Harry Potter and The prisoners of Azkaban was released in 2004 to worldwide success, much akin to its predecessors yet completely different. The third installments took a children’s fantasy movie series to a much darker and brilliant path. The Director Alfonso Cuarón brought Cinematic magic to the series.
Looking at the way Harry potter Cinematic world grew up with me, there is no doubt that The Prisoners of Azkaban was the movie that made me aware of brilliant direction and Cinematic bliss. The feeling when everything the movie has brought up fit together like a giant puzzle is the best feeling in the world for a cinema fan, and this film is filled with that. So without further ado, let us study it in detail.
Harry Potter is back after his last adventure in Chamber of Secrets where he met the Young Tom Riddle from the diary. After a fortunate event at his Uncle’s home, when he blows up his Aunt Marge he decides to leave the home for leaky Cauldron in London where he meets his Friends Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley and together they embark on a journey of adventure with their new Defense against The Dark Arts teacher Professor Lupin and with a deadly Murderer Sirius Black who has escaped Azkaban (Wizard prison) out for his blood, Harry Potter would have to face his fear-fear itself.
While the story itself might feel simple, yet to the imagination of J.K. Rowling, she has many story arcs running parallel to harry’s story line. The Marauders meet again in the climax after years. Harry finds about his parents most in the third installments and amazingly, this is the only movie in which Voldemort does not make any appearance in any form. So the story needed a lot more to stand on without the main antagonist and the heavy themes of Movie plays that role.
Prisoners of Azkaban : The Themes and The Direction
The common themes in Harry Potter and The Prisoners of Azkaban are time, Justice and Forgiveness, Fear, Friendship, Past and Most important Isolation , growing up and Finding Yourself. Let us study a few of those themes and understand how the themes are applied to the movie as such:
harry Potter and The Prisoners of Azkaban in all its essence is also a time travel as Harry and Hermione Travels back in time to save Sirius and Buck beak-the hyppogriff- from their oncoming demise. Not only is Time travel hard to direct as a Director has to shoot the same scene multiple times from different angles, using acting doubles it is also hard to Write. All points goes to J.K. Rowling on avoiding all the time paradoxes.
The Director Alfonso Cuarón shows the ongoing theme of time in multiple scenes. We know that Hermione keeps on appearing at different times. There are many scenes in which The Clock tower or Hogwarts is shown as a plot device or just in background. The camera stops at the clock many times as shown below.
In a few scenes we literally fly across the clock through the glass, showing the passage of time. Throughout the movie you can hear clock chime in the background showing the importance of time. Enough of time let us move to another theme, fear.
Fear and Evil
Fear is a running theme in the movie, it is a fear of Voldemort that paralyses the wizarding world of Britain. A fear of speaking his name and even talking about him shows the power of fear over populace and how it can used for manipulation of masses. While this theme is a part of whole franchisee, it hits home far more than any other movie. As Frankiln D. Roosevelt once said, The Biggest Fear is of Fear itself.
Remus Lupin explains this while telling Harry it is very wise to fear fear itself. In previous class of Remus, the students face Boggart, an dark creature who takes an appearance of his/her darkest fear. Remus’s Boggart is a full moon night, clearly showing that he is a werewolf far earlier than the revelation.
It is the Dementors though that highlights fear much more than any other thing in the movie. Demetors are foul creatures used as metaphor of Voldemort’s fear and the dark world. They are embodiment of someone’s deepest terrors and nightmares. When one is in the presence of a dementor, he/she lives his foulest memories again and again and the dementors feed on the fear itself. There is an opposite of the dark dementors, the bright light of patronus Charm which works on a Happy dream or feeling. Rather than fear and nightmare. The clash of good and bad is clear in this form.
Another subtle way the director Alfonso uses his skills is in a couple of scenes when Hogwarts is shown from afar and The dementors keep on coming closer, untill harry encounters them in Quidditch match. In each scene you can easily see that they are reaching out into Hogwarts, and are slowly appearing closer to the School. easy to miss, this is the kind of Detail that makes Prisoners of Azkaban best movie in the franchisee Cinematically. Alfonso also changed Dementor’s appearance to give them more scary look than that in the book.
Friendship. Justice and Forgiveness:
In the end the whole franchisee boils down to the friendship of the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron, I will not talk much about these themes because they pertain to the Novel and I am talking about Cinematic aspect of Prisoners of Azkaban. So let us go forward to the most important theme of all.
Isolation, Self Discovery and Growing Up
Harry Potter is a story of a boy becoming a man, a story of growing up in true form. The movie prisoners of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire signifies the transition phase of his life. In first two installments, Harry is a child he is learning about the wonders and terror of magical world, but the third movie sort of prepares Harry for much darker times. Not only the nature of the movies are getting darker as he grows, his problems also keep getting bigger and bleaker.
