Over the holidays, I listened to the unabridged Harry Potter series, narrated by Jim Dale (magnificent). Then I started on the movies, none of which I’d seen. The first two aren’t much, but Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is just about perfect.
Alfonso Cuarón, who’d just directed the hot coming-of-age story Y Tu Mamá También (2001), brings sex to the Harry Potter universe for the first time (it doesn’t seem to have crossed Rowling’s mind.) Like Peter Jackson did for Tolkien, Cuarón’s visual imagination enriches the source material. The special effects are more organic than in the first two films, arising mysteriously. Likewise, Steve Kloves’ screenplay springs to life under a new director – I don’t know how much influence the director had, but in this third film, the exposition is primarily visual instead of driven by dialogue. (The exception, and the movie’s only significant failing, is when Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry explains the climax to the audience.)
Cuarón’s next film was the astonishing Children of Men (2006), a dystopian fantasy for grown-ups. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a sweet spot for both Rowling and Cuarón – an ingeniously plotted pop novel that became a lovely storybook on screen.