Third times the charm, as they say- well, here we go, by far the best Harry Potter film I’ve yet seen, and I really doubt it will get any better than this: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is, pardon the pun, a simply magical ride. With Chris Columbus (the competent but rather unimaginative director of the first two outings) gone, someone had the genius idea to hire Alfonso Cuarón for movie three and it works magnificently. From the very start there is a sense of wit, fun and charm that the first two films lacked, and this runs all through the film, from imaginative scene transitions to spellbinding production design and art direction. This was simply a joy to watch and I thoroughly enjoyed it- a real feast for the eyes.
It is so quirky and stylish, you really get the sense that this is a director’s movie as opposed to a film made by a committee. Chris Columbus is a competent director but he didn’t seem to stamp the first two films with his own authority and style, but its clear here that Cuarón was in charge and made his own movie. Its a movie based on a book, not a movie recreating a book slavishly. At least that’s what I assume (having never read the books), from how this film looks and feels so different from its predecessors. Its like a breath of fresh air, and suddenly the franchise seems full of possibilities. For the first time I’m watching one of these Harry Potter movies with an understanding as to what all the fuss is about. Doesn’t really feel like a children’s film either; it really feels like the film-makers finally sussed how to make a Harry Potter movie.
The music score, too, is a revelation. This film has a really fun, sparkling soundtrack, composed by John Williams. This, his last score for the series (although his themes will be no doubt utilised in the further films) is a riot. I have no idea if Williams let rip simply because it was his last shot at the films or if he was inspired by what he was seeing of Cuarón’s film, but goodness its a wonderful return to form with shades of his great scores of the late seventies/early eighties.
Of course, part of the success of this film compared to Chamber of Secrets may be down to a slightly longer production schedule, as this film seems to have had a good six months longer (released summer 2004 as opposed to what might have been Winter 2003 following the run of the earlier films). Certainly having a new director revitalised the films and I look forward to what happens next.