directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Note: Let’s just assume you know the Harry Potter story, its characters and at least have a general idea of the plot. If for some bizarre reason you do not, then I am not sure how you have an internet connection in your cave that is allowing you even read this.
Instead of going through a boring old review series about every Harry Potter film and why geeks like me (as well as literature geeks, like me) enjoy them so, I am going to focus on the third installment and explain why, in terms of story, visual style, and casting, HP 3 is the strongest of the series.
Let me preface this review by stating that I had not begun to read the series of books upon HP 3’s release, instead planning to have my cake and eat it too by enjoying the films first, then reading the series and finding the books to be even more richly detailed. I couldn’t take it, however, and have since consumed the books in the fear that I might have the ending ruined for me. But I digress…
Christopher Columbus was the perfect choice for helming the first two HP films (which, in many ways deviate from the total package of the HP story, what with underage wizardry being performed and such), and his youthful, energetic style got on well with Rowling’s story of a young wizard’s first years at a magical prep school. Changing directors for the third film was, whether on purpose or by necessity or whatever, another perfect choice as it happens at the both the pivotal time in the HP story, but also at a pivotal time in the main characters’ lives. The kids are 13 at this point, official teenagers, that time in life when things begin to change (I mean perceptions of the world, you pervs. Get your heads out of the gutter.) for young people. Cuaron showed with Y tu mama tambien that he deeply understands the subtle complexities of youth (though Luna and Bernal were a bit older in the wonderful Y tu mama tambien), and his eye brings a romantic edge to the series that sets the tone for all that comes after it. Harry and crew begin to understand that people are not as one dimensional as they had once thought, from Snape to newcomer Sirius Black (a pitch perfect Gary Oldman), Azkaban prison escapee who Harry thinks is out to get him. And HP 3 also gives us the new Dumbledore, played from then on by Michael Gambon (who replaced the late Richard Harris). At the time, and until I read the books, I greatly resented Gambon’s blatant disregard for Harris’ gentle and quietly confident portrayal of the Hogwart’s headmaster, mad that he didn’t even attempt any kind of continuity. I realize now, however, just how perfectly Gambon understands Dumbledore. Gambon has a strut and a pomp that would be repellent if not for his charm and self-aware coolness. It’s like the kids all crossed that invisible developmental threshold in HP 3, and the wizened, soft spoken genius they knew had become a real person, bold and slightly arrogant, yet still attractive. Read the books and you will see what I am talking about. In terms of the original cast, Emma Watson (who has always been one of the series’ strongest talents) shines as Hermione, as does Ruper Grint, whose droopy dog comedic timing rivals some of his adult counterparts. HP 3 also gives the kids and the audience a taste of proper defense against the dark arts, as well as a magnificent addition to the cast roster in the form of David Thewlis (whom I love so very much, btw). Thewlis is Lupin, the teacher with a dark secret and possibly questionable alliances, and his guidance helps Harry to defend himself against the Dementors, creatures that feed on sadness. This is another element of Rowling’s story that I love and that comes at a perfect time in the story’s arc; that real defense against dark magic requires mental strength over simply properly reciting a spell and waving a wand.
Michael Seresin’s cinematography is totally boss, and the John Williams score rocks the house. And it doesn’t hurt that Rowling’s time travel excellence is stellar enough to have every geek fawning over her even more (magic and time travel? Be still my pocket protector!). The series turns a corner with HP 3 with regard to both style and content, but it is Cuaron’s talent as a director that help to make this shift almost tangible, yet still in keeping with the series as a whole.