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Empire List #471: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Right off the bat, I will go straight ahead and say it: I am a 24-year-old guy who enjoys the Harry Potter movies. I am actually surprised when I hear people dismiss it. They say it’s just a series of stories for kids. Maybe the first book, but by the fourth book, a teen gets tortured in a cemetery while another lies dead by his feet. Yeah, kids’ stuff.

In terms of context, this movie felt like a really nice buffer for me. I had just finished my very last year of high school, or in my case secondaire cinq, since I had just moved from South America to Quebec City the previous year. Next stop was College, I felt like enjoying my summer and was glad to dive into a world filled with wizards, werewolves, soul-sucking dementors, and hyppogriffs. Plus, I was really enjoying watching movies during the right time of the year for a change. See for some reason in South America movies are released months after they have been released in North America. The summer movie season was new concept for me and I loved it. Big-budget movies every weekend of the summer? What a wonderfulconcept!

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is the movie when it actually gets a lot darker in the franchise, not just in terms of plot, but also of tone. The prisoner in question is Sirius Black, the man who gave the location of Harry Potter’s parents to the evil wizard Lord Voldemort who then proceeded to kill them when Harry was in his crib. Black’s prison break is significant since he is the only to have ever escaped Azkaban, a place filled with dementors, hooded figures who feed off people’s fear and ultimately their soul.

Sirius Black and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) are on a collision course throughout the story. When Harry learns who Black is and what he has done to his parents he makes it clear: if he ever meets the man he will make him pay with his life. Luckily for him, Black’s intentions are to break into Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, where Harry studies subjects such as potion-making, transfiguration, care of magical creatures, and divination.

The actors who play the teachers at Hogwarts include just about every great British actor currently working in the movies. This film alone has Robbie Coltrane as the giant Hagrid, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, the strict transfiguration teacher, Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, the all-knowing headmaster of Hogwarts, Emma Watson as Professor Trelawney, the bizarre and delusional divination teacher, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, the potion teacher who has a personal grudge against Harry, David Thewlis as Professor Lupin, the defence against the dark arts teacher who becomes somewhat of a mentor to Harry, and of course Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. Oldman has played so many villains in his career that it must have been a relief for him to finally play the heroic Lieutenant Gordon in “Batman Begins.” Although in this movie…

Until Harry finally faces off with his enemy, there are various subplots that keep the story going, just like in every movie in the franchise. These include the friendship between Harry and his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The friendship between these three characters is one of the best I have ever seen on screen. They stand up for each other, risk their lives for each other, help each other for school work, and of course they sometimes argue, but they forgive each other. That’s what friends do.

Watching one these movies is one thing, reading the book first and then watching the movie is another. The books have a lot more subplots than the movie since you can always put the book down and start again later. With the movies you need to trim things down so that hopefully the running time does not exceed three hours. As a result you have readers who watch the movies and say “Hey! That didn’t happen that way!” People, it’s an adaptation, not the book come to life. I mean come on; I think the fifth book has at least 600 pages and that’s in small print! You adapt everything in there and you don’t have movie, you have a TV mini-series.

Surprisingly, even my dad said he didn’t like this movie. I don’t mean it in the sense that he didn’t enjoy watching a movie geared at young adults, I mean he didn’t like what director Alfonso Cuaron did with the adaptation. He had actually read the first books and was surprised by some of the twists and turns.

As for me, in terms of the adaptation, I choose to try to ignore the books and judge the movies on their own merits. I thought Cuaron did a good job with the emotional scenes, such as when Harry figures out just who Black is and what he did. The action scenes are well shot too, especially when a werewolf is chasing Harry and Hermione through a forest.

These movies aren’t just fairy tales for kids; they are tales of adventure filled with danger, dark themes, and friendship. Oh and by the way, they are so much better than those lame “Twilight” movies.

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