This is late, so let’s just jump right into it, hm?
[This post contains spoilers for the third book and movie.]
Know me at all and it’s easy to guess that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book of the series. It includes two things I enjoy across all fiction — werewolves and a closed time loop. It introduces some of my favorite characters, and, I didn’t realize it until much later, but it’s also the only installment that doesn’t accumulate in a big boss battle with Voldemort. It ends in suspense. It ends in both hope and dread. It’s awesome.
Of course, the more you love the source material, the more critical you’ll be of any adaptation, and so I think this was where I started getting very, very purist about the whole movie thing. I didn’t really think the seven years it’s been since I last saw this movie would change my mind about it, and ho! I was right. But that’s not for lack of trying. I’ve not disliked any of these movies for lack of trying.
The film opens with the first obvious sign that continuity between the screen adaptations is going to be an uphill battle from here on out. Because Harry’s time with the Dursleys is always so abbreviated and abrupt, he was never warned for his (ahem, Dobby’s) underage use of magic in Chamber of Secrets. This wouldn’t have been an issue to me if Harry didn’t insist on worrying about his potential arrest over his accidental “blowing up” of Marge. I mean, in the very first scene, he’s using magic under his bed covers (poorly, I might add; it annoyed me that a third-year Hogwarts student couldn’t manage a proper Lumos, you know?). Sure, making light isn’t as severe as blowing up your aunt, but magic is magic, right?
This really has nothing to do with purism at all. It doesn’t matter to me that the events here don’t play out as they did in the book. But you can’t just show the audience one thing and tell them something different five minutes later! Unfortunately, the new director, Alfonso Cuarón, does a ridiculous number of times in this movie.
I had enjoyed Dan Radcliffe’s acting as Harry in the first two movies, but Harry doesn’t really get angry in the first two movies, and it would seem that Radcliffe took pointers from Tom Felton in regards to this particular emotion. Harry goes from a flippant and sarcastic kid to OMG I’M GONNA BLOW YOU UP WITH MY RAGE in half a second. This isn’t unrealistic necessarily, but Harry’s outburst comes off as unnatural and forced, lacking sincerity. This is made worse by the dramatically slow rate at which Marge’s size increases. If Harry’s rage was truly explosive, I would imagine that Marge would have grown very quickly for a very short time, stopping as soon as Harry realized what he was doing. That would make too much sense, huh?
It also really bothered me was that they had dog!Sirius snarl and bare his teeth at Harry in the following scene. That takes away the ambiguity that needed to be there. I don’t care that they changed up the Knight Bus a bit (Stan Shunpike managed to be entertaining enough), but I think they spent too much time there — especially as the next couple of scenes at the Leaky Cauldron felt hurried and mashed together. They did cover everything I felt needed to be covered, though Mr. Weasley’s chat with Harry seemed a tad awkward, and the rushed pacing served as more of a forewarning than the actual warning did.
The casting of a mustached David Thewlis as Remus Lupin didn’t bother me nearly as much this time around, possibly because my shameless bishounen headcanon of the character isn’t as insecure anymore? He plays the part well enough, after all. Dumbledore on