CULTURE

Harry Potter reveals darker side

LONDON – People may be tiring of sequels and now, with the new Harry Potter movie out, they may be saying, «How much more magic can there be?» But the difference between this sequel and others is that it is not really a sequel at all, because the story was not written just to accommodate an extension of previous movies, but existed already in J.K. Rowling’s book. «Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban» is the third in the writer’s series about the clever young wizard and there are indications that the series will reach seven titles, maybe even eight. The film version of «Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban» is opening in Greek theaters today, following a three-month delay compared to other countries. Advertising billboards have been posted around Athens all through the summer announcing the opening, while in most other countries of the world audiences have been wowed by Harry Potter’s darker, more profound side since early June. In the latest film, melancholy Harry Potter feels cut off from his roots more than ever before. The rift between himself and his uncle’s family is conclusive. In «Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban» the wizard comes face-to-face with his greatest fears, the Dementors, grim wraiths that suck out people’s souls. And as if this threat is not enough, Harry is being pursued by a darker, more malignant enemy: Sirius Black (played by Gary Oldman), who has escaped from Azkaban Prison where he was being held for his involvement in the murder of Harry’s parents. While the filming of the fourth movie had already begun, the producers of «Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban» held a press presentation in London’s Whitehall Palace – complete with decor from the set of the film and with some 300 members of the international media. The newest arrival on the production team is Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, who was drafted after the success of his 2001 film «Y Tu Mama Tambien.» But while that film was very much about sexuality, he promises there is nothing X-rated in the Harry Potter film, even though it does touch upon some themes of adolescent awakenings. Despite his troubles and the foes he has to vanquish, Harry Potter, the director assures us, remains magically pure. After finishing «Y Tu Mama Tambien,» Cuaron saw what it was in the Harry Potter story that touched him. «I became connected to the story when I realized, after reading the book, that it is about a child looking for his identity.» As far as the dark side of the story is concerned, which strays from the naive world of the first two films, Cuaron says: «The dark character of the film comes straight from the material in the book. There is something different in comparison to the other two films, but that is in the book. Actually, I tried to balance this difference out a bit.» Director’s license Fanatical Harry Potter readers will note that the film of «The Prisoner of Azkaban» is not as faithful to the book as the previous two films were. This time around, Rowling took a step back and gave the producers and the director more freedom in handling the material. «After having reached the third film, we decided that we had to think of the film itself and make it shorter,» explains producer Chris Columbus. With Cuaron in the director’s chair, Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films, stuck to the role of producer this time around. «I needed some peace and some time to spend with my own children,» he admits. «When you are just the producer you can step back and watch others work. I was a little bit disappointed at the beginning of shooting – a director never likes to be on set with nothing to do.» The film was also a new experience for Gary Oldman (he is joined in the cast by, among others, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Peter Best and Timothy Spall), who discovered another side to his celebrity: «As soon as it was announced that I would also be playing in the film, I became an instant hero at my kids’ school,» says the actor. The three young stars of the Harry Potter series – Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, and Rupert Grint, who plays Ron – seemed not to have become fully accustomed to all the attention they attract. This comes as little surprise since most of the questions directed at them were inane; about school, or what they like to do in their free time. Their old cast members, however, who never went to a school as magical and exciting as Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had no happy memories from their student terms. «Do I still remember any of my teachers? Not a single one. I hated them all,» says Oldman. Sir Michael Gambon, who took over the role of Professor Dumbledore after the death of Richard Harris, said: «I don’t remember one single good thing about school. All I remember are the beatings.»