best films: #30: HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
I must admit – at first glance, being an avid lover of all things J.K. Rowling just like every other human being (albeit mostly pre-teens) – I was disheartened to hear the early buzz about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban‘s film adaptation was mostly to do with how much it strayed both artistically and plot-wise from the original novel. I mean, the first two films had come out under the direction of Chris Columbus and had played out essentially like film’s answer to the audio book. But what Alfonso Cuaron proved with this, the third Harry Potter flick, was that perhaps being a bit unfaithful can pay off in spades. From its complete makeover of the set, the garb, the stylization, and the happy-kid mood of the first two films to the brilliant additions to the original story (yes, I rather liked Cuaron’s vision for the Knight Bus), Prisoner of Azkaban is nothing short of a visual feast. It’s no surprise that the director of Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien would indulge in a little bit of dark cloud set design, and it more than revitalized the potentially stale movie series. I know it’s a very genre choice for me to place so high on the list, but truly – think of a better example of a director’s vision so altering an original work to the point of improving on it. On top of the major changes to the set and costume design (loved that the kids were finally wearing some age- and era-appropriate clothes), the mainstays came along for the ride. The acting within the student body (particularly Emma Watson‘s Hermione and Rupert Grint‘s Ron Weasley) was vastly improved, and the replacement of Richard Harris, though deeply lamentable after his passing, was a fantastic choice with Michael Gambon. He brought the earnest that Harris offered and twisted it with a little bit of quirk and hipster vibes that Dumbledore seems to carry around in the novels. And where do I begin with John Williams’ utterly unique score? Sequel scores tend to be boring rehashes of what’s been done before, but from “Buckbeak’s Flight” to the Azkaban theme “A Window to the Past,” it’s a sumptuous soundtrack.