The Prisoner Escaped 11 Years Ago… on US Cinematic Screens
As a nine-year-old, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the first of the movies that I remember getting very excited about, having finished reading the five books yet released the year before. After a year of having really experienced Harry Potter and reading the books over and over again, I considered myself a “super” fan, or rather a fanatic, about everyone’s favorite boy wizard and his adventures. Seeing Prisoner of Azkaban that night, June 4, 2004, inspired my first-ever Harry Potter fan fiction, or really major piece of writing, at the tender age of nine. It was titled “The Adventure Came True” (yikes!), and this basic plot followed: I was sucked into the movie theater screen and had to impersonate Hermione throughout the movie. At one point, the plot of the movie deviated as Dumbledore led me to talk to Emma Watson, who gave me an autograph and insisted that saving Buckbeak and Sirius would get me back to my normal life. In the end I succeeded and found myself sitting next to my cousin in the movie theater once more, smiling to myself in that cheesy way. (On a side note, Prisoner of Azkaban was released in UK theaters on May 31, 2004.)
Beyond my personal juvenile fan fiction, the Prisoner of Azkaban movie is the one that really narrows the focus of the movie franchise to strictly follow Harry’s story. Not only that, but the movie itself is aesthetically pleasing in its new scenery of Hogwarts, the characters’ hair (it is seriously the only film in the franchise where the trio’s hair is exactly as I imagined it in the books), and CGI effects. This also marked a change in direction, with Chris Columbus stepping down and Alfonso Cuarón taking on the challenge, though he had never read any of the books up until his acceptance. His signing on also resulted in a change on set as to how Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson were addressed: They were seen more as adults with a job rather than child stars and thus were asked to complete an acting assignment in which they had to write essays about their characters. It’s pretty much common knowledge now that Emma gave Cuarón a 16-page paper, while Dan’s was one page, and Rupert didn’t turn one in at all! All had reasons for their papers being as long as they were (or nonexistent), which impressed Cuarón with how well these three already knew their characters.
Along with these many changes was the appointment of Michael Gambon to replace the late Richard Harris as the quirky Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. People can say what they want, but an actor does not exclusively have to go off of what is perceived by the books or the fandom him/herself: An actor takes what he/she sees in the script, such as the way their character interacts with others or the setting around them, and uses that to build their playing in order to remain authentic. While Gambon is clearly playing what appears to be a different Dumbledore than Harris’s impersonation or what is presented in the books, he makes it his own and remains true to himself while playing the role, which is a quality most good actors appreciate and follow diligently. (But of course: Rest in peace, Richard Harris.)
With all of these changes in mind, including the images of how frightening Dementors are on a screen versus in the imagination, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was one of the most successful Potter movies because it dared to deviate from the path and create an intriguing magical world that encompassed the basic necessities of the book to adapt it to the screen. It looks as good now as it did then. Well done, Cuarón and cast and crew.