is a true classic through and through.

(Stay tuned for part 4 of my Harry Potter retrospectives where I take a look back at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)

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