Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban

The most visually-striking film of the series and tonal necrosis injection we craved back in C.O.S., Prisoner Of Azkaban is a parental-themed maze of complex storytelling – a bold Cuarón evolution that grows up the franchise overnight; The Best Harry Potter Film. 9.3/10.

Plot Synopsis: Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at Hogwarts starts off badly when he learns deranged killer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and is bent on murdering the teenage wizard. While Hermione’s (Emma Watson) cat torments Ron’s (Rupert Grint) sickly rat, causing a rift among the trio, a swarm of nasty Dementors is sent to protect the school from Black. A mysterious new teacher helps Harry learn to defend himself, but what is his secret tie to Sirius Black?

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

A Blockbuster Franchise For The Ages

After A Masterpiece Fantasy Blockbuster Intro In TSS & Fantastic Follow-Up In COS, Oscar-Winner Cuarón Completes A Trilogy

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Coming off a one-two punch for the ages of The Sorceror’s Stone & The Chamber Of Secrets, Harry Potter was a blockbuster force to be reckoned with – looking for a skilled director to undertake one of the series’ most famous books and complete a trilogy to further establish its reign of glory. Alfonso Cuaron, 11x Academy Award-nominated and multi-winning director of Roma and Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Paris Je T’aime, was the understatement of the century – one of the greatest directors of modern times and a definitive proof of how insane blockbusters could be if top-tier directors hand-crafted them. A beautiful exposition of complex, sociologically-metaphorical storytelling – and the most striking visual canvas of cinematography ever in the HP Series (& early-2000’s blockbusters, in CLC’s vote), POA is a sight to behold. The most visually-striking film of the series and tonal necrosis injection we craved back in Chamber Of Secrets, Prisoner Of Azkaban is a parental-themed maze of complex storytelling – a bold Cuarón evolution that grows up the franchise overnight & The Best Harry Potter Film.

A Tonal Necrosis

The Injection Of Dramatically-Dark, Mature Tone We Craved Back In Chamber Of Secrets; One That Grows-Up The Franchise

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

From the opening scene, the tone of POA is dramatically-darker than any of its predecessors’. Even the humour of the Dursley’s flat is given an injection of necrosis when another family member in Aunt Petunia comes to visit and disgraces the Potter name right in front of Harry by talking ill of his parents and asking if they’re ‘beating children’ at Hogwarts. We see something we never thought we’d see our adorable little plucky 11-year old protagonist do: use his powers to enact revenge on a magic-less muggle – and tell off the psychologically-abusive Dursley’s before running away from home, a child stranded on the fogset night streets of London. It is an absolute pleasure to see the franchise develop tonal differences so strikingly across its first three films alone – The Sorceror’s Stone, Chamber Of Secrets, and Prisoner Of Azkaban all feel remarkably individualistic and a different flavor than the others in the trilogy, a feat in franchise moviemaking subverting any cookie-cutter formula most others need to take notes on. The position POA puts Potter by taking him over the edge and hitting the nerve of his parents he cannot bear the isolation from anymore hearing nothing but negative whispers that get to his psyche over time is a brilliant evolution – one that opens up the main theme of the film and a mystery of the series so far: who are the parents of Harry Potter, and how did they die? The exposition of this crux around which the high-pedigree Cuarón screenplay rotates is around its Azkaban-escapist ‘serial killer’ villain: Sirius Black.

The Complex Antagonist

A Serial Killer Is After Potter – And One With A Magnificent Build-Up That Strikes Fear In Our Mind Even w/o Visible Presence

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Black’s antagonism and omnipresent aura of danger is the wind beneath the hippogriff wings of POA. A bombastic escape from the most heavily-guarded prison in the world: the Prison of Azkaban, of which no creature has ever managed to escape, creates instant curb appeal for the story’s stage-set – and a wildly-dark main plotline of him being revealed by the Ministry Of Magic to be coming after Harry Potter to kill a child he sees as the only existential threat to Voldemort’s rule. Gary Oldman’s performance as the demented serial killer everyone can’t stop talking about and whom we only see through newspaper front pages of a madman screaming like a Freddy Krueger/Michael Myers/Jason-lunatic is fantastic – he makes you feel compulsively-afraid of him, without so much as a single word but by only mannerisms and physicality in black-and-white film noir mini-motifs. The abilities and stealth of Black also establish him as a worthy magical slasher: he not only escapes the inescapable prison, but slips past a slew of magical safeguards and group of demonic grim-reaper-esque apparitions guarding the prison like smoke: Dementors. The Dementors are just one of the many dark atmospheric magical tenets on the periphery of the film’s major events that scream it loud-and-proud, definitively, and unmistakably: this is a true Harry Potter-horror movie.

