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Azkaban review

Old 02-24-04, 07:17 PM
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Azkaban review

Yeah, it's AICN and we all know the site sucks balls and all that but I figure this is worth sharing anyway:

Hey, there, Harry. I don't know if you even do your own email these days; you must get a lot. I check into your site once in a long while, but I just saw something remarkable and I thought you'd be interested. Sunday 2/23 there was a sneak of 'HP-3' here in Chicago. Passes were handed out (with no notification of what the movie was) at the carpool line of my kids' school. I am in 'the business' in a small way myself, as a cinematographer, but that had nothing to do with my being there--mainly I'm just a parent of three. No NDA or anything so I feel free to comment--and I'm sure WB would be happy considering what I'm going to say.

The movie was shown lo-rez, with many effects scenes only partially done; lots of shots had red targeting dots still on them for aligning effects; in some cases there were even graphic tags in the shot noting what effect would be added: 'A Leaf Falls,' etc. However dramatically it seemed to all be there and the cut was pretty tight.

The movie is a huge improvement over the first two HP films. It is rich, deep, and dynamic. Director Alfonso Cuaron really knows how to use the camera. The camera is constantly in motion, and there are dramatic and some times extreme angles; but it's not jarring or excessive, everything flows together beautifully. In the earlier HP movies there was a lot of pedestrian 'coverage' which is often the result of multiple-camera shooting to economize on time. This might have had to do with the child actors only being available for limited hours. Perhaps now that they're older, they can work longer days, and Cuaron benefitted from that. In any case, the swirling camera and imaginative angles let you see the world of Hogwarts in something close to 360' and this makes it seem much bigger, and more real, than in the prior movies.

There's also a lot more going on, more information packed into the shots, more subtle development of the characters and their interactions. For example, Ron Weasley's twin brothers, who barely registered in the earlier films, get a couple of nice mischievous turns here, talking very fast and completely each others' sentences. Speaking of Ron, there is a hint---JUST a hint---of budding teenage romance between him and Hermione. Thankfully this is not played up for titillation or sentimentality. The principal actors are much better this time around, either from greater maturity or Cuaron's touch, maybe both. My 13-y-o daughter described young Harry in the first movie as walking around with his mouth hanging open all the time; she used to mock many of the lines from that film. This time all three kids show a greater range of emotion and they seem to form a real team.

New roles are played by David Thewlis (Prof Lupin, who turns into a werewolf), Gary Oldman, who makes a late appearance as Sirius Black, the escaped murderer (or is he?), and Emma Thompson in a hilarious turn as the flustered Prof. Trelawney, wearing a pair of oversized spectacles which make her eyes the size of tennis balls. There are some good and more serious scenes with Harry and Prof. Lupin, where you get asense of the sorrow at the heart of Harry's life, and the burden he bears. These are handled well, one of them in a single long take with a slow graceful crane move.

I don't know the name of the actor now playing Dumbledore (there was only the main title) but he was quite good, very similar physical type to Richard Harris so it doesn't seem like anything is missing.

The effects which were finished or near looked quite good. My 7-y-o son was particularly impressed by the 'Dementors' which are black-clad, ghostly prison guards. Their horrifying specialty is 'soul-sucking,' and when they are near it gets cold; there's a neat scene early on where their approach is forewarned by ice spreading across a window and into a nearby bottle. A smaller effect we particularly liked was the 'textbook' for Care of Magical Creatures class, which has teeth, claws, and is prone to bite, unless it's sleeping where all monsters sleep--under the bed! There's a Hippogriff creature ('Buckbeak') which was nearly done in some scenes and looked great, in others was only partially done, in some not far from a wireframe, which was actually quite interesting. Oddly enough if you're into the movie enough you can overlook an amazing amount, for example kids running through the 'forest' where you can see that past the first few trees it's a wall of bluescreens and up above the studio ceiling with hanging spacelights! My kids are big fans of the 'behind the scenes' section of DVDs, especially LOTR, so if anything, seeing this movie with some of its inner workings exposed was a bonus for them.

I think kids are smarter than they're given credit for. Certainly my kids notice the difference between Lord of the Rings and Cat in the Hat, or between the Goosebumps and Harry Potter books. In this movie, they had some minor quibbles relating to parts of the book that were missing, and with some of the line readings (kids being ruthless about other kids) but overall they loved it.

As did the rest of the crowd. The audience was appreciative and sometimes loud. Funny scenes got belly-laughs, scarey ones dead silence. There was lots of applause at the end and kids and their parents alike were buzzing afterward.

For my family maybe the best part of the afternoon was seeing Alfonso Cuaron near the exit and getting to speak with him. He was gracious, soft-spoken and very attentive to the children, asking them some good questions and listening attentively. He seemed pleased to hear that 'A Little Princess' is one of our family's favorite films. How can one director do a big effects-laden kids fantasy movie like this and also a gritty, hand-held erotically charged road movie like 'Y Tu Mama Tambien'? Because he's a real filmmaker, one of the few, one of the best.
Looking forward to this one.
Old 02-24-04, 07:32 PM
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The trailer looked interesting to me, and I'm not a HP fan in the slightest. Rented the first one and was bored. My friend said Azkaban was the best book of the series, and he was very enthusiastic after seeing the trailer. Might just have to check this one out.
Old 02-24-04, 08:05 PM
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interesting read, though I am curious what the final running time will be, and how it compares to the book. The last quarter of the book is very wordy.

Screw the film's theatrical aspect ratio, I can't wait to see the IMAX prints of this film.
Old 02-24-04, 08:26 PM
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Wow, didn't know Gary Oldman was playing Sirius. This and "Goblet of Fire" were my fav Harry Potter books, so I'm looking forward to it.
Old 02-24-04, 08:45 PM
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Screw the film's theatrical aspect ratio, I can't wait to see the IMAX prints of this film.
I bet $5 that the film will be in it's original aspect ratio in IMAX (similar to Disney's IMAX re-releases and the two Matrix sequels which Warner released). I think Cuaron might have some say in this (especially since he's not like Ron Howard and George Lucas who released cropped versions of Apollo 13 and Episode 2 in IMAX).

I still think Cuaron was a great choice to direct this film (too bad this is the only film he'll be doing in the series probably) and I can't wait to see it.
Old 02-24-04, 10:33 PM
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It's entirely in my expectations: a far superior director + better book as source material than film 2 = best HP film yet.

This one will set the high-water mark for the film series without a doubt.
Old 02-25-04, 12:52 AM
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Yes, oddly enough I'm quite looking forward to this film. I slightly enjoyed the first two. Decent enough, with magnificent production design, good effects work and great music and pretty decent casting. But...nonetheless fairly flat films that never reached me on an emotional level and didn't seem as magical as it should have been. Fault lay with Columbus, who I won't say did a bad job, but just a competent job with the duty. From the sounds of it, Cuaron is on spot. Anyway, looking forward to it...hopefully it will be excellent. Always up for a good fantasy flick.

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