Finally, Sue’s Review
Jun 04, 2004
Last and probably least, comes this review. I’ve only today watched the film , and these are my immediate thoughts. It was a very fine film, not the greatest ever, but the best of the Potter films to date. Be warned, spoilers o’plenty.
Bottom line, a fine film by a fine film maker Alfonso Cuaron.
My review probably won’t be as the others, for I am not a writer by craft. I am a person who perfers things of a visual nature as I was a film major in college,and now work in a in a visual medium. So for me to say that this was the visual equivalent of walking into a wildly varied and treat filled Honeydukes, is high praise indeed.
The cinematography was both skillfully and artistically performed, a huge improvement over the last two films. Darker hues and tones of the film with varied lighting was vastly improved from earlier films. Dare I say, more believable settings, and the slight redesign of the castle also set a perfect tone for a more mature and intense film. The wild natural beauty of Scotland, the hills and forests made the film more believable, and oddly more mystical. The background was simply gorgeous. The sweeping panoramic shots lent itself to the pure beauty of individual scenes such as Buckbeaks flight( a spectacular highlight of the film).
Much has been made of Cuaron’s use of close-ups and wide angled shots. They worked perfectly in this movie and he used them to great effect. I almost wept with joy at the use of hand held camera shots, to and fro single camera movements, sweeping pan shots, and continual fluidity of a scene. To me, it is the mark of a master film maker who knows when to add edits, and when to just let the scene unfold as one. The new director has done so with seemingly effortless work, yet the overall feel of the film flowed very smoothly, with only a few bumps in the road.
Cuaron had me right in his hands from the very clever opening sequence of light and dark. I thought to my self, better strap in for the delightful ride ahead! as the slightly awkward Dursley scene unfolded (Dudley NEVER says a word, and I found Vernon curiously subdued) Up, up and away we went and the movie took off after that. I reveled in the Willy Wonka inspired flight of Aunt Marge, noting the little details of her still floating along in the distance, as the film took its first plunge toward the darkening theme with the arrival of “The Grim”. The ride continued joyously as the delightful, and skillfully edited ride of the Knight Bus unfolded. Along with the continual ominous rumble of the gathering thunderstorm in the background, this film was precisely executed to lead us into the final storm at then end of the film, where it swirled and whirled around in a wonderful finale. I found the pace for the most mostly even, with the exception of the all important Shrieking Shack scene, when it wasn’t long enough,but more on that later. The arrival of the dementors was as eerie and frightening as it was in the books. Every time they appeared on screen, they caused the audience to grow silent and still as the ice that formed on the window, lake, and flowers.
Cuaron’s masterful use of transitions to speed along the season, the use of the birds of flight from scene to scene, the snowy owl Hedwig as she flys by leading into the winter scene , the hilarious ruffle of the bluebirds into an merciless whomping willow all said to me I was in the hands of a serious craftsman. This may be run of the mill to many, and many people don’t really notice, but as I didn’t find them in the first , it was their inclusion that made the third film an infinitely more enjoyable experience.
The casting of David Thewlis at first gave me pause. But his performance as Remus J Lupin was multi-noted and well done. His great tenderness with Harry wasnt “acting”, but seemed to be the real thing. The DADA class scene,frankly,was really cool. Not much of a description I know, but I’d rather you all enjoy it on your own. Boggart Snape was very funny,as was Ron’s handling of his boggart. Mr. Grint is getting better with his timing and comedy, and I thought he was great during this scene. Alan Rickman’s Snape continues to be a casting coup, and nowhere is that more evident in the scenes of his substitute teaching of DADA, and with Harry and the Marauders Map. Good stuff; the man can act. Enough said.
My two nit picks of the film were minor. Good acting by Jim Tavare as Tom, but what on earth was Quasimodo doing tending bar at the Leaky Cauldron? And Flitwick’s new look didnt appeal to me at all either, but he was the perfect choice to conduct the choir.
