Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–After You See It

                                                                                                                                          4:55 a.m.   7/11/12/04

I just finished reading the third Harry Potter book about a week ago.  To my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely.  Why do I say to my surprise?  Because I didn’t care for the first two books.  In fact, it took me awhile to summon my courage to read book three.  The only way I did manage to pick it up was because I told myself that I could quit reading it at any time.  Once I did, I could hardly put it down.

This is the backdrop to the fact that I saw the movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban today.  Or as I like to call it, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azerbaijan.  Not because I mistake the two, but because I like the word Azerbaijan, and really, how many times do you get to say or write it?  Back to the movie.  Yes, I actually saw it in a theater.  A medium popcorn costs five bucks!  Outrageous.  You can bet I took the more than half full bag home with me.  It’s ok.  I like stale popcorn.  I should have gotten the small, but it was only seventy-five cents less for appreciably less popcorn.  I digress, but I’m outraged at the prices at the concession stand.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an actual theater—thank you, Netflix—and I almost had a heart attack.  Michael Moore, if you want to do an expose on theater concession prices, I’m right there with you.

Anyway, we walked in after the commercials, er, trailers started.  We didn’t see any ads, so I think we came in after them.  Thank god.  And just like on TV, the trailers are blaring away at break-the-glass decibels.  I found myself wishing I had my earplugs and gritting my teeth in pain.  I knew there was no way I could handle two more hours of the torture, so I was thankful when the volume dropped for the movie.  Of course, then it was too quiet, but it was preferable to being way too fucking loud.  Excuse my language.  I know this is a kid’s film, except really, it isn’t.  Here we go.

First off, I was more than curious to see how they were going to cram the whole book into a two-hour movie.  There is just no way to condense that much material, and the way the director did it was by dispensing with all the background.  If you knew nothing about Harry Potter—and if that’s the case, what are you doing watching the movie?—then you were SOL.  This movie not only presumes you know the basics, it dispenses with them completely.  There is a scene early on with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) riding a wizard’s bus that screeches along the highways.  It’s symbolic of how the movie goes, and you’d better buckle your seatbelt. 

Since I had just read the book and it was fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but count the ways in which the movie either changed scenes or dispensed of them completely.  I understand some of the changes such as Mr. Weasley (Mark Williams) telling Harry what’s up with Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) instead of Harry having to overhear Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (Julie Walters) talking about it.  It saves precious minutes and we’re off to the races.  It is strange that so much of the movie zips along because there were at least three times when I was bored stiff.  During those times, I fidgeted in my seat and ate out of my never-ending bag of popcorn.  I also drank from the liter of water I smuggled into the theater.  I wasn’t paying three dollars for a twenty-ounce bottle of water.  No way!  I had to draw the line somewhere.  Anyway, as I was saying, even though the movie goes pretty quickly, there are still too many dead spots.

One thing my friend and I had talked about before seeing the movie—because she had seen it already—was the Dementors.  They just weren’t scary enough.  In fact, the first time I saw one—in the train—I burst out laughing.  My friend shushed me, but I had to stuff my hand in my mouth to stop from doing it again.  A shame, as the ice is a nice touch and the dementors are some of the scariest beings in the book.  In the movie, they look like ghosts from Scooby Doo or as my friend said, bad Halloween decorations.  Jack from Nightmare on Elm Street was scarier looking than these guys.  A real negative to the film.

The three stars are growing fast, and it’s clear that they are not thirteen.  Ron (Rupert Grint) has grown at least a foot and is filling out; Harry is taller as well; Hermione (Emma Watson), well, she has breasts.  She’s going to be a stunner when she grows up, but I digress.  Malfoy (Tom Felton) also looks much older than the first film—I never saw the second one—and I understand using different actors.  However, if Rowlings would write the books fast enough and they produced the movies rapidly, I’d like to see them stick with the current actors.  It’s bad enough that Richard Harris died and was replaced by someone who is more Dumbledorf than Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)—but to replace the whole cast….Speaking of Dumbledore, I was very disappointed with the current one.  The old Dumbledore brought nobility and strength to the role, not to mention compassion and wisdom.  The new one seems to be a court jester, ready to do just about anything for a laugh.  He is like the drunk uncle in the corner of the room who beams benevolently on everyone.  What a let-down.

It’s also disappointing that Maggie Smith isn’t seen more.  I know that her role in the book is greatly reduced, but I like her a lot.  I do like the fact that Snape (Alan Rickman) isn’t shown as much as he is in the book because a little Snape goes a long way.  I like the tenderness between Harry and Lupin (David Thewlis), and I wish that Lupin would either show up again or could have stayed despite being outed as a werewolf by Snape.  I’m mad at myself for not figuring out that Lupin was a werewolf and Sirius was a dog.  That has nothing to do with the movie, however, so forgive me. 

