It is indisputable that of all the Harry Potter films, the third, Prisoner of Azkaban, is considered the greatest.This film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who, along with Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell, were the only directors in the eight film series to each do one film. Chris Columbus directed No.1-2, and David Yates directed No. 5-8. But this third film by Cuaron was a total game-changer in terms of how Rowling’s story was portrayed on film. You can conduct an entertaining experiment to prove this. Pick an evening (or a day) and watch the first 3 films. There is zero difference between the first two films in terms of how they are framed and presented- which makes sense because they were handled by the same director, Chris Columbus. When you get to the 3rd film it’s as if you’re watching a completely different story. In terms of how Prisoner of Azkaban looks, feels and sounds it was a complete departure from what Chris Columbus did in the first two films.

The Prisoner of Azkaban Transitions Into Darker Territory and Content

The Prisoner of Azkaban Horror

Professor Lupin

Columbus, who also gave us Home Alone, knows how to do the kid-friendly Disney-esque presentation. After Cuaron grabbed the baton, this was no longer your 11 year old’s Harry Potter. Instead it became a darker, grittier and more realistic portrayal of a gothic, haunting and murderous environment. Granted this transition in the filmography is also represented in Rowling’s books. Her first two are introductory and lighter with hints of heavier content to come. Her third book takes a much darker turn, and by the fourth you have open murder and torture being conducted. So in a way, Chris Columbus’s style was perfectly suited to do the first two films. Cuaron’s turn on the third film was a tough act to follow, and though the rest of the films were great, they were never better than Cuaron’s. The benefit of Cuaron’s superior film was that it set the template for the rest of the films to follow, and so the result was an overall great 8-film series.

The Prisoner Of Azkaban Takes The Harry Potter World into Gothic Horror

What makes his such a masterpiece is how he framed it less an action-adventure fantasy film and more of a horror film. Rowling’s first two books have a Lord of the Rings-Narnia quality to them with similar magical creatures. But in her third book, Rowling expanded her magical universe to include werewolves and dementors- cloaked skeletal corpses that suck your soul out through your mouth. In Cuaron’s film everything looked less ‘magical’ and more goth and creepier:

  • the castle grounds
  • the forest
  • inside the castle
  • the harpsichord soundtrack

Even the students were taken out of their robes and placed in their street clothes. It seemed as if we were watching some Hardy Boy/Nancy Drew haunted mystery. The moment the first dementor is introduced you know the film will not be like the first two. In all the films that followed Cuaron’s, the dementors were never scarier than in his film.

So, the Harry Potter film series is unquestionably in the fantasy genre, but the third stands out as a legit horror film that would be appropriate to watch during the Halloween season.

The Prisoner of Azkaban Horror

First encounter with a Dementor

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