Monday, March 3, 2008

Honorable Mention #1: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuaron, 2003)

Harry Potter (Daniel Radclife) gets a little close with Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) in the "Forbidden Forest."

Hold the phone. Why the hell is a Harry Potter film appearing on a top 100 list? Before suggesting that I am clinically insane (which you would probably be partially correct) let me try to explain. This is a very personal list and don’t I expect many to agree with my selections. In order to narrow it down, the re-watchability factor played a significant role and it just so happens that I have seen the Potter films more times than any other film, even Star Wars. I’m not ashamed in expressing my absolutely love for everything Harry Potter. As a rabid fan-boy of J.K. Rowling’s books, it would be dishonest not to include at least one of the of film adaptations especially when the third installment is a visually exceptional film.

Just because I may be overly bias doesn’t mean that the inherent flaws can be ignored. The plot-holes are numerous, a lot of key story-material was cut or rushed over, some technical errors are slightly distracting and the acting is a little rough around the edges (albeit a major improvement over the first two films) but these slight distractions are not enough to overshadow Cuaron’s unique vision of capturing the imaginative wonder of the source material while at the same time, adding his own artistic creativity. To give credit where credit is due, the insipid offerings by Columbus were the most loyal to the books but were so painfully dull. Entertaining as both pictures were, they felt over-stuffed; unable to fully encapsulate Rowling’s universe. Cuaron takes the Potter franchise to a whole new level of artistic achievement that has yet to be equaled by his successors Mike Newell and David Yates.

My hat goes off to Cuaron for not merely doing a page-by-page adaptation and instead focusing on the development of the three characters as they experience the growing pains of adolescence. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has to face unspeakable evil in the outside world; that much is obvious. As threatening as his opposing forces may be, Cuaron is much more interested in Harry’s internal struggles as he comes to terms with his past and his identity. Learning from the mistakes of Columbus and building upon the universe which was previously created, Cuaron is able to shift his attention away from just mere spectacle to a more character driven story fleshing out the trio (as all the hip kids call them these days) in the process. Their personalities are becoming more distinct and the close friendship they share becomes even more vital. They are teenagers now going through the motions and discovering their own sexuality. All of the sexual subtle innuendos and phallic imagery Cuaron employs throughout the film seem innocent upon first glance but don’t be deceived. Take the beginning scene for instance, which has Harry practicing magic with his wand under his bed sheets at night. What about Ron’s comment to Neville about “stroking it”? Cuaron really pushes the limits of the PG-rating with this film.

The brooding atmosphere, shadowy camera angles and ominous imagery bring a level of maturity as the story of Harry’s life grows darker. Before returning to his third year of Hogwarts, he nearly gets suspended for taking out his anger on his Aunt Marge with hilarious consequences. There’s also an escaped convict on the loose named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) who was a close follower of Voldemort and apparently wants his head on a platter. Oh, and don’t forget the cloaked specters known as Dementors who suck the souls out of people. There is such a radical change in the level of growing darkness in comparison to the first two films here and yet, there is still humor to be found. Rowling’s novels always have a great sense of humor no mater how gloomy or chaotic the situation. Order of the Phoenix director David Yates can take a lesson from Cuaron in balancing humor with all the drama and horrors that befall the boy wizard.

Full of sparkling vivid imagery, Cuaron uses images to tell the story and no other film in the series thus far has managed to equal or surpass its visual splendor. It’s about time we got a Harry Potter film that can be considered cinematic. With a vast improvement in CGI over the last few films, he is given the opportunity to flex his creative muscles. Using the Whomping Willow tree to indicate the change in seasons, zooming through the moving gears of the giant clock in the tower or making Harry’s flight on the Hippogriff the most magical scene in the entire series; every frame is just beautifully crafted.

The Prisoner of Azkaban finally delivers as close as we can hope for in a Harry Potter adaptation balancing all the disparate elements in Rowling’s work that makes it so fascinating to read. The wonderfully drawn characters, the intriguing story-line, the humor, the imaginative wonder, the thrilling action, it’s all here. Even though hardcore Potter fans know the story inside out, there are still plenty surprises to be found here too. Let’s just hope WB decides to bring Cuaron back for Deathly Hallows because that is a book which desperately needs his creative talent to give it justice.


Anonymous said...

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