Back to the flick.  It is a lush movie that cannot be completely digested in one sitting.  There is too much going on, and it would be nice to see it on DVD so I can stop every frame or so to see what I missed the time before.  I couldn’t help thinking how much money was poured into this movie what with the extensive scenery and extras.  It was worth it, however, as this movie is a treat for the eyes.  Who knows how much of it is CGI and how much is ‘real’, and who cares?  As long as I enjoy it, that’s all that matters in my book.  No pun intended. 

One of the kicks out of a new Harry Potter movie, of course, is to see the guest actors.  This one doesn’t have many, but two of the four do a stellar job.  Even though Emma Thompson as the delightfully ditzy Professor Trelawney isn’t on screen much, she makes the most of her appearances.  She is exactly as I pictured her from the story, and she doesn’t go over the top.  This would be an easy role to overdo, but Thompson never does.  It’s only too bad that they don’t show her more.  They also cut out one of the great lines from the book spoken by Dumbledore about Professor Trelawney.  When Harry tells Dumbledore that the professor had seemed to go into a real trance and made a true prediction, Dumbledore says something to the effect that that was the second time that had happened and that perhaps he should give her a raise.  I liked that line.

David Thewlis gives a wonderfully subdued performance as Professor Lupin.  This is another role that could be infused with large gestures and a rolling gait.  Instead, Thewlis plays it with a touching quietness that borders on wounded dignity.  He has a secret to hide and at the same time, he is worried about Harry, who is the son of one of his best friends.  The way he takes Harry under his wing and teaches him how to protect himself is wonderful.  Alfonso Cuaron—the director—allows the two actors to play off each other with little melodrama marring the scene.  I approve.  Professor Lupin is my favorite character in this movie, and I’m sad that he will not be returning.  At least not for the next book/movie. 

One guest actor did fine, though she didn’t have much to work with.  That’s Julie Christie as the tavern owner, Madame Rosmerta.  She is in one scene in the book and in the movie as well.  She actually has a larger role to play in the movie than in the book because she talks to the Minister of Magic (Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge) and Professor McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith) about why Sirius is after Harry.  Harry is listening under his invisible cloak.  This is not how it happens in the book, but it’s an efficient way of getting that information out there.  In fact, one of the quibbles I have is that there are too many ‘telling’ scenes, but there’s no way Cuaron could fit everything that needs to be fit in action scenes.  It is something that had to be done, but it’s awkward.  Back to Julie Christie—she is an odd choice for this role as it isn’t much of anything.  Cuaron could have had anyone do it.

The one guest actor who did not do a good job, I’m sad to say, is Gary Oldman as Sirius Black.  I know he’s known for his manic performances, and this is a character who deserves to be a little kooky after what he’s gone through—falsely imprisoned for murder—but his Black is a deep disappointment as he rages around the screen, upstaging everybody and everything.  The scene where he is frothing at the mouth over the betrayal of Peter Pettigrew is one of the most painful to watch.  Cuaron needed to say, ‘Rein it in, Gary, rein it in.”  He also bears a startling resemblance to Geoffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean which irritates me throughout his scenes.  Watching Oldman do his shtick made me wonder if Cuaron let him have free reign.  If so, it was not a good choice.  It is only when Oldman calms down and talks like a normal person—such as when he invites Harry to live with him—that his talent shines through.  The few scenes he has when he’s not a raving lunatic are well-done, and it’s a shame he couldn’t have brought some of that sensibility to the rest of the movie. 

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.  I think it did the best it could in the given time frame.  Unfortunately, I also felt as if this was a superficial movie that barely skimmed the surface of an engrossing book.  If one did not read the book before seeing the movie, one would come away with a much different idea than what really happened.  One reviewer on IMDB was confused as to why Sirius wanted to kill Harry because ostensibly, Sirius broke out of Azkaban to hunt down Harry.  The reason for the confusion is touched upon in the movie, but it is fully explained in the book.  There are other things, too, such as the map being made by Professor Lupin, Sirius Black and Harry’s father.  The book delves more deeply into the reason Snape hates Harry’s father plus Lupin and Sirius. 