A [True] Magical Horror Movie

After COS Gave Us ~3/4 Of One With Its Basilisk Mystery Arc, A Real One That Holds Nothing Back – & Dements The Audiences

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The type of pure, undistilled fear and sinister atmospherics we craved back in the comparatively-light and watered-down COS (still a great movie, but only petrification soiled stakes), Prisoner Of Azkaban packs serious punch in the wicked supernatural arena. Monster books hiding beneath beds ready to chomp your face off, invisible buses with tiki heads that can stretch gravitational force itself, escaped serial killers from maximum-security prisons, animal kingdom sound candies, dementors, hippogriffs, boggart prisms for millions of possibilities and the viewer’s greatest fear transformation, deer patronums, and live maps of people’s locations in real-time are some of the big magical features of this epic – yet, you’ll notice, they’re on a much smaller scale and used far more sparingly/elegantly than their predecessors to impressively rebuke gimmicks and not distract from the storytelling heart; they’re also all (spare a few likely studio-mandated to not completely alienate younger viewers) darker & more mature than others we’ve seen. The film is positively violent with its golden-child protagonist the other films of the series could not stop gushing or building up – having him fall from thousands of feet from the sky in (also stormy & ominous) games of quidditch nearly to his death, swarmed by dementors hellbent on ending him with particular interest due to the dark origins of his past, and the subject of a malicious serial killer’s delusions whose presence is felt looking-in throughout the entire film but never seen to invoke pervasive atmospheric paranoia and slips past all barricades like ‘smoke’ to on his mission to kill Harry Potter. All of this macabre is brought to life by the film’s jaw-dropping visual canvas – the most visually-striking film of the series &, perhaps: early-2000’s blockbusters.

The Most Visually-Striking HP Film

A Masterpiece Of Blockbuster Visuals & Cinematographical Work Ethic That Stands As One Of The Best Of The Early-2000’s

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Prisoner Of Azkaban is visually-stunning – bleeding idiosyncrasy in visual style we just have to give exposition and appreciation to. A characteristic use of long takes and heavy vignettes signature to Cuarón’s films is juxtaposed against jaw-dropping cinematography from Michael Seresin, BSC. The film’s dark filter over its visuals to feel more grown-up reverberates also the darkness of the film’s themes and screenplay – as well as a motif of constantly looking from the periphery of shots outside-in paralleling the dementors and Sirius Black looking in with ominous intention from outwards. Magnificently-compositioned shots like the dementors watching over Hogwarts, horseless carriages carrying students up the nightset hillsides, dementor hands freezing over the train windowsill, Sirius Black newspaper headlines, and our favorite: the flight of the hippogriff elevate this film to another stratosphere. Like the quidditch sequence on acid, the flight Harry Potter takes on the wings of this breathtakingly-rendered gryffindor bird is exquisite and soars cinematically as high as they do over the picturesque Scotland location setting of the Hogwarts castle and valley. From the mossy hillsides to night lakes to Biblical downpours, ultra-quick pans to extreme close-ups to technical wizardry in CGI painting the magical kind, the dramatic brilliance of this film cannot be overstated; Prisoner Of Azkaban is easily the most cinematographically-striking and visually-arresting film of the Harry Potter film series – and one of the most beautiful products we’ve seen in early-2000’s blockbusters. Majestic.

The Continued Religious Parallels

The Most Famous Scene Of Perhaps The Series, The Lake Scene Is Pure Storytelling & Symbolism – & Deer-Supernature Evocative

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Don’t let the visual work and detail fool you though: this isn’t just a pretty blockbuster with little meat-on-the-bone otherwise. The film continues its predecessors’ most precocious achievement for adults: religious parallels and a reinterpretation of Christianity tenets and Greco-Roman Mythology in the guise of this wizarding world of storytelling. Here, the biggest symbolism and metaphor are in the dementors themselves – and perhaps the most famous and iconic scene in the series: the deer patronum by the lake. The dementors are clearly designed after and take thematic cues from the Grim Reaper and demonic presences in classical religious texts like the Bible: a metaphor for death. They work on another level metaphorically too, however: a metaphor for depression by how they suck out the soul and any positive memories a person has, leaving only the pain and darkest recesses of their light; this is why they’re designed to be the guardians of a prison like Azkaban, to torture the baddest that wizarding kind has to offer and they’re damn fascinating creatures at that. The patronum charm at the lake – besides being a dastardly-fun phrase to yell out and make even the most mundane daily tasks like folding laundry epic – and formation it takes as a deer is also rife with symbolism: in many Catholic societies and nations, as well as ancient religions of many kind, deer are considered sacred and a symbol of God or gods by how they delicately fringe the natural world and evoke its beauty, plus take care of their offspring metaphoric of how God takes care of us. The deer is a symbol of spiritual authority in many disciplines, and male bucks specifically as being dominant and strong plus symbols of regeneration by how their antlers fall off and regrow with the seasons – all indicative of this major turning point for Harry wherein he really catapults to the next level as a wizard conjuring charms only the strongest can pull off, by force and circumstance rather than want evoking his natural talent and emotion’s power within.

