In 2001 Warner Bros. took a chance on fantasy project adapted from a novel written by a Britt which was primarily meant for children. What they achieved was nothing short of any fairytale, the name Harry Potter went on to crave its charm into lives of millions. According to reports, nearly 60% of the audiences that saw the first Harry Potter movie were 17 of younger at that time. Then on for the whole generation of us, the Harry Potter series spanned our adolescence and imprinted into our lives. It would be a great injustice to take away the serious impact of the books but for the wider audiences, it was the film series that peacefully coexisted with J. k. Rowling’s macular creation.
“Which one is the best Harry Potter movie?”- It has been a consistent topic of discussion among film buffs and Potter lovers for close to a decade now. For me, the Harry Potter film series had an immense impact on my filmic education. With every phase of discovering the world from my childhood to the penultimate stage of my teenage, I grew up with the layers of wizardry fantasies. Throughout this journey these films made me feel all the emotions of an immature human heart. Today, when I chose to discuss which one is the best Harry Potter movie I’m keeping my personal likings aside to write about a great movie.
Yes, I do think that Harry potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best film of the series. The third film of the series marks Potter’s transition from playful adventure stories for children to an increasingly darker and grimmer shade of storyline, character, and plot. This film basically constructs the foreground of the upcoming ill-lit covertness of the final installments of the series but also blended smoothly with the lighter shades of the first two films. And for that the director Alfonso Cuaron deserves every bit of praise he got. It was the Mexican who managed the whole transition turmoil of a fantasy franchise and took it to new heights.
Warner Bros. must be credited for taking a chance with a director whose last film was an explicit Mexican road trip drama about sexual discovery called “Y Tu Mamá También”. Cuaron’s visual style has been praised by the critics prior to Azkaban. He inflicted his visual methodologies in the film to establish the poly-thematic flow of the characters and plot. Cuaron has a peculiar liking for moving and often handheld camera movements and in this, he uses it almost as a plot device.
The first few scenes of the film make the audiences feel comfortable to some extent with the scenes of Harry blowing up his horrible aunt and that of with the ridiculous knight bus. The mood of these scenes serves as reminders of the lightheartedness of the previous two installments of the franchise. The tone of the movie remains radiant till Harry learns about Serious Black from Mr. Wisely at the dinner table in Leaky Cauldron. This scene is probably the most important scene in terms of the tonal shift of the movie as well as the entire series. The framing of the scene is extremely relevant with the existing drama surrounding Harry. Cuaron falls back to his signature long shot with the precise use of visual metaphor to construct the tension of the situation and also to uplift the central theme of the film – isolation. The shot was designed to inject the sense of isolation directly into the heart of the viewers with masterful use of visual metaphor.
Watch the scene carefully, as Mr. Wisely pulls Harry into an empty part of the dinner hall separating him from his friends while the specter of Sirius Black remains in the frame. When their conversation shifts towards Black his image is framed between and family and friends framed in the background. Then Mr. Wisely takes Harry to a tighter space and even farther from his friends to tell him not to go look for Black and the shot ends with a key dramatic question the camera only frames Harry in the same continuous shot to expand the theme of isolation.
Cuaron teamed up with cinematographer Michael Seresin for this fantasy endeavor as creates a hauntingly thorough experience for the audiences. Seresin repeatedly frames Harry alone to inflict the character’s feeling of being alone “the chosen one”. Harry’s gradual realization that the burden he must carry without help as he enters his teenage in a world of dark magic. The imagery of the film deepens, reflects and signals these emotions by its consistent framing pattern for the main character.
Seresin often framed Harry separated from his surroundings or else placing him apart from those who are around him. The director never misses falling back to this isolation theme as he shoots Harry in a wide frame where he is separated from his best friends or tracking him to a tight close-up for a dramatic shift. Cuaron also ends the film with a shot where harry flies away from a crowd on his Firebolt.
Cuaron’s vision to endow a specific brand of emotional attachment with stylish imagery makes the film compelling for the viewers. Motifs shoot back and forth across the runtime like magic spells and comment on each other tightening the web that Lisa’s meaning throughout. Cuaron uses on small things to make a big impact on the narrative flow. A little bird flies around the grounds of Hogwarts in the beginning of the film to places it will only later occur to the viewers that map the sites of significant scenes in the movie. He even uses some immediate foreshadows to give emphasis on some important things, like following empty footsteps in snow before introducing Marauder’s Map – a key object of the film that visualizes people moving through Hogwarts with footsteps.
The film is more tonally darker and a lot of the colours are darker, but I think what we’re really seeing here is contrast as there is so much colour through the darkness. The Knight Bus flooring it through central London at night, the bright orange pumpkins that the threesome hide behind near the dark forest walls, the glimmer of greens and reds through the torrential rain during the Quidditch match. Things may have gotten darker, but that’s allowed for the beautiful contrast.
The misty and vast landscape that surrounds Hogwarts had almost served as a character in its own right in Prisoner of Azkaban. The moody, dark colours are a magic in itself and the perfect accompaniment for the darker narrative.
This film’s best bits are in small details. Cuaron not only translates the emotion of youth into a fantasy noir film with the help of some superb VFX but it’s his attention to small details that makes everything look so alive. His repetitive usage of visual metaphors to convey the mood of a scene or the character makes Prisoner of Azkaban so much special. He uses the camera as a plot device which directly interacts with the audiences.
His recurring motif of moving the camera through the glass makes the case about these small details that he used in the film. This technique pays off twice in professor Rumus Lupin’s “boggart” class. Students fight off a boggart, a creature that visualizes your worst fear. Twice in this scene two beautifully choreographed shots, the camera moves through the mirrors of the wardrobe suggesting that while it’s important to look through the windows to see the world you can also look through mirrors which are to say to look into yourself.
Music is a very important part of any movie as it makes a particular scene more compelling. Music adds its own language to the narrative and often it maps a vivid vibe of a character through its tune. The great John Williams composed the music for Prisoner of Azkaban which also sees a transition along with the visual narrative as the story drifts into a grimmer path. This film’s music is not as bright as that of the previous installments, with distinct medieval influences in the instrumentation. One of the new themes, “Double Trouble,” was written during production so that a children’s choir could perform it in Hogwarts’s Great Hall in one of the film’s earlier scenes. The lyrics of “Double Trouble” are from a ritual performed by the Weïrd Sisters in Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth which takes about the volume of its darkness.
Harry Potter is a mega franchise which millions and millions of children and adults watched over and over again and the third installment of the series makes the cut for me as a cinema lover to admire the art of films. The Prisoner of Azkaban is not just a great film it’s a learning experience.
ANd for all, mischief mannaged.