Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Best Harry Potter Movie: Prisoner of Azkaban

As I make my way through my DVD queue, I got a real treat last night, finally getting to see the Ultimate Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  I know, let the debate begin.  I just discovered that, of all the Potters, Prisoner of Azkaban is the lowest grossing of all eight movies, so far.  That is a dubious honour indeed, but to me doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter series at all, for whatever reason, then this blog may bore you.  But I’m a convert to the Harry Potter way of life.  Perhaps in a situation of sharing too much information, years ago, my sister and I had a bet as to who could finish the others’ favourite series first.  I had Lord of the Rings, this should come as no surprise to you, and she was a huge Harry Potter fan.  We set of before the Deathly Hallows came out.  I finished all six books with a week to spare.  She still has my copy of Lord of the Rings under her bed.  I won, but sadly didn’t wager anything, so the jerk that she is, won’t let me ‘win’ in reality.  This is actually very telling about our relationship, but that’s a blog for another day.  The point is, in a little less than a month I read the entire series and for those of you that have never read the books, JK Rowling is masterful.

JK Rowling creates a world within our own world, one that is believable and yet mysterious.  Kids around the globe want to go to Hogwarts, they want to learn magic.  Some ultra-religious types think that the books teach black magic, which is absurd for those of us that have taken the time to read the novels.  Harry Potter teaches being loyal, doing the right thing and having integrity.  I always love the comparison to Twilight, where it is said, Potter is about being a better person and doing the right thing and Twilight is about finding a boyfriend.  I thought that gem is always worth sharing.

The first two books are tame, while Harry is in great danger in both, the writing doesn’t make you feel the enormity of those situations.  It is later, in books three and four, that you begin to see Rowling evolve the writing to make each decision that much more meaningful.  In the third book, the only really self-contained story exists.  In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is confronted with a very real threat of a man who betrayed his parents and they died because of this betrayal.  While there are small side-stories to the main story, my favourite being Ron thinking Hermione’s cat ate his rat and Ron once again showing he’s a hate-filled brat (I know, I hate Ron), but it shows a great subplot that is furthered by the outcome of the book.

In the first two movies, the director Chris Columbus filmed the movies back-to-back, creating a seamless aging for the actors and also went easy on them acting-wise.  In the third movie, a new director, Alfonso CuarĂ³n, comes aboard, who has an impressive resume.  When he joined, he changed the way the movies were made and how the actors portrayed their roles.  It is here that I think the audience truly gets to see Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint come into their own, not to mention excellent work by Tom Felton as everyone’s favourite bad boy Draco Malfoy.  It is an interesting side-note that Rowling feels uncomfortable with girls loving Malfoy, as he is a very troubled, spiteful character.  But Felton’s humanising performance makes him likable and to some women, fixable.

Secretly, before the bet my sister and I made, it was this movie that I used to watch on ABC Family on one of their many Harry Potter weekends.  It was only this one that I could watch from beginning to end, fascinated by the story and the cinematography.  What always caught my eye were the kids having grown up from the earlier movies.  Daniel Radcliffe really became Harry Potter.  He carried himself in a way that made the character come to life, unlike the earlier two iterations.  Rupert Grint was decent, his role muted, as in most of the other movies and I’m thankful for that.  It was really Emma Watson who transformed herself into the insufferable know-it-all that is Hermione Granger.  By far one of my favourite characters, Hermione is thoughtful and smart, but also cares a great deal about her friends, Harry and for some reason Ron.  Watson really shined in this movie and it brought the others’ acting levels up as well.  I won’t comment on any further Potter movies and those performances, for any of the kids, but for this one, Prisoner of Azkaban was owned by Emma Watson.

Acting aside, the story is actually rather compelling.  Harry is able to confront, in theory, the man who led his parents to their death.  As the story progresses, the reader discovers that it is not the supposed criminal Sirius Black, but Ron’s rat, Peter Pettigrew, who betrayed the Potters.  What I always found confusing is why would Black go to jail for something he didn’t do?  Some may argue that he was devastated by the loss of his friends, but he knew he was Harry’s godfather, and we see the repercussions of that with young Teddy Lupin.  I suppose Rowling knew Black’s fate from the beginning, but I think any Potter fans would have preferred to not have Harry live with his cousins, but with Black.  In some ways, I think Black was being selfish by not defending himself.  But as the story goes, there was no way for Black to prove his innocence.

I may have expounded too much on things that don’t matter, but the point of this blog was to go back down memory lane (or Privet Drive) and reminisce about the best Potter movie.  While the books tell an amazing story, the movies pale in comparison in almost every way, except Prisoner of Azkaban.  Each book grew in length as they were published and despite Warner Brothers’ need to bilk the fans, I often wonder if, after Prisoner of Azkaban, why they didn’t break the movies up to cover more of the lore from the books.  It is only Prisoner of Azkaban that melds the book and the movie with deliberate strokes to make the two into a one piece of media that truly captures the depth and breadth of what Rowling set out to accomplish.

Let the debate begin!

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