Finally got around to seeing the third HARRY POTTER movie this week. The first one, HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE, was Hollywood hackwork, glossy and slick but lacking any kind of real imagination or soul. I'd heard the second POTTER was more of the same, so I skipped it, but HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN got such good reviews, on the basis of new director Alfonso Cuaron (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) that I decided to see it.
First, unfortunately, I rented HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, so that I wouldn't miss any plot threads in the third film. The second POTTER turned out to be even worst than the first. PHILOSOPHER'S STONE was tolerable, if long-winded; CHAMBER OF SECRETS is simply dreadful -- annoying, insipid, and really stupid. PRISONER OF AZKABAN was really going to have to be good, to make up for my having to sit through its predecessor.
Fortunately, PRISONER OF AZKABAN turns out to be the best of the three by far, the first one to generate some genuine emotions, jettisoning the insipid pseudo-Disney sentimentality that embalmed the first two attempts at adapting J.K Rowling's books into films. In fact, this is the first one that feels like a movie that stands on its own. The others suffered from that Masterpiece Theatre-type malaise, in which filming the book is considered enough to justify the project -- without giving it any real imaginative life on its own, in cinemtatic terms.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN has been out too long to make it worthwhile for me to go into any more detail: the people who want to see it already have, and those who don't want to see it won't be persuaded by anything I write. But I will say that I was much amused, in the middle of this supposedly innocent family film, to see such blatant sexual innuendo paraded right beneath the audience's collective nose.
For instance, the film begins with a scene of Harry in his bed at night, hiding beneath his sheets, and playing with his wand. You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure that one out. (Hint: this is a case where a cigar is not a cigar.)
There is even a fairly obvious homosexual subtext. Two mail characters, including Professor Lupin(David Thewlis), are are insulted by begin compared to an "old married couple." Lupin, as his name suggests, turns out to be a werewolf; i.e., he has an embarrassing secret in his private life involving disreputable activities at night, which he hides by day while maintaining his respectable demeanor as a teacher. The film's conclusion sees Lupin leaving his post because his secret has come out, and he knows that parents don't want their children taught be (heavy dramatic pause) "...some like me." Tellingly, he doesn't say "by a werewolf." The script leaves it up to us to fill in the blank, making it easier to interpret the character as a closeted gay man.
Not that I'm trying to nominate this film for a place in THE HOLLYWOOD CLOSET. This is just a little subplot in a wonderfully entertaining film. It's just amusing to see the way the filmmakers sneaked it in there.
I should mention that HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN looks and sounds great in IMAX at the Universal Studios Cinema. Unfortunately, if you want to see the film in that format after Thursday, September 16, you will have to go to the Edwards Valencia Cinema. It's a little bit of a drive from the heart of Los Angeles, but not too bad if you go during off traffic hours, on a weekend. (The film is playing one time daily, at 4:10pm.)