'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' movie: State of the art CGI but where's the movie magic?
Alfonso Cuarón seems like an odd choice for director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in the Harry Potter movie series. That is, if one thinks only of Cuarón's pre-Harry Potter sleeper hit, the François Truffaut-esque Y tu mamá también, while ignoring two of his earlier efforts, the critically acclaimed A Little Princess and the moderately respected Great Expectations.
This time around, working with a reported $130 million budget (approx. $163 million in 2015), state-of-the-art special effects, and the Harry Potter franchise, Cuarón surely could do no wrong. At the box office, that is. For although Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is stylistically superior to Chris Columbus' previous work in the series, this latest Harry Potter is also a major artistic letdown.
'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' synopsis
Admittedly, Steve Kloves' haphazard screenplay adaptation is mostly to blame for the film's failings, since those who haven't read J.K. Rowling's bestseller will probably be left as dazed and confused as I was while attempting to follow the myriad twists and turns of the plot. It goes something like this:
After a particularly bizarre family confrontation, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) heads back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once there, Harry, now a full-fledged bespectacled teen, discovers that the evil Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from the prison of Azkaban after 12 years of incarceration.
Black, everyone says, was the murderous right-hand man of the dark wizard Voldemort, and sooner than you can say “Wingardium Leviosa,” the evildoer is roaming the corridors of Hogwarts, apparently seeking to avenge his fallen master by killing little Harry.
Besides having to handle the usual snotty school bullies, keep up with his Hogwarts duties, and remain alive, Harry must come to terms with his feelings of parental loss when he learns that Black was to blame for his parents' death.
And if that weren't enough, the troubled teen has to fend off the creepy Dementors, lizard-like flying creatures who have been called upon to protect the school and whose favorite pastime is to suck away Harry's life essence.
In order to get through this series of ordeals, Harry relies on the moral (and physical) support of his two buddies, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), and on the help of a mysterious teacher, Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), who seems to know more about all that is going on than he cares to admit.
Compounding matters in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are John Williams' – as usual – bombastic score and the sight of a veritable parade of renowned British actors wasted in ineffectual roles or minuscule bits.
And although Alfonso Cuarón may not have been responsible for the final edit of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and for all the emoting faces left on the cutting-room floor, he's certainly to blame for allowing Gary Oldman to devour the scenery with more gusto than the meanest of the Dementors, and for letting Emma Thompson give what may well be the worst performance of her distinctive career.
Yet, Cuarón's biggest failure is that he has directed a movie about magic whose magical moments are made up solely of visual effects. And without a soul to bring it to life, CGI is merely what the abbreviation means: computer generated imagery.
For Alfonso Cuarón-generated magic, bypass Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – and, for that matter, the equally popular Gravity – and check out the second half of Y tu mamá también.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).
Dir.: Alfonso Cuarón.
Scr.: Steve Kloves. From J.K. Rowling's novel.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe. Rupert Grint. Emma Watson. Gary Oldman. David Thewlis. Robbie Coltrane. Michael Gambon. Richard Griffiths. Alan Rickman. Fiona Shaw. Maggie Smith. Timothy Spall. Emma Thompson. Julie Walters. Julie Christie. Pam Ferris. Warwick Davis. Harry Melling. Adrian Rawlins. Geraldine Somerville. Robert Hardy. Oliver Phelps. James Phelps. Bonnie Wright. Mark Williams. Devon Murray. Matthew Lewis. Tom Felton. Dawn French.
Alfonso Cuarón movies
Below are a handful of notable Alfonso Cuarón films.
- A Little Princess (1995).
Cast: Liesel Matthews. Eleanor Bron. Liam Cunningham. Rusty Schwimmer. Arthur Malet. Camilla Belle.
- Great Expectations (1998).
Cast: Ethan Hawke. Gwyneth Paltrow. Chris Cooper. Hank Azaria. Anne Bancroft. Robert De Niro. Josh Mostel. Kim Dickens.
- Y Tu Mamá También (2001).
Cast: Gael García Bernal. Diego Luna. Maribel Verdú. Diana Bracho. Daniel Giménez Cacho (voice).
- Children of Men (2006).
Cast: Clive Owen. Michael Caine. Charlie Hunnam. Julianne Moore. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Danny Huston. Pam Ferris. Peter Mullan.
- Gravity (2013).
Cast: Sandra Bullock. George Clooney.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban cast info via the IMDb.
Images of Emma Thompson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Warner Bros.
Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban poster: Warner Bros.