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The Prisoner of Azkaban: 20 years of Harry Potter magic

My review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the impact it is still having on Gen Z audiences 20 years later.

Harry, Ron Hermione and friends stare at something in front of them whilst in the woods.
Image credit: 2003 Warner Bros. Ent. Harry Potter

The wizarding world of Harry Potter is a staple part of many childhoods amongst teenagers and young adults. On 31st May 2004, Warner Bros released the third installment of the film adaptations. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

At this point the franchise took a turn in the form of a new director; the incredible Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón replaced the wonderful Christopher Columbus who directed the franchise’s first two installments. It might be the best decision the studio has ever made.

In case anyone needs a refresher, here’s the Letterboxd synopsis of the film. “Year three at Hogwarts means new fun and challenges. Harry learns the delicate of approaching a Hippogriff, transforming shape-shifting Boggarts into hilarity and even turning back time. But the term also brings danger: soul-sucking Dementors hover over the school. An ally of the accursed He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named lurks within the castle walls, and fearsome wizard Sirius Black escapes Azkaban. And Harry will confront them all.”

What makes Cuarón’s direction so unique?:

At the time Alfonso Cuarón was coming off the back of his Oscar-nominated romance film ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ (2003). This film is widely seen as the film that thrust him into the Hollywood starlight. And rightfully so. Since then Cuaron has won 5 Oscars, including Best Director for both ‘Gravity’ (2013) and ‘Roma’ (2019). Prisoner of Azkaban is an incredible reminder of just how good he can be behind the camera. This is even under the notorious studio system, that has plagued the film industry for decades.

As we moved past the whimsical nature of the first two installments of the franchise, we entered a new age. A darker age. Something that is lacking in the later Harry Potter films is this balance between the charm that the first two films hold and the more serious adult tone that stalks the last few. Cuarón excels above and beyond any director in the franchise because of the way he perfectly strikes the combination of these two aspects. We seamlessly move, within scenes, from a happier tone, where our main characters are laughing, to suddenly near-death experiences.

What makes Prisoner of Azkaban so special? – My review:

Quite possibly the best example of this is in Lupin’s transformation sequence, at the beginning of the third act. Harry and Sirus are having a bonding conversation about moving in together when all of a sudden the music loudens and the camera becomes more sporadic. As Hermione shouts, the camera pans quickly right to her, then left to Lupin, and back right again toward the rising full moon.

A gorgeous but quick sweeping sequence is followed by one of the greatest shots in any blockbuster of the 21st century. We cut away from the moon back toward a wide shot of our characters as the camera rapidly zooms on Lupin’s eye. Cuarón simultaneously deploys a curtain of moonlight as it descends onto the hillside and Lupin’s face. We then reverse out to the exact wide shot just moments ago as Lupin’s eye turns to darkness. Cuarón’s eye for this elevated level of direction is second to none.

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger begin to turn back time as there past selves move around the room like ghosts.
Image credit: 2003 Warner Bros. Ent. Harry Potter

Whilst a lot of audiences will say that adapting a film from an already written source material is easy, it can sometimes be harder. With the millions of fans there are, these filmmakers had to tackle one of the hardest hurdles in filmmaking. Expectations. Cuarón manages to brilliantly translate the most unique of the novels, into equally the most unique of all the films. The way he brings together themes of revenge, sacrifice, and family retrospect, is like nothing else in the franchise.

He manages to hang this air of death across the entirety of the film without awkward dialogue or forced exposition. He just deploys the golden rule of show not tell. Stunningly haunting images of frightening creatures juxtaposed with breathtaking moonlit sequences. Thus launching us into that new age of fantasy cinema. All whilst delivering a tale of false revenge that blockbuster filmmakers struggle to replicate to this day. Absolute Perfection.

Prisoner of Azkaban 20 years on – Impact on Gen Z:

I’m sure a lot of people remember watching these films for the first time. Being thrust into a magical world of sacrifice, friendship, and a magical reality. For a lot of people, the nature of watching your favourite characters grow up in school gave a huge relatability factor to these films. Whether that be from the books or the films; the cultural impact was unprecedented. Whilst Gen Z at the time where only very young when this was released, the significance of this film cannot be understated.

Under the Warner Bros UK poster on ‘X’ about the cinema re-release of Prisoner of Azkaban, there are a number of examples of people calling it “The best Harry Potter movie” and that they “Love it.”

Whilst the film alone was only re-released in the United Kingdom, it still managed to gross $677,964 (£535,897) in its limited run. There is just something about the Harry Potter films that brings this wave of nostalgia, unlike any other franchise.

Since its initial release, we’ve seen new prequel films released, in the form of the three wildly popular Fantastic Beasts films. We’ve seen Hogwarts Legacy, the video game adaptation that was a massive smash hit with fans. Gen Z and new audiences will be able to experience the magic all over again with HBO announcing recently their new reboot TV show. But will it have the same impact and sense of nostalgia as the films did?

All these factors show the legacy of not just the Prisoner of Azkaban, but the entire franchise. Gen Z and older audiences keep wanting more and more of this nostalgic feeling.

Click here to read about the new Harry Potter HBO show in the works!

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Written By

Hello, I'm Oscar Trinick. I'm a 20 year old student currently studying journalism who is crazy about film. I love writing about anything film related and have a podcast called the 'Shot by Shot podcast'.

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