The Director Alfonso Cuarón builds Harry’s character for the upcoming troublesome times. He isolates him from his friends in as many scenes as possible. The very first scene of the Movie in which Harry is trying to attempt Lumos Maxima, he lights up the dark with brilliant brightness. Not only is this a beautiful cinematic first scene, it shows us that light is coming from within Harry, and bright things can be expected from him as movie progresses.
Then we move to the scene in Leaky Cauldron, when The Weasley family and Hermiony with Harry are preparing for eating dinner, Mr. Weasley takes Harry into a corner, Isolating him from his friends and family, in the background is Sirius Black’s Wanted poster. Watch the video embedded below.
Not only is this scene brilliantly filmed in a single shot of around two minutes, the actions of Arthur portrays a lot more than what you see. Arthur takes Harry into a dark alcove in the leaky cauldron isolating him and explains about Mass Murderer Sirius Black. In each scene, the wanted poster of Sirius is in the middle pasted on the pillars, sort of amplifying the severity and fear of Black. The camera then moves into harry, framing only him inside it again showing the theme of Isolation. It also marks a tonal shift of the Movie. Also notice the muted colors in the scene, there is no bright color throughout the cauldron, turning the scene into a bleaker setting. The scenes before it, the one in the Knight Bus and the one in which harry blows up his Aunt Marge are much more fun and light hearted than the movie that is going to follow.
The Weasley Patriarch is the first one to isolate Harry , but not the last one, throughout the movie we get subtle hints that Harry is alone now. Much Akin to first two movies, The Golden Trio works together in many scenes, but in most of the scenes it is Hermione and Ron moving together ahead and Harry is following them a few paces behind. He can not visit the village of Hogsmeade as his Guardians has not signed the permission slip, so he is left alone in the Castle on Weekends. Much more subtle scenes like the one in Hagrid’s Lesson, when everyone steps back except harry making him ride the hyppogriff, again the only one to do that.
Or again at the Lake side when Harry is sitting on one side of Hagrid and Hermione and Ronon the other.
Or the Scene in the end, when harry Climbs his new Broom, firebolt and flies away from everyone to the sky, amplifying that things have changed now and he would be alone and would have to face Voldemort alone in the end.
Prisoners of Azkaban is an allegory to self Discovery. From the very first scene Harry is in a trip to Discovering who he truly is. The Director uses Mirror and Glasses to show the path to Self Discovery. In many scenes (like Lupin’s Boggart Class) The camera travels into the mirror, which makes you wonder how can anyone shoot that. The camera enters into the mirror ad travels inside the reflection as if That was the real world the whole time. In almost every scene i the movie the camera is not stationary, giving momentum to story.
Little things like Harry looking at himself casting the patronus charm repelling all the dementors away. Listening from Remus that he is like his parent more than he can imagine. He is finding himself through the movie and is on a path of self discovery which extends farther than the Prisoners of Azkaban
The Prisoners of Azkaban has one more thing which makes it superior than other Harry Potter Movies. It is gorgeous to look at, the scenes are filmed with excellent camera work and art direction. For example the scene when Arthur talks with Harry (Embedded above) the little things, props flying around, extras drinking tea, Posters on the wall, table fully prepared for food clearly shows the detailing of a scene. Each scene has importance to the plot. They all join together to form a meaningful narrative.
Seemingly Unimportant things like the onset of Seasons shown using the Woomping Willow, the tree and a falling leaf. The passing of time and seasons are shown with cinematic beauty (See scenes Below)
Also The Use of Blue bird to show all the important places where The whole movie is centered in the beginning of the movie. It allows viewer to wonder what was so important to all these locations. And Subconsciously increases the expectations.
Everyone might have his/her own favourite Harry Potter movie, I am not saying that this is the best among them. But harry Potter and the Prisoners of Azkaban tops the franchisee in terms of Cinematic thrills and Direction.
I have been raised with cinematic Characters of Harry Potter. A practical ‘Potterhead’ I remember the obsession started with The Chamber of Secrets. We owned a VCD (A video CD if you guys don’t know) of Chamber of Secrets, and it was my favorite movie as a child. Every 12 June, my birthday I would sit in front of the box that we called TV back then and turn on the CD Player and watch Chamber of Secrets like nothing else mattered. I did this for a few years, and might have watched it a few times continuously. So in that room in front of the television I was introduced to Magical World of Harry Potter. It took a couple of years to transform this magical love into an obsession and I have read the Novels, I have watched each movie multiple times. I have even read Fan Fiction which are actually longer than the novels. Thankfully I am not that much obsessed now, but Harry Potter’s movie franchisee is the one I grew up with and it will forever be my companion. I was one of the lucky few who were selected for trying the beta version of Pottermore website-when i answered all the questions accurately-so yeah i am crazy.