Special Highlights: The brilliant and subtle way that Cuaron did indeed bring the magic castle alive. I adored Dawn French’s Fat Lady-more more I say!, but lamented Sir Cadogans omission.( For the record, he appeared briefly only in background paintings, brandishing his sword about. What I really wanted was to see him featured and hear him talk ie-Merry-hic-Christmas!) To show you how detail happy I am, I especially enjoyed the giraffe (watch for it). Clever, obscure little things, but an effort went into them that really added to the flavour of the movie. Last bit of joy- Headless Hunt riders!!
I hate to keep on about this, but the incarnation of Buckbeak was wonderfully done. He looked better than my own mind had imagined as I first read the books. The Monster Book of Books, which was hilariously portrayed earlier in The Leaky Cauldron, was well done too. Everyone around me seemed to enjoy it, particularly the younger children. Hagrid’s classroom scene was very funny, and I like the increased maliciousness of Malfoy and his buddies. But it was the flight of Buckbeak that caused me to really sit up and note the particular time and detail that went into this by the film-makers. To be honest at first I grimaced at the Ode de Titanic move of Harry once he’s mid air on Buckbeak. But then the sheer joy and freedom of the moment became more evident as the true skill of the filmmakers came into play. The flowing shots, as you rode along with Harry, the perfectly aligned shadows to the wings of the animal, the sunrays shining out behind the stormclouds, the trailing water ripples flowing precisely with the cg character, are not an easy thing to do. We’ve all seen badly done films.Not the case here. It is so well done in Azkaban that it isn’t obvious, and I can give no higher praise than that. The scene was simply gorgeous .
A word on dialogue. This film assembled some of Britain’s finest actors. It is inexplicable to me that people of the calibre of Julie Walters, Julie Christie, and Dame Maggie Smith were NOT given more to do. It is here that the film does have its flaws. Certain scenes were under explained. A perceptible murmur went through the crowd during the scene when Harry gives back the map to Lupin. “How did Lupin know it was a Map?? ” In my opinion a film can NOT make the assumption that it’s audience already knows the material. Sure, it can presume that they are sophisticated enough to figure things out. But in this case, I do not believe there was sufficient development of Moonys other mystery ( the werewolf business was easy to guess before it happened) Storytellers need to present film as a fresh work, clear exposition needs to be made. I’m sorry, but in these instances, I don’t believe that it was handled well. Nor was the fact of making clear who precisely Messrs Moony, Padfoot , Prongs, and Wormtail were. Yes, if you listened closely to the Shrieking Shack scene, you can hear them address each other as such, but that scene was really rushed and it was hard to follow as so many other things were going on.
The trio are growing,as are their skills as actors. Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry showed much more depth emotionally, and most of his performance was really good. I believed his anger and pain as he yelled “He betrayed my parents”. Rupert is really enjoyable. I agree with all the other reviews here at Leaky who verbalised what was done with Ron’s character much better than I. Emma Watson was wonderful as Hermione in this film, but I dont like that she wasn’t as frazzled as the Hermione of books. I do feel that she delivered the most believable of the trio’s performances, and I believe she has a bright future ahead of her as an actress.
At the end of the film,the time-turner sequence was top-notch, and the wonderful use of the clock chimes was a nice touch. John Williams score was just wonderful, the haunting “Window to the Past” is the standout. The werewolf scene was scary stuff, and thedescent of the dementors on Harry and Sirius was gripping and well done. Expecto Patronum indeed!
This leads me to my final point. Gary Oldman was brilliant as Sirius. Not enough screen time, but boy, what he did with what he had!!!. Turning his seemingly mad character into a believable loving Godfather was no easy task,considering alot of Sirius’s dialogue was cut down. But that moment at the end of the film was touching, very moving stuff. Knowing the outcome of OOtP made it almost unbearable for me to watch as Sirius wheeled off into the moonlight..
Sorry so long, but it was a very enjoyable film, one I strongly recommend to even non-Potter fans. While, this wasn’t the greatest film ever made,it is the best of the Potter films thus far.