The other big change that I didn’t like is the fight between Lupin and Sirius in the movie.  In the book, at the end when Lupin starts to turn, somehow, he hurries away and secures himself.  Or something like that.  I guess that wasn’t good enough for the movie because in the movie, there is a full-out attack by Lupin on Sirius and the kids.  It’s superfluous, and the werewolf looks more laughable than scary.  It’s akin to Scooby Doo in the newest movies, and that’s not a compliment.  They also did away with my favorite scene in the book which is the last one.  The little owlet comes with a message from Sirius for Harry and it ends up being Ron’s pet. 

Again, if you haven’t read the book, you won’t get the full gist of the movie.  It’s like when I went to see Rent at the Ordway.  If I hadn’t memorized the soundtrack beforehand, I wouldn’t have understood a single word the actors sung.  My friend who went with me was confused as to what was going on.  It’s similar to this movie.  There is too much left out to do justice to the book, but it’s definitely better than the first movie.  Then again, the third book is vastly superior to the first and second books, so that could be the reason the movie is better.  At any rate, when this comes out on DVD, I’d put it on your Netflix Queue, but make sure you read the book first.  That’s the only way to really appreciate the movie. 

                                                                                                                                           8:34 p.m.   12/23/04

One addendum to this movie.  Well, an addendum review because I just watched it again and yes, it was for Snape sightings—so don’t even ask.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azerbaijan, take two.

Let’s run over the basics.  Still whirlwind—check.  Still draggy in parts?  Check.  Still huge chunks of the book missing?  Check.  Lupin still excellent?  Check.  Trelawney still do a good job?  Uh, not so check.  Madame Rosmerta?  Eh.  Black?  Still chewing the scenery, but still excellent in the quiet scenes.

What I like about watching this movie for a second time—besides the fact that I actually remember most of it—is that I can watch whatever I want and not pay much attention to the main plot.  One thing that really struck me this time around is how much older Tom Felton looks and sounds—even from the second movie to this one.  I almost didn’t recognize him—but I like his hair forward instead of back.  I also had difficulty adjusting to the older, more mature trio who are Ron, Hermione and Harry.  Maybe it’s because I watched the first movie last night, but the contrast really strikes me between then and now. 

I have to give more credit to Sir Michael Gambon than I did previously.  Even though I still feel he can’t touch the performance of Sir Richard Harris, he’s nowhere near as bad as I thought he was the first time I saw this movie.  I think it’s because the first time I saw this—I was comparing him to Sir Richard.  ‘Sir Richard would never do that.’  ‘Sir Richard would have more dignity.’  This time, I allowed Sir Michael to interpret the role in his own style, and I was able to cope with it better.  Mind, I still prefer Sir Richard to Sir Michael, but I no longer consider it a travesty that Sir Michael is Dumbledore.

That’s pretty much it from the technical end—so those of you who don’t want to read a paean to Snape may now stop reading.  Still there?  Ok.  Then you can’t complain when I rave on about him.  Fair enough?  Oops, one other thing before I move on to Snape.  Malfoy—where is Lucius?????  No, that’s not what I was going to say.  There isn’t enough Malfoy in this one, and he is made to be a big wimp.  It’s difficult to see how he remains alpha male of Slytherin when he’s such a scaredy-cat.  And that whole I feel sorry for Draco thing?  Done and over with.  He is sufficiently foul in this movie that I’m back to simply hating him.  There needs to be more scenes with him trying to win approval from Snape in vain or, better yet, with his father.  Yes, I’m back to Lucius again, so deal with it.  This is the adult portion of the review.  Children may leave now.

Ok.  Snape.  First of all, Snape in a dress is priceless.  The look on his face….The boggart Snape is a highlight of this movie.  In fact, the whole boggart scene is great, but it could have been longer.  I don’t think this is Rickman’s best job as Snape because he’s not cold fury enough.  Oh, it’s there, but it doesn’t match one or two.  I think there needs to be more of him so he can work his way up to it.  I really can’t wait for book five when there is an appreciable more of Snape, and hopefully, Alan Rickman. 

It’s interesting to me the dynamics between Snape and Potter.  No matter how much Snape loathes Potter—and that’s a whole hell of a lot—Snape is always protecting Potter.  This time, from Werewolf Lupin.  And by the way, can I say how glad I am that Lupin is back in the fifth book as well?  Lupin, Snape, and Lucius in the same movie?  Make it happen now!  I will it!  Yes, I have added Lupin to my list of hot men in the HP series—which is disturbingly too many for a kids’ series.  Anyway, Snape does what he can to protect Potter, even if some of it is twisted.  Such as when he teaches the class about werewolves because he fears that Lupin is helping Black.  When he finds out it’s true—in a way—he tries to stop Lupin and Black from harming Harry and friends, or so he thinks.  When Lupin turns into a werewolf and Black transmogrifies into the dog to fight Lupin—Snape is the one sweeping the trio behind him and his cape.

I also forgive him for being so mean to the trio because he’s human.  He loathed Harry’s father, and Harry is so like him.  Snape is a wounded man who can’t get what he really wants—to be Professor of Defense against the Dark Arts.  Deep down, he probably knows it’s best for him not to achieve this goal, but it doesn’t stop him from wanting it.  Then, to see Lupin, one of his archenemies get it when he firmly believes that Lupin is helping an escaped murderer—well, it eats at Snape’s soul.  Then, he has to protect Harry because he knows that Harry is the only one who can fight Voldemort.  But he doesn’t want to protect Harry because he hates Harry.  I read an opinion that Snape shouldn’t be so mean to Harry because he’s the adult and because it’s beneath him.  True, but adults are not always rational—not even intelligent ones like Snape.  He acts so cold when he’s really a mass of emotions boiling under the surface.  He is most likely the smartest professor in the school—besides Dumbledore, of course—and yet, he gets little respect from students outside of Slytherin.  Of course, he can’t see how his own behavior contributes to the problem—which is his hubris.

And besides, he’s damn fucking hot.  Oh, you thought I was going to wax poetic about his tortured inner soul and not mention this tidbit?  Hell, no.  I’m all about the sex appeal, baby.  That’s why this is the adult section of the review.  This is all about how I can’t take my eyes off Snape as he’s dressing down Hermione—poor Hermione—or holding his wand on Black or pushing the trio behind him as they watch Lupin fight Black.  It’s about how I’m willing to listen to him blather on and on about anything he wants as long as he doesn’t stop talking.  It’s about how I wonder about the choices of actors for the male roles.  Are they purposefully picked for their hotness?  And it’s about how could I have missed how fucking hot Snape is the first time I saw a HP movie?  Yes, these are questions I ponder as I watch him act. 

So, to wit.  For movie four, I want more Snape.  I want Snape all the time.  No, wait, I want Lucius, too.  Both of them, all the time.  Unfortunately, Lucius is barely in book four which is why I’m really waiting for movie five to come out.  Oh!  And the dementors!  I want more of them.  They are so damned cute.  I just want to chuck one under the chin and say, ‘Who’s the cute little dementor?  You are!”  Of course, then it would suck my soul out with a single kiss, and I’d be shit out of luck.  Oh well, it’s worth it to be able to talk baby-talk to a dementor.  They are too, too cute.

One thing I want to say about the extras—they suck.  I haven’t tried the DVD-rom, but the rest of it is pretty thin.  I like the interviews with the cast, but I despise the interviewer in this movie’s extras.  I also hate the narrating voice.  Very annoying.  I really only want to see interviews with the cast and maybe behind the scenes stuff from the movie along with deleted scenes.  Oh!  The deleted scene with McGonagall should have been included in the movie.  The rest were filler and were properly cut.  Other than that, the rest of the extras are not much.  Again, I know I’m not the target audience, but still.

All in all, I still recommend this movie although I strongly suggest you read the book first.  Then sit back and enjoy the brilliance that is Snape, and the slightly lesser brilliance that is Lupin.  It’s well-worth the ride.

                                                                                                                                        12:52 a.m.   12/23/24/04

ok.  An addendum to the addendum.  I was watching a few select scenes again—yeah, I’m obsessive like that.  So sue me—and I had a few more questions.  In no particular order:

  1. On the train—how does Lupin spell the dementor without saying anything?  Did he mumble it under his breath?
  2. Why does Malfoy hang around with a new boy for most the movie?  What happened to his bigger goon?
  3. When Hermione notices the full moon, why does she call out to Harry instead of to Lupin so he might have a fighting chance not to change?  On that tip, why the hell didn’t he take his potion?  I know why in the book, but they should have made it clear in the movie.

I think there was one more, but I can’t remember it.  Oh, one more Snape-related tidbit.  I take it back by saying he didn’t do as good a job in this one.  Also, I love the way he enters a classroom.  He makes a splash, that’s for sure, and nobody has quite the pizzazz that he does.  When he storms in Lupin’s class—that he’s substituting for—and angrily shuts all the windows with his wand—in his left hand, mind you—well, it’s mesmerizing.  At least to me.

Ok.  That is all from HP land, and I promise you that I will return to the land of the grownups now.  Of course, I will still be watching a plethora of Alan Rickman movies as well as Jason Isaacs movies (Lucius, come back!).  Throw in a bit of David Thewlis (Lupin), and I’m one very happy camper.  Go put this movie on your Netflix Queue.

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