Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

How 'Prisoner of Azkaban' Changed & Set The Structure of The 'Harry Potter' Franchise

By: Domonique Salberg

The production of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban involved changes behind and in front of the camera that have set defining precedents for the following four Harry Potter films. A brand-new director was hired, and the loss of beloved actor Richard Harris, who had played a critical role in the entire series, is what set off a chain of new directions going forward to be discussed here.

Director Alfonso Cuarón

Azkaban was about the first blushes of teenage life and, more importantly, Harry’s growing complex perspective and being forced to come to terms with his own identity. Alfonso understood this and decided to revolve the film around the nuances of teenage behavior and the struggles that come with creating their own identities as adults. With that said, Alfonso directed with a deeper understanding of how to blend fantasy and reality while executing the film with unique visual sensibility. In his approach, Cuarón’s vision and vigor moved Harry’s story forward, and more importantly, created a tonal shift for the franchise where the films would now be looked at through a much darker, mature lens.  


With the passing of Richard Harris and a new actor playing the role of Dumbledore, it was only natural that the integral role would change from the first two films. Michael Gambon was cast and brought new to the role an edginess and spontaneity that also lent itself to the increasingly growing mature and chaotic wizarding world. Gambon’s performance and Cuarón’s interpretation of Dumbledore involved a certain funkiness. He was not necessarily precious and regal but a distracted temperament who could seem a little scruffy and far-out but remained completely in control of everything.

Harry Potter’s Journey

Prisoner of Azkaban offered up new characters such as Sirius Black, Remus, Lupin, and Dementors and further details about Harry’s personal history and the fate of his parents. Knowing this, Cuaron made a crucial decision before filming the third film that would set a precedent for the rest to come: to have it be told solely from Harry’s point of view. Everything in the film had to be something that would be seen and perceived from Harry’s point of view. Therefore, the core of the story evolved around his growing awareness and his emotions. Focusing on those elements that define Harry’s journey gave the film its cinematic structure, which proved pivotal not just for the film but also for the later ones.

Cinematography & Visuals

Lastly, in response to the darker tone of the books and more serious issues, similar adjustments to the color palette of the films changed. Gone were the bright hues and greys of Columbus’ first two films; Cuarón  instead chose to paint his films in dark blues and greys, desaturating the images to enhance the franchise’s new darker approach. These changes encouraged viewers to grow with Hogwarts’ maturing wizards and witches, enriching the story and movie experience.

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