Friday, 7 February 2014

Harry Potter: Alfonso Cuaron, Chris Columbus and the Change in Tone

Many regard Alfonso Cuaron as one of the brightest sparks in film making today and it's no surprise why. Cuaron is off the back of the incredible Gravity, which has done amazingly with both critics and the box-office and it's deserving of all it's praise. It's a marvel in technical achievement. I wouldn't' be surprised if he picked up the Best Director Oscar (although he has healthy competition up against Steve McQueen). Before that, he made Children of Men - arguably one of the best films ever made. He also made Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is regarded as the best Potter film and is easily my favourite. I would argue that Cuaron changed the way people looked at the series AND changed the tone and direction of the series.

Cuaron took the reigns from Chris Columbus, who has a very reputable track record, I mean seriously, he pretty much made my childhood with Home Alone 1&2 and Mrs Doubtfire. But that's what he made, children's films. I don't think he was right for the chair of Harry Potter. Maybe that's a bit harsh, he did well with the opening two - but Cuaron saved the day by taking over. The previous films were cheesy and charming, but they didn't have any bite. Imagine Columbus dealing with Werewolves, Dementors and death scenes. It would have been horrible. However, he has to be credited with his incredible casting. Without him, we wouldn't have Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, John Cleese, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs (hello by the way), Toby Jones, Kenneth Branagh and Robbie Coltrane. For an American, he certainly knew his British cinema.

On the topic of casting,  I think Cuaron's casting was ingenious. Not only did he cast the greatest living British actor in Gary Oldman as Sirius Black (who actually took the role because he needed the money, who would have thought?), but he also replaced the deceased Richard Harris with the fantastic Michael Gambon. Now, I don't want to disrespect the late Richard Harris (he truly is a remarkable actor), but I don't think he would've fit with the Dumbledore of the later books, who, lets face it, is a massive dick - but a loveable dick nonetheless. Who better to play that than the loveable dick that is Michael Gambon? It was a casting masterstroke from Cuaron. Also, Timothy Spall is outstanding as Wormtail. He is literally who I was picturing when I was reading the books. David Thewlis is incredible as my favourite character, Remus Lupin and Emma Thompson as Trelawney was fantastic. I think all the c
hildren inside us enjoyed seeing Pam Ferris aka Ms Trunchbull getting blown up as well! It was a masterstroke in casting.

It's also well known that Cuaron pushed Radcliffe, Watson and Grint to perform better as actors and it shows. If you go back and watch The Philosophers Stone and The Chamber of Secrets and then watch The Prisoner of Azkaban the acting is completely different. They're like different actors, the performances he gets out of these children is impressive, with Emma Watson as the shining star.

Azkaban's cinematography is beautiful too. You just have to watch the Buckbeak flying scene to realise the true beauty of Michael Seresin's work. It's everything you'd expect from a Cuaron film. Truly stunning film making.

It has to be said that Azkaban is easily the best book. There's a lot to get your teeth into - the time-travel, the mythical creatures, the marauders map and lots of new characters - but boy does Cuaron take a big bite. He was fully invested. He added his touch to the world of Harry Potter. He designed the tattoos on Sirius, he created the Hogwarts Bridge and he brought a brand new style and tone that just worked for Harry Potter. With that, he created one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. And without him, I don't think we'd see Voldemort looking the way he did, I don't think the final films would have been so dramatic and I don't think it would go down as one of the most consistent franchises in history.

He may have seen widespread acclaim with Children of Men and Gravity, but as a Potterhead, I thank Alfonso Cuaron for his work on The Prisoner of Azkaban.