Nitpicking Movies: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Like its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban marked a potentially perilous place for the film franchise. Chris Columbus chose not to return as director. Richard Harris, who had played a perfect Dumbledore, died before filming began. A new director, a new cast, and a new visual style could have sunk the franchise.

Luckily, the third film of the series made very few missteps. While the style was definitely different from its predecessors, audiences largely enjoyed the changes. This not only turned Prisoner of Azkaban into a success, but laid the groundwork to allow new directors to make each future installment their own.

Yes, the Harry Potter movies seemed to turn every potential problem into a resounding victory. And that’s good – otherwise these nitpicks would seem mean-spirited rather than an opportunity to poke fun at a pretty solid film.

The Trouble with Time Travel

I’m going to get the end of the movie out of the way first, because it’s the only part of the film I really don’t like. I don’t have a problem with time travel in a story, but I do take issue when it’s done badly.

Time Turner
Time machines that aren’t bigger on the inside = hard pass.

Hermione has a time turner in this film, and it’s only real use is to bail the plot out when the characters get written into a corner. If time turners had an essential role in any other story in the series, that would be one thing. Instead, they all get destroyed later on, making them pointless.

But since this is about movie nitpicks and not a platform for me to get all nerd ragey, I’ll focus on a minor thing that bugs me. Specifically, Professor McGonagall gives Hermione a time machine so she can get more schoolwork done.

Clearly, McGonagall has taken some lessons from Dumbledore in how to be a terrible administrator. The movie establishes that time turners are potentially dangerous and heavily regulated by the Ministry of Magic. But apparently McGonagall is cool with potentially unraveling time and space as long as it allows Hermione to take extra classes.

And there’s no falling back on the logic of, “Well, Hermione is such a good student that we can trust her.” This is a 13-year-old kid who regularly hangs out with one of the school’s most notorious rule breakers. She got hospitalized last year because she screwed up a potentially dangerous potion.

Either McGonagall actively wants to destroy all of space and time or she had a lapse in judgment the size of Belgium.

The Werewolf Conundrum

Let’s talk about Professor Lupin. I could take another swing at Dumbledore for bringing a werewolf into Hogwarts, but is that really a bad decision? Yes, Lupin turns into a murder machine every full moon. On the other hand, the Hogwarts staff seems perfectly capable of controlling the affliction.

Professor Lupin
Clearly, he fits in perfectly with the rest of the Hogwarts faculty.

Every full moon, Lupin takes a break from his classes and allows Snape, who has been dying for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position, to serve as a substitute. Snape even brews a special potion for Lupin that keeps the transformation under control, so there are two layers of protection.

Granted, it does go awry, but mainly because of extreme circumstances involving a convicted murderer on campus. Once that danger has passed, there’s no reason to believe that Lupin can’t serve as a fine teacher with the protective protocols in place. Heaven knows the kids need a good Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

In a sane world, nobody would allow a potentially dangerous werewolf to serve as teacher. But the parent body in the wizarding world is 100% okay with having soul-sucking monsters posted at every school entrance, sending their kids to a school with a literal Forbidden Forest, and encouraging participation in the deadly game of Quidditch.

There are dozens of ways that students can get maimed and killed at Hogwarts. But the hypocritical parents of the wizarding world only get up in arms about a threat that the staff can keep under control.

What are Hagrid’s Credentials?

Look, I love Hagrid and think he’s a jolly good gamekeeper, but what exactly are his qualifications as a teacher? He never graduated from Hogwarts, and since a magical education seems to be the only thing that matters in the wizarding world, that means he’s probably lacking in the life skills area as well.

Hagrid Buckbeak
“Hey kids, wanna check out my flying death machine?”

His gigantic stature renders him practically invulnerable when dealing with dangerous beasts, so he lacks the basic sense of fear and mortality that his students require. He definitely has the knowledge required to teach the Care of Magical Creatures class, but lacks the communication skills needed to convey that information to his students.

I don’t mean to pick on Hagrid here, but his hiring doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny. This is another knock against Dumbledore as a headmaster. Either the wizarding world as a whole lacks competent teachers or Dumbledore consistently fails to attract top-tier professionals to his prestigious school.

We’re three films into this franchise, and I’m still trying to figure out why more people don’t call out Dumbledore for being rubbish at his job. He’s careless with his students’ safety, places little value on education, and uses his influence as headmaster to give his friends jobs for which they’re unqualified.

…you know what? Actually, that sounds an awful lot like a real-world headmaster. Nitpick withdrawn.

Does Anybody Communicate?

How much trouble could Lupin and Sirius have saved at the end of the film if, instead of embracing like old lovers, they had provided a quick explanation of what was happening? At the very least, Peter Pettigrew probably wouldn’t have escaped. Maybe they could even have made it home before Lupin got all werewolf-y.

Lupin and Sirius
Maybe postpone the hugging until after you explain that you’re not going to kill Harry, dude.

But no, the film just had to build a sense of drama in its waning moments. So instead Sirius refuses to use proper nouns when he shouts, “Let’s kill him!” And Lupin takes the time to make it seem like he’s been evil all along.

That said, I guess the alternative would have been to use the long and detailed explanation that Lupin provides in the book. I have my doubts as to whether the pages upon pages of exposition even worked in the novel, and I certainly think they would have killed audience interest in the film.

JK Rowling put so much detail into the world behind these stories that I can excuse the novels for running off occasionally on extraneous details that kill the pace of the narrative. Rowling seems like an RPG GM who just can’t wait to tell the players about her campaign setting. While I’m glad the movies made some changes to speed things up, I would totally play in a game with her if I ever got the opportunity to do so.


Images: Warner Brothers

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