Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is regarded by many as the best movie in the franchise. The credit for that goes largely to Alfonso Cuaron, who took the franchise is an entirely fresh direction. Now, the director says that it is fellow director Guillermo del Toro who is largely responsible for his decision to take on the project. In a conversation that took place while Cuaron was in talks, it was del Toro who pushed Cuaron to actually read the books, which changed his perspective on the entire project. According to Cuaron...
I talked with Guillermo, as I always do, and he says, 'What's happening? Any projects going on?' And I said, 'I'm going for Harry Potter, can you believe it?' And I even made fun of it. I hadn't read the books or seen the films. And then he looks upset with me. He called me flaco, that means skinny [in English]. He says, 'Fuckin' skinny, have you read the books?' I said, 'No, I haven't read the books.' He says, 'Fuckin' skinny, you're such a fuckin' arrogant bastard. You are going right now to the fuckin' bookshop and get the books and you're going to read them and you call me right away.' When he talks to you like that, well, you have to go to the bookshop.
Alfonso Cuaron had previously directed an adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations as well as the much-lauded Y Tu Mama Tambien for which he would receive an Oscar nomination. It seems the director might have thought that a movie like the Harry Potter series was somehow beneath him, but Guillermo del Toro called him out, calling him arrogant, and insisting that he actually read the material before he passed judgment on it.
Needless to say, it worked. Alfonso Cuaron did go to the bookshop and he called Guillermo del Toro back when he was halfway through the third novel, the one he would eventually adapt into a film. He got another earful from his friend, though, one assumes this time it was all meant with the best intentions. Cuaron tells Vanity Fair...
At that time, the fourth book had just come out. And I read the first two, and I was halfway through the third, [and] that was the one they had offered me. And I called him and said, 'Well the material's really great.' He says, 'Well, you see you fuckin' ...' I mean, it's just untranslatable from the Spanish.... As a filmmaker, it was almost like a lesson of humility, of saying how am I going to do it my own, but at the same time, respecting what has been beloved in those couple of movies?
Making it his own is certainly what Alfonso Cuaron did with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While the first two films had been translated pretty faithfully from the page, Azkaban takes more liberties with the story, but in doing so it makes for a more engaging story. In many ways, it's the film that really set the tone for what was to come in the franchise. One certainly has to wonder how things would have been different if Cuaron hadn't been set on the right path by del Toro. He might not have directed it at all or he might have done it, but without the same perspective on the material.
Alfonso Cuaron's new film, Roma, hits Netflix in December.