Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban

This review contains spoilers for _Harry Potter_ books and films 1-3.

!>/files/2007/09/11-buckbeat-inside.jpg! I have this habit of waiting until things are done before staring on them. TV shows, for instance. Or phenomenally popular book series. I watched the first and second _Harry Potter_ films in near-realtime while reading the books and found the experience remarkably pleasant, mostly because those films hew so close to the source material. Pleasant, but not very notable.

The other day I finished book 3 (you know, the slightly longer one on the way to the massive tomb that is Potter 4). It was a better book than the first two in many ways; we spent less time with the Dursleys and more time with interesting characters who are growing into teenagers, who finally have some real conflict, who learn that its okay to turn to and rely on adults from time to time, and who go on an adventure that doesn’t have quite so clean a conclusion as the quest for the philosopher’s stone and the encounter with the serpent and the sorting hat.

_Azkaban_ the movie is brilliant because it is a film that has finally been allowed to take some liberties with the story, while never straying too far from the spirit. Much of that should probably be attributed to Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican director of, notably, _Y Tu Mama Tambien_ before _Azkeban_ and _Children of Men_ following it.

!/files/2007/09/normal_gof2723.jpg(Hogwarts Castle)! There are a few things about the novel that I thought were essential, and they are nowhere to be found in the film. Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s friendship is seriously tested for the first time by a combination of utter stress and exhaustion on Hermione’s part, as she finally discovers her academic limits, and some unfortunate incidents between Ron’s rat Scabbers and Hermione’s new cat Crookshanks. They stop talking for a long period of time. There is some serious tension here. Barely noticed in the film.

Sirius Black’s role as the Potter’s Secret Keeper (and the whole background of the Fidelius Charm) is essential to understanding Harry’s anger over Black’s betrayal. Having him turn to anger and anguish upon discovering Black is his Godfather did not ring nearly as true.

Finally, the Marauder’s Map, Quirrel’s friendship with James Potter, how Sirius Black evaded the Dementors and escaped from Askaban, and the whole reason Peter Perrigrew’s death was ever in doubt are intrinsically linked both to the Marauder’s friendship at Hogwarts and their highly risky, dangerous, and time consuming quest to become animagi. All glossed over. Why even tell us the names of the creators of the Marauder’s Map, why even show us the Petronis in the form of a stag, why lead us to the Shrieking Shack without providing this vital background?

These three important omissions are, fortunately, not lost on the majority (or at least a substantial minority) of the viewers, who are also devote followers of the books, and so they are not so glaring nor vexing as they might otherwise be. And for that reason I still choose to give director Alfonso Cuarón, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and the entire cast high marks on this film. Where characters were flat in the first two films, in this film there is real emotion. Where effects were rote, here we have Buckbeak and flights among the towers and eerie dementors and quiddich in a lightning storm. And where before we had a tepid retelling of an interesting story, here we have magic.