Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third novel of the Harry Potter series, written in 1999 by J.K. Rowling. The series follows protagonist Harry Potter and his adventures in witchcraft and wizardry at the mystical school of Hogwarts and his battles with users of the more sinister forms of magic, referred to as the “dark arts”. This particular entry keeps with the formula of the previous two entries which includes fantastical creatures, peculiar characters, and riveting action sequences that range from high-flying broomstick antics to duels between the wizard-equivalents of good and evil during Harry’s third year of magical education. New characters such as Professor Lupin and Sirius are introduced as well as a new setting in the infamous prison for the most heinous of criminals in the wizard community: Azkaban. Themes seen throughout the book include (of course) magic, temptation (or lust for power), and the unreliability of preconceived notions/judgments with regard to the character or moral fiber of certain individuals (e.g. Sirius Black).
The 2004 film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was directed by Alfonso Cuaron follows the same chain of events as the book but strays from the previous film adaptations with regard to its markedly darker tone. Although the notions of death and evil are ever-present in the earlier entries, they are somewhat downplayed and take a backseat to the more light0hearted aspects of the story such as the bonds of friendship shared between Harry and his friends, and the inevitable triumph of good against evil. The film itself, while thematically darker, distinguishes itself in its visually darker filming style which adds a feeling of unease to familiar settings, and dread to new ones (especially the prison itself). The introduction of the frightening, phantom-like “Dementors” and the notion of “serial killers” earned this film a PG-13 rating in a film series which up to that point had been aimed at younger audiences. The musical accompaniment in the film is composed by the illustrious composer, John Williams, and ranges from subtle, tension-building pieces with emphasis on the shrill sounds of strings to others that are heavy with cellos at a rapid staccato in an effort to capture the few moments of joviality and lightheartedness.
The effectiveness of Cuaron’s adaptation of Rowling’s book was largely lauded by critics but faced a mixed bag of responses from avid fans of the series. Critics applauded Cuaron’s utilization of dark palettes during filming which captured the aforementioned sinister tones seen in the book as well as John Williams’ prudent choice of instrumentation in solidifying the series’ shift from fun-filled adventure to a bleaker, more dangerous world where the stakes were raised and things as a whole felt a bit more dire. Some Readers, however, were disappointed with the relative lack of detail in certain scenes whose narratives were shortened due to time-constraints. In addition, it seem as though the romance between Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger is more prominent in the film than it was in the book which can be seen, unsurprisingly, as a concession to Hollywood expectations/ standards requiring some form of romantic escapades. As a whole, Cuaron managed to capture the thematic elements from the book which involved magic, death, judgment, friendship, and the rather cliché “don’t believe everything that you hear”, despite the time limitations of film as an entertainment medium.
3rd Party Sources
An interview conducted between IGN’s Steve Head and director Alfonso Cuaron, organized as a Q&A session.
A review written by Andrew Klay of “reichelrecommends.com” in which he details his feelings on John Williams’ movie soundtrack and how effectively it fits key scenes in the film
An essay written by James Gudden of Gettysburg College which details Cuaron’s choice of filming aesthetics throughout his career along with the purposes behind them. Specifically, the passage I discovered covers these methods with regard to filming Azkaban.
B. My great appreciation for the work of John Williams notwithstanding, I believe a large portion of the experience in the Harry Potter film series is its musical score which is very well articulated in this article. The soundtrack review written by Andrew Klay draws attention to some of the audible intricacies as chosen by Williams on a scene-by-scene basis. Klay goes through each track of the film’s music and recounts the effect that is produced by Williams’ score, pertaining to thematic elements. An example of such detail is shown in a passage where Klay states how:
“A key theme of the film is Harry’s longing for his parents, particularly his mother. This is tenderly illustrated in “A Window to the Past,” a scene in which Harry learns more about his mother from Professor Lupin on the bridge. This theme, played initially by recorder and harpsichord, is repeated in various forms throughout the film. These instruments place us in the medieval setting of Hogwarts and reveal a yearning on the part of Harry to feel closer to his departed parents.”
This article gives viewers a new appreciation for the tremendous impact that a film’s soundtrack can have on its ambience. I, for one, have great respect and reverence for any composer who can properly capture the emotional intent of a scene without the use of dialogue or lyrical assistance.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry invokes the Patronus spell to save Sirius Black, along with the blinding light we hear a celestial choir. How does magic replace religious experience in the film? And does this make it an anti-religious film (as some claim)?
J.K. Rowling’s book and subsequent film series, Harry Potter, at its core is work of fiction written in the realm of fantasy/adventure which utilizes the notion of “magic” to represent the clash between good and evil that many falsely proclaim is a source of anti-religious sentiment. The idea that “witchcraft” and “wizardry” goes against some religious doctrines is not incorrect being that these phenomena as they’re understood, are largely based in worship of supernatural entities including “Lucifer” of the Judeo-Christian belief. However, even if magic as seen in Harry Potter was based on “devil-worship” and the like, this would not be anti-religious. Satanism is itself a religion so the more accurate term may be “anti-Christian” or “anti-Judaism” etc, but not anti-Christian. That being said, Harry Potter does not base its magical premises in these belief-systems and instead relies upon the idea that magic is a genetically inherited trait. This fact would make the series “irreligious” or “without religion”, at least pertaining to those religions that are based in deity-worship. There is no deity in the series and none of the morals, lessons, or messages conveyed through its narrative, in my opinion as a former-religious, could be seen as an attack on religion as a whole. Magic itself is seen as the only “greater power” in the series and its presence is largely indifferent to “good” and “evil”; instead, it’s seen as a neutral, amoral force. In this sense, adherence to magical practices is the only “religion” (very loose association) that can be seen throughout. With regard to the scenes in the film that contain choral pieces, it should be noted that music itself is irreligious. Although choir music is very common in the Christian religion and has been for centuries, choirs are hardly unique to these groups. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart, each composed beautiful choral pieces, and each of them were atheist. In short, being that witchcraft is indeed taboo even in the modern world as it is associated with devil-worship and other less than reputable elements, it is not surprising that many religious would have an aversion to a book series based on its use. However, one must only look past the taglines of the series to realize that nothing in Rowling’s books or films should be misconstrued as being hostile toward their beliefs.