I have always felt that the original album presentation for Prisoner Of Azkban was somewhat lacking, and now that the complete score to the film has finally been released (hats off to La-La Land Records) I can safely say this; the word “lacking” doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was one of the most highly anticipated expanded score releases for years, as it is arguably the best Harry Potter score as well as one of John Williams most outstanding compositions. Film score fans were desperate for it, not only because of the chance to get their hands on previously unheard Potter music but also because of how…underwhelming the original 2004 soundtrack album was. There were large portions of the score missing, which is usually normal (as you can’t fit a hundred and fifty minute score on an eighty minute CD) except for the fact that these missing portions were amazing, and leaving them out made the album feel unfinished. Themes weren’t fleshed out, critical movie sequences were missing and some bizarre alternate cues were used instead of the far better film versions. All-in, Azkaban desperately needed an expanded release.
When La-La Land Records then announced complete releases for the first three Potter movies, I practically jumped for joy. At the time, I had already written reviews for the first two, so it seemed silly to do them again (especially since the original album presentations were rather good) – but, I hadn’t gotten around to Azkaban yet. With the score now finally getting the elaborate release we’d all been begging for, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to tackle a review. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
One of the first things that the producers of the release stated before release was that every piece of music heard in the movie would be on the album. They get off to a good start with Lumos! (Hedwig’s Theme), the film version of the track heard in the original 2004 presentation. The iconic theme for Harry Potter (it’s called Hedwig’s Theme, but it’s for Harry, let’s be honest) is played out in a rather suspenseful and mysterious style, letting you know that this film is a bit darker tonally than the previous two. Backing strings then start to appear, and the theme builds up to rather dramatic form as the main titles appear onscreen before the track then draws to a close.
Parents Portrait then introduces the Window To The Past theme, a recurring motif that pretty much plays the role of main theme for the entire score (since Hedwig’s Theme takes a bit of a backseat). It’s a rather solemn yet also kind of hopeful piece of music, as in the movie it primarily represents the moments where Harry thinks about and remembers his deceased parents, as well as his various interactions with their old school friends Remus Lupin and Sirius Black.
The Knight Bus was one of the standout cues of the original album presentation, and here it gets a much desired and indeed long awaited extended edition. The track begins softly with rather light-hearted strings and percussion, until Williams’ suddenly then goes all-in with fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat jazz instruments and backing percussion. This continues for a good couple of minutes, and overall makes for a very un-Harry Potter but highly enjoyable piece of music.
Befriending The Hippogriff is a welcome piece of unreleased music, starting off with a soft rendition of the Double Trouble theme before moving into some slow and rather relaxing strings. The track works excellently as an introduction for the next cue, the simply wonderful Buckbeak’s Flight. Here John Williams goes all out; rapid strings, dramatic percussion and breathtaking brass all come together for one of the greatest pieces of music of the entire Harry Potter franchise.
The Window To The Past theme then returns in On The Bridge/Remembering Mother, another previously unreleased cue that does a great job of helping flesh out this fantastic motif (after all, it didn’t appear nearly enough in the 2004 album) using slow and rather solemn sounding strings. A Walk In The Woods then begins in a similar vein, this time using woodwind instruments in combination with the strings to play out the theme in a slightly sadder tone. We then get a bit of a treat a minute or so in as the motif is wonderfully combined with Hedwig’s Theme to create something of a “crossover episode” between the two pieces of music. Considering how tonally different they are, it is pretty amazing to hear these two themes working so perfectly together, but I suppose that’s John Williams for you; a truly masterful composer.
The track I had been anticipating the most for this release is up next; Summoning The Patronus. It opens with somewhat sinister vocals, before strings then turn this mood into pure fear as Harry faces the Boggart Dementor for the first time. The music then relaxes slightly before building rapidly back up into the creepy strings, and suddenly the moment I was waiting for arrives; loud vocals drown out the strings and after a few seconds the Window To The Past theme is played out in an epic, heroic and brass-based rendition. It’s a simply mind-blowing moment in the score, and finally hearing it outside the movie here was just sublime.
