Review by Andrew Klay:
Soundtrack Review #3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Composer: John Williams
As the third installment in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban may not initially draw the most attention, but its score sets itself apart from the rest. After a knockout score chock full of new themes in the first Harry Potter film, John Williams was faced with the challenge of reinventing himself twice more.
This proved a difficult task as it would be the first Harry Potter film with a new director, as well as a new actor for a major character, Albus Dumbledore. As director, Alfonso Cuarón gave the film his own look and style, but had to retain certain elements as set forth in the first two movies. John Williams became the important link in the chain to preserve the “spirit of Harry Potter” by continuing its rich musical tradition. It is, in my opinion, his greatest Harry Potter score, but unfortunately also his last.
The soundtrack showcases many new themes and ideas. “Aunt Marge’s Waltz” features unconventional, perhaps even opposite music that one might consider for such a dire situation. As Harry uses his magical powers in revenge to “blow up” his uncle Vernon’s portly sister, sending her floating out of the house into the sky, John Williams writes an almost carousel-like waltz, giving the scene a lighter and more humorous feel. This accurately conveys the emotion readers infer from the book—whimsical poetic justice rather than intense desperation.
Next of interest is “Buckbeak’s Flight,” which I consider one of the finest pieces of John Williams’ career. It accompanies the scene in which Hagrid sets Harry off on a flying hippogriff (a creature half horse and half eagle). Harry and Buckbeak soar over an enormous shimmering lake near the castle, forming a bond of friendship that will save them both in the end. Williams begins with a pulsing, intense drum solo, “the takeoff,” followed by a surge of radiant strings and harp, supported by noble brass. The strings swell to a cymbal crash as Harry experiences the adrenaline rush of flight, seeing his own reflection in the water. This makes the scene all the more glorious and majestic. The melody then simmers down as the two land back to safety.
A key theme of the film is Harry’s longing for his parents, particularly his mother. This is tenderly illustrated in “A Window to the Past,” a scene in which Harry learns more about his mother from Professor Lupin on the bridge. This theme, played initially by recorder and harpsichord, is repeated in various forms throughout the film. These instruments place us in the Medieval setting of Hogwarts and reveal a yearning on the part of Harry to feel closer to his departed parents.
Finally, don’t miss the last track on the CD, entitled “Mischief Managed.” John Williams decided to score the end credits in such a way as to reincorporate all the major themes from the film, making the viewer want to stay in the theater until the bitter end. These themes are craftily woven together by new score and appropriate variation of it. And of course, it ends triumphantly with “Aunt Marge’s Waltz.”
This soundtrack is a “must own,” giving fuel to the Harry Potter fire and doing justice to its story, in fact taking it to new heights. I don’t understand why John Williams stopped scoring Harry Potter after this film—if it was a directorial decision, it sure was a bad one. To me, the music of this film makes The Prisoner of Azkaban the last great Harry Potter film.
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