(2004, Fantasy/Children, color)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett
I’m not sure the rest of the kids get their money’s worth out of this school.
In a nutshell:
Harry meets his escaped criminal godfather.
Prisoner of Azkaban has some really steep prerequisites. First off, you need to have seen both the first and second movies in the series. Additionally, you need to have read the book this film is based on. I understand this might take you a few days, but you really ought to go ahead and do that now. Don’t worry. The review will still be here when you get back.
[This is where I sit back and twiddle my thumbs for a long, long time.]
Ready? Good. We start with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) still in summertime care of his abusive foster family the Dursleys. When a boorish aunt attacks his dead parents’ character, Harry loses his temper and turns her into a balloon. He packs his trunk and flees the house while she floats gently over the horizon.
A large black dog watches him menacingly in the darkened playground, and then a crazy magic bus appears for no particular reason. During a rather hectic invisible ride, Harry learns that convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from wizard prison in Azkaban. During his subsequent stay at a wizard flophouse called The Leaky Cauldron, he learns that Black escaped from prison specifically to hunt Harry down.
He does not learn why until well into his third term at Hogwarts—packed, as usual, with thirty-nine gallons of wizard school whimsy, fifty-eight tons of rule-breaking, and a new Defense against Dark Arts teacher (David Thewlis as the foreshadowing-ly named Professor Lupin). The school’s newest feature is a pack of soul-sucking wraiths called Dementors, all of whom seem to have it in for Harry for some reason.
Invisibility cloak shenanigans eventually net Harry the following secret backstory: Black was a friend of Harry’s parents, but betrayed them to dark wizard Voldemort, more or less directly leading to their deaths. Afterwards, he killed another of their friends, one Peter Pettigrew. Since baby Harry caused Voldemort’s death in turn, Black will hunt him down for revenge.
Lupin is the last of Harry’s father’s friends who is neither dead nor a criminal. He teaches Harry anti-Dementor spells to defend himself, while sneaking off to recover from an undefined illness at certain times of the month. In the meantime, another subplot that’s been simmering is the plight of Magical Creatures professor Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and his condemned hippogriff Buckbeak. An executioner arrives to put down the monstrous bird/horse down, forcing Harry and friends to flee Hagrid’s cottage.
In their flight back to Hogwarts castle they meet the giant black dog from the opening scenes, who seizes Harry’s friend Ron (Rupert Grint) and drags him through a secret passage beneath a homicidal tree. Harry and Hermoine (Emma Watson) pursue him, to find that the dog is really Sirius Black in disguise. He wants to kill someone, but not any of them. Lupin arrives soon after, having realized the truth. Black is innocent. The one who really betrayed Harry’s parents is the barely mentioned Peter Pettigrew, who has been masquerading for years as Ron’s pet rat. They turn him back into a human and force a confession from him.
On their way back to the castle with their prisoner, the full moon emerges, and a scene we’ve been expecting for quite some time now plays out as Lupin turns into a werewolf and attacks everyone assembled. Black turns back into a dog to prevent him. Pettigrew escapes in the confusion. They drive off Lupin, but now Black is injured. A swarm of Dementors arrive to suck out Black’s soul, but are driven off by an anti-Dementor spell from an unknown source. Black is taken into custody and Harry is taken to the infirmary.
Now for the deus ex machina. Turns out that Hermoine has had a time travel necklace all this time. She uses it to take Harry back in time to rescue Buckbeak, Black and their past selves from death with a well-placed anti-Dementor spell. Black and Buckbeak escape together.
This is my second favorite of the Potter movies. It certainly has the most effective atmosphere of any Potter film thus far. You absolutely have to have read the book to make sense of it, though. I’m guessing that director Alfonso Cuaron recognized the difficulty of shoehorning each lengthening book into a two hour plus film while still retaining some semblance of coherence, and eventually decided that coherence wasn’t worth the bother. Exposition kills pacing, so in order to preserve the film’s tone and rhythm, Prisoner of Azkaban makes do without it. For people who’ve read the book, this isn’t a problem. New viewers, however, are left high and dry.
Mike, Bill and Kevin take full advantage of the wizardly silliness on display. When the abusive aunt swells into balloon-ness, Bill says, “They had mentos and pop rocks for dinner.” As she floats away, Kevin speculates, “If she farts, she’ll end up over Ireland.” During a one of Professor Lupin’s classes, Mike says, “I didn’t take Dark Arts, I took Dark Shop.” Whether or not the plot makes sense to you, the Harry Potter movies’ odd combination of whimsy and darkness makes for the best riffing fodder available, and the Rifftrax crew does not disappoint.
(2004, Fantasy/Children, color)