This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Matt’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Prisoner Of Azkaban
Aka: My Teacher Is A Werewolf!
Oh boy. Whenever we talk about directorial winning streaks, we really need to promise to include Alfonso Cuaron in that conversation. In a row, this guy made Y Tu Mama Tambien, Prisoner Of Azkaban and Children Of Men. Talk about talent. I’ll won’t mince my words, this is probably still my favourite Harry Potter movie. It just has that vibe. You know the one, the spooky yet quaint vibe. It’s how Potter should be done, a mesh of light and intense dark. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Columbus Potter world with its brightness and antiquity and sentimentality but Cuaron made this thing his own. Two prior films full of warmth and heroes and villains and... Those other two are so much fun but as an adult, you see them as very theme-parky and attraction like, the world in film three is the one I personally find correlates perfectly with the material.
I know my reviews of the previous two have featured me comparing them to their book counterparts but this movie is different. Sure, it’s an adaptation and plenty of details are still missed out. Stuff like Lupin’s backstory with his friends, no Shrieking Shack backstory, no Diagon Alley, no Crookshanks scenes and still no bloody Peeves The Poltergeist. But you know what? This movie transcends the idea of being an adaptation so just this once, I’ll look past it. Cuaron’s one film foray into the wizarding world changed everything. The shallow representations of the teachers, the lack of mature themes, the theme park vibes? All gone. Switched out in favour of a down to Earth, real, grounded plot that prioritises character above spectacle. This isn’t yet another story about Harry Potter learning things and beating Voldemort in a fluke-like fashion, this is a story of him growing up and realising the world isn’t as by the books and black and white as he once thought. There’s no villain, unless you count Malfoy being a dick and Snape having a conflict of interest with the heroes.
It’s a film of texture and imperfections. His godfather is a wronged man on the run from dementors because they think he’s a serial killer. His uncle-like teacher is a werewolf who’s spent his life being discriminated against because of his debilitating condition he can’t help. Harry himself is a reluctant hero whose abundant abilities mean he’s seen as someone he doesn’t want to be. It’s a movie covered in cracks, both in the world and in the characters. They and the tatty sets are one and the same, patchwork. Azkaban is just packed with so many little character moments that simply wouldn’t have had the same weight in the others, my favourite being Snape instinctively putting himself between the kids and a werewolf. It’s little moments like that where we’re intrigued, our minds changed, our perspectives altered. I was watching a behind the scenes documentary yesterday where Cuaron said that he’d made all these little personal decisions and tweaks to the story. He’d told the actors playing the students to customise their hair and uniforms and told the main actors to tweak their dialogue if it felt more natural. I think his presence as a director is what makes this the best, he was just so focused on my favourite word: tangibility. It’s in this where the world feels the most lived in and the characters feel most like real people with real feelings and issues. It’s magic but grounded. I could whinge about nitpicks but there’s no need, this movie is enough. It doesn’t feel like a franchise movie as much as the others, it’s more like a hand wrapped parcel that been delivered by owl. And that’s a feat if you ask me. Thank you Mr Cuaron.