The darker side of Prisoner Of Azkaban then makes a return in Buckbeak’s Fate and the Marauder’s Map, this time in its creepiest manner yet. Slow and rather ominous percussion starts the cue off, playing a brief rendition of Peter Pettigrew’s Theme (a motif previously introduced in Monster Book/Discussing Black) before moving into somewhat scarier territory as strings start to appear in the background, becoming more prominent as the music goes on. The speed and intensity of the track begin to rise in that “something’s coming” musical style, and brass instruments then start to emerge as the build up of tension reaches its climax, and the track then ends.
Another welcome appearance is made by the Window To The Past theme in Sirius and Harry, a rather peaceful and slightly hopeful strings-based track that plays as Sirius and Harry have a heartfelt discussion in the movie. Towards the end, a few notes of Hedwig’s Theme are intertwined with notes from Window To The Past, and like with A Walk In The Woods the two motifs work very well together, kind of bringing the three John Williams Potter scores full circle.
The score’s finale then begins with The Werewolf Scene, where Williams ramps up the rapid strings and dramatic brass for the action packed ending to the film. His signature musical style really shows here, as the action here sounds very similar to not only previous Potter movies but also the likes of Star Wars and Indiana Jones (not that this is a bad thing though, those scores are fantastic). The Dementors Converge then transitions the tone from action to horror with intense brass and ominous vocals, and after a few minutes then ends on a rather sad and defeated note.
Time Past/Saving Buckbeak is another highly sought after track, only having had a brief appearance on the original 2004 album. Here however it gets the recognition it deserved, with a full ten minute runtime. It truly is a wonderful piece of music, and Williams’ use of a literal ticking clock (to represent the Time-Turner) throughout the track is simply masterful. Buckbeak Saves The Day/Watching The Past then kicks the score back into its more action oriented side, bringing back the rapid strings and epic brass. After a minute or so, one of the best moments of the entire score then occurs; the vocals from The Dementors Converge play again, this time however with a very heroic rendition of the Window To The Past theme playing over the top as Harry casts his Patronus. With this expanded edition of the score that theme has now had the fleshing out it deserves, making this appearance in the finale even more epic (as the entire album has basically been building up to this point).
The incredible music from Buckbeak’s Flight then makes a return in The Rescue Of Sirius, another highly anticipated unreleased track. The loud brass, swift percussion and breathtaking strings all make a magnificent and indeed welcome return here. It was simply a crime not to include this piece on the original album release, but here it is at last, and it’s glorious.
The standout cue of this release then closes out the score; The Firebolt And End Credits Suite. While not actually the film version of the end credits track, it still provides a fantastic finale to this soundtrack as well as John Williams’ music for the Harry Potter franchise (as sadly Prisoner Of Azkaban was his last Potter score). The cue opens with a welcome and spectacular cameo appearance from the Nimbus 2000 theme, followed swiftly by a rather triumphant brass-based rendition of Hedwig’s Theme. The suite then properly begins with a strings heavy and vocal-less playthrough of Double Trouble before moving into the slow and sweeping Window To The Past theme that once again gets wonderfully interlaced with the opening notes of Hedwig’s Theme. It’s here however where the score differs from the movie, this time moving away completely from the darker tone of Prisoner Of Azkaban and instead using a good three minutes of the back half of Hedwig’s Theme from the first film. This decision was an amazing one, as it combined with the rest of the suite perfectly brings all of the major elements of John Williams’ Harry Potter scores together for one last hurrah as the maestro bows out.
Overall, La-La Land Records expanded release for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is nothing short of spectacular. All of the unreleased tracks that we have been waiting years for are here, and these combined with the rest of this fantastic score makes for a hell of an album experience. John Williams’ exceptional compositions for the film finally get the fleshing out they deserve (particularly the Window To The Past theme) and because of this they sound even better versus the original 2004 album release. Prisoner Of Azkaban is one of the composer’s best scores, and with this expansion it finally gets to be the incredible ending to his role in the world of Harry Potter that it frankly always should have been.
A big thank you to La-La Land Records. You guys really are the greatest.
Standout Cue: 41. Firebolt and End Credits Suite