The Third Year of Hogwarts Begins, Everything Will Change, The Time Has Come. This is what the posters and trailers tell us about </i>Prisoner</i>, and indeed we get a glimpse of all of that. As needs must, however, it is only a glimpse. The main problem with the medium of film is that everything has to been contracted into a relatively short space of time. This results in changes to dynamics, plots and even in some cases, themes present within novels. It is simply impossible to squeeze a novel which takes a good six to nine or so hours to read into a two hour block.
It is with this in mind that I begin my review. In my estimation Prisoner of Azkaban was most certainly better than the filmic productions of Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, but just as certainly nowhere near the standard of the novel it is based upon. It is difficult not to make comparisons with the novels and the previous films, however, no matter how good intentioned you are.
I admit I have serious reservations about the beginning of Prisoner of Azkaban. Oh, it starts well enough with the scene of Harry practicing spells in bed. A chuckle was drawn out of me and the excitement built. Onto the wonderfully realistic hand-held camera style shots of Harry preparing for Aunt Marge. I enjoyed this very much, a different type of camera usage in the next of films which have previously had a fairly formulaic way of filming.
But here, a fatal flaw - no mention of Sirius Black on the news? Instead some silly variety program? Where is the immediate suspense of a killer out on the loose? A killer that must be built up from the earliest stage possible for fear and suspense to take effect? The scene runs on, and I notice that the pace is all wrong. Pam Ferris as Aunt Marge is not nearly antagonising enough, and Harry's burst of anger is not as believable as it could be. Young Radcliffe does his best, of course, but once again, the build up of suspense is missing.
As soon as our protagonist is out of the house, however, things start to look up. The big black "Grim" is suitably terrifying. The Knight Bus scene is fantanstic, both in visuals and audio. Here we have the mention of Sirius at last. The humour here is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and genuinely amusing. Did poor Harry have to slam into the window twice, though? Yes. And it would have been good to see him running his hand down his jaw in pain as well.
From here I am engrossed in the film, as we get out of The Leaky Cauldron (with finally the revelation that Black is after Harry) and we're shown that delightful choir at Hogwarts, who I fear had no other function than that of an enticing "what on earth is that?" for the advertising hype around the film. One question - what on earth has happened to Flitwick? And if that wasn't Flitwick (which I don't think he was), what on earth was Warwick Davis doing playing yet another character in the films? (he had already played a Goblin in PS). Then we're given a series of short scenes of first day classes to establish ourselves within the school world.
The new characters and new actors are good additions, with the possible exception of Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney. As much as I like Thompson, her performance is all wrong until the moment of the trance. Her voice isn't wishy-washy, her general demeanor isn't of one who is off with the pixies. She just isn't the same character, and this is saddening. Trelawney is not predicting Harry's death to the point of farce, either, a grave error if you'll forgive the pun. David Thewlis is excellent as Lupin. The main problem is that we do not have enough gossip about Lupin going around the students. There is no mention of his prolonged absences, apart from a few times, he doesn't look in especial ill health. Another lack of suspense or intrigue is apparent in both of these omissions. Michael Gambon is Dumbledore, there really is nothing more to say on the subject.
The initial actors have all matured nicely. Rupert Grint has toned down his silly facial expression, but his voice still has the squeak that irks me. His timing is impeccable, however. Daniel Radcliffe has improved as well. He is certainly believable in most situations, but there is still the slight stiltedness of delivery in certain scenes where something slightly more relaxed would be beneficial. Emma Watson's performance has improved beyond belief, to the point where she is marginally the best of the three young actors, and she is without a doubt Hermione. Tom Felton's simperingly artificial and arrogant Malfoy was perfect, and could easily have had more screentime, as with his cronies (where was Goyle?). Special mention must be made for the Phelps twins as Fred and George, who were truly great as well. The adult actors were of course fantastic, with nuanced and interesting performances by all.
I adore the new sets and settings. The new additions are simply breathtakingly superb. The giant watch tower and pendulum were magnificent and beautiful. Everything is shot so beautifully as well. Everything is well proportioned, interesting, with the use of light and mise-en-scene being carefully and awe-inspiringly constructed. The basic camera-work just blows me away, really. It is so artistic, yet not overstepping the entertainment bounds (which would be a mistake for something so entrenched in popular culture). The costumes were much more believable and in balance with the whole production. The soundtrack was brilliant! Lupin playing Jazz to acquaint the students with a boggart? HELL YES!
Speaking of the boggart - the special effects were amazing. Buckbeak is so realistic, it's astounding. I felt like I could touch the beautiful hippogriff. The boggart was great. Lupin as a werewolf is more man than wolf, and I suppose this makes sense. The transformation was brilliant, but my fickle heart still thinks he needed to be stouter, more wolvish, a great deal hairier. He was more elongated as a wolf than a human! The Marauder's Map was phenomenal, it was incredibly real. The dementors were nothing like I imagined them, but in this instance, I don't care. They were frightening, and that is good enough for me. Still they were not in the film enough, however.
There were many scenes which I loved. The dialogue has improved out of sight, and so has its delivery. Kloves has either been reading popular opinion, or has been drawing from the books more, or has just found it an easier novel to adapt because this was all tight and well done. There was far more humour, far more rapport between the characters. The placing of scenes was well done as well. In a sense I agree with the shift of Harry receiving the Firebolt. It was a drastic change, and thereby completely disturbed the dynamics of the trio's relationship, but it was logical. The only problem was that it was another suspense inhibitor.
Alas, it all comes down to time - the basic premise of the novel and film. There was simply not enough time to do everything it needed to do. There was simply not enough time to build the correct suspense for the final twist and resolution. There was not enough time to incorporate nuances present within the text. There never would be of course, but this still marrs an otherwise wholly satisfactory production. I do think that a scene here or there would have been greatly beneficial, however. If certain situations had not been transformed or omitted, the film would have been better (I am thinking of Sirius on the News, Sir Cadogan, Ron waking up and seeing Sirius, Snape cloying up to Fudge).
As films go, it was very good. It was an improvement on the last two films which were merely okay and fairly good. Prisoner of Azkaban was singularly entertaining, enjoyable, enthralling and exciting. It is certainly a film I want to see again and one I will be happy to have on my shelf. It has flaws, it isn't perfect, it isn't a perfect adaptation - but you expect too much if you think it has to be.