There are few things I love more than Harry Potter. Now, truth be told, I’m not exactly the hardest core of a Harry Potter fan, but I still love it, a lot. I am very grateful for knowing Harry Potter (never mind the fact that it gave me one of my best friends). But the one part of Harry Potter that love more than anything?
Alfonso Cuaron’s Masterpiece of a Film.
Cuaron’s film, 8 years later, is still a wonderment to behold. Coming after Chris Columbus’ opening entries (both still wonderful films, but tend to drag and come off as a bit, well, dry), Cuaron’s film comes off on the surface as pure artistic expression. Everything feels different. The camera moves differently. The cinematography is marvelous to look at, and nothing in the series before or after looks this good (although Half-Blood Prince is the second best shot film). And best of all it still works in the context of the universe, nothing seems out of place or distracting.
The biggest change Cuaron made to the film (and indirectly the rest of the series) was the decision to not stick to the book, chuck the exposition and make story changes that (GASP!) work better in a cinematic format. Cuaron and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who wrote every flick except Order) made the balsy decision to, in the Harry Potter movies, keep the focus on, well, Harry Potter! And while this caused the book purists to cry foul (HE moved the Whomping Willow! The entire series is ruined! And my childhood!) mostly everyone agrees that Azkaban is THE BEST of cinematic Harrys (much Like Empire is to Star Was 0r to a lesser extent Spider-Man 2, Azkaban is the LEAST grossing Potter film).
That’s not even scratching the surface the impact the film would have on the remainder of the series, aside from the fact that it allowed the directors to be more free and artistic (again, Half Blood Prince), Cuaron’s bold casting choices set a new standards, David Thewlis and Emma Thompson are welcome additions. Gary Oldman? Madly inspiring. The biggest and best decision? Freaking Michael Gambon? And he works so well.
Azkaban also has, truly, the last great John Williams score. After his somewhat uneven Sorcerer’s Stone score and the fact that, well, he didn’t actually completely do the Chamber of Secrets score, Williams came in and destroyed with his Azkaban score. Yes, better than Revenge of the Sith and certainly better than Crystal Skull (although, to point out, Memoirs of a Geisha is a freaking beautiful score).
Azkaban also earns a special place in my heart for having (Caution: 1999 spoiler!) my favorite Time Travel sequence outside of Back To The Future 2. Where much like BTTF2, everything is happening AT THE SAME TIME. Cuaron manages to take Rowling’s fantastic book sequences, and stages them so elegantly and so cleverly that you rarely have time to think about why they’re not using their time travel abilities for more important matters.
All in all, I’ll state it and restate it again, I love this film. I’ve loved it since I poured over the moody photos in my 2003 issues of Entertainment Weekly. The only thing that keeps me from truly embracing Azkaban as one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen? Cuaron’s next film, Children of Men. I consider Children of Men to be one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, film or otherwise. However, that’s a subject for another one of these.