A Major Plot-Twist

A Da Vincian Maze Of Complex Storytelling; Sociological Themes Mired In Dark Fate, Criminal Injustice, Racism, Wolves, & Rats

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The film’s biggest achievement though is absolutely its storytelling. Prisoner Of Azkaban has earned its status amongst many critics’ Top Fantasy Films Of All-Time lists because of its brilliance in characterization and intricacy of complex storytelling mechanics. Cuarón supposedly took it as a personal challenge to silence the critics of the first two films who (idiotically) panned the first two films as focusing more on magic and world-building than character work [it’s a children’s blockbuster franchise of 8+ novels/stories – there is plenty of time for all that to come, way too little time to fit each multi-hundred page novel into 2 hour films, and the first two still packed major characterization amidst all the Hogwarts fun that is the sole reason they were successful as franchise-builders and legwork.] That he did: the character work in POA is flawless – a Da Vincian maze of complex storytelling wherein we’re led to believe a sadistic serial killer is stalking the grounds of Hogwarts ready to kill a child and the series’ major protagonist before our eyes, only for it to be discovered there is much more to the story. A frame plot by Peter Pettigrew who has been hiding underneath our noses all this time as Ron’s rat Scabbers (an aptly-humorous bit of irony being symbolized as what he is: a dirty rat who betrayed others and sold out Harry’s parents to Voldemort for personal gain), Sirius Black is not the villain.. he’s the hero and along with David Thewlis’ remarkable Remus Lupin a sympathizable feat of storytelling instantly subverting everything we and the rest of the wizarding world thought we knew about Black’s story.

The Beginning Of Romance & Flaws

The Early Stages Of The Couple Everyone Wants To See: Ron & Hermione; A Disgraceful New Dumbledore & Werewolf

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The film evokes vital themes of the broken criminal justice system, power of words and false rumours to ruin someone’s reputation and life, and rush-to-condemnation without all the facts or experience being there – all ESPECIALLY relevant in The Social Media Age of the 2010’s. The film might even have sneaked-in a comment on racial disproportion, demonization, systemic racism, and police brutality of African-Americans in the criminal justice system in America and beyond by the last name chosen for its not-so-antagonist constantly referred to only as this throughout the film: Black, although more of a 50/50 shot of whether it was intentioned but one that makes the themes all the more brilliant if you choose to accept the theory. The boldest decision and one that delivers max cinematic value though is the spritzer of dark fate and cruelty-of-universe in that the film ends with Pettigrew escaping without justice or condemnation and no one but Sirius and the trio knowing about his true innocence – a free man who will have to spend the rest of his life on the run from the law and dementors for a crime he didn’t committ and was imprisoned in the world’s harshest prison for 12 years and likely went pseudo-mad in for, but is at least free. Finally, the film gets the wheel rolling with the romance we all waited to see by the lightest of jolts and forced time together when Harry is sidelined outside of Hogsmeade: Ron and Hermione, colloquially-known across the fandom as ‘Ronione’. Yes! Flaws in Prisoner Of Azkaban are singularly limited to werewolf CGI and the new Dumbledore. Even though the rest of the film is visually-flawless, Thewlis’ werewolf looks horrendous – an anorexic ‘werewolf’ that walks on two legs and has a hair piece.. yikes. That’s just a design flaw; Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore is a disgrace to the most important character of the series outside of HP. After the tragic death of Richard Harris in ’02, it was clear the series had to recast the headmaster of Hogwarts – I just don’t understand how they couldn’t find anyone better for such a critical role. The appearance of a jittery 30-year-old who just chugged energy drinks before putting a bad wig on and strolling onto-set is not how you want the character metaphoric of freaking God in your franchise to look – a complete amateur display antithesizing the composure, grace, and elderly charm Harris’ version had and the only major flaw in the entire film by how prominently he’s featured.


The Best Harry Potter Film

A Brilliant Exposition Of Dark Magic/Fate, Criminal Injustice, & Complex Storytelling – One Of The Best Fantasy Films Of All-Time

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Overall, Prisoner Of Azkaban is The Best Harry Potter Film, one of the most visually-stunning films of early-2000’s blockbusters, and one of the Best Fantasy Films Of All-Time. A brilliant end to a trilogy amongst the best ever in the history of blockbusters, Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón grew-up the franchise overnight with a beautiful exposition of complex, sociologically-metaphorical storytelling that eliminates any gimmicks or distractions and reimagines the lore on a personal, intimate, compelling scale – one fringed in ultra-dark macabre and befitted with the most striking visual canvas of cinematography ever in the HP Series. The film is especially relevant & critical because of its clever themes of racism, criminal injustice, and the power of words and false rumours/gossip to ruin people’s lives without care or consideration of the facts – all predating the Social Media Age they would be foundational in by 10+ years. The terror is just as much in that atmospheric use of the cruelty of fate and sociological injustices as it is in the film’s dark magic: dementors, monster-books, deer patronums, malicious serial killers, and a true supernatural horror movie rife with multi-level symbolism and religious themes. The most visually-striking film of the series and tonal necrosis injection we craved back in Chamber Of Secrets, POA is a parental-themed maze of complex storytelling – a bold Cuarón evolution that grows up the franchise overnight & The Best Harry Potter Film.

Official CLC Score: 9.3/10