Dan’s review published on Letterboxd:
After watching the Harry Potter Reunion last night, it occurred to me that I’ve never reviewed a HP film in my time on this app, nor have I expressed my love for the franchise as a whole.
I’ve seen every single one of these films far too many times, and from way before I started reviewing films, to be able to watch them with objective eyes. However, I would still like to talk about The Prisoner of Azkaban and why it’s probably my favourite of the bunch.
For me, the third entry in this saga is the perfect mix of nostalgia and quality filmmaking. It came out when I was 8 years old so it was a pillar of my childhood entertainment, and it keeps a lot of the fun and wonderment around magic - however unlike the two films before it, it also marks the start of the artistic direction of the rest of the series. Alfonso Cuarón is easily the best director to have worked on this franchise, and POA is on such a higher level than the two films before it.
For the first time in the series (and yes, this is also partly down to how the books were written), the “kids” aren’t really treated as such, and are now starting to be treated like young adults. The series takes on a much darker tone from this point onwards, and I also enjoy that this is the only Potter film to not revolve around Voldemort (Goblet of Fire is somewhat the same, at least up until the end when he returns).
One example of this darkness I speak of, is the Dementors. Holy shit did these things give me nightmares when I was a kid. I can honestly remember being absolutely terrified of these things, and not just because of the visual design, but because of what they represent, and how they affect life around them.
I think Radcliffe, Grint and Watson’s performances (and Felton etc) are all a notch higher in this one too, as they’ve clearly got some experience under their belts but also the director working with them is teaching them stuff, the source material is more challenging and they’re working with some incredible actors such as Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon.
The introduction of Sirius Black and the “twist” with his character is so well done, and is a testament to Oldman’s abilities as an actor. You fully buy him as a terrifying, mad criminal and then you grow to love him when you realise the truth, and you absolutely believe him as this uncle/father-figure to Harry.
This film also works as a time travel caper, which at least for me, shaped the way I thought about this phenomenon. Nowadays with the MCU going down the multiple timelines route, things are different, but when I think of going back in time, I think of the idea that there are two versions of you occupying the same space and that you have to avoid being seen by the past version of you.
Buckbeak was a welcome introduction to this world too, and provides some much-needed positive escapism for Harry in a time when everything else in his life is so dark and hopeless.
There’s so much more I could talk about, but I think the worldbuilding, cast, darker tone, gorgeous cinematography, both magical and haunting music, and of course the nostalgia I have for it, probably make this my favourite Harry Potter film.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve watched these less, but they were undeniably a staple of my childhood, and indeed everyone’s around me. The “magic” of these films really was unmatched growing up, and it transcended the children’s genre (my parents still love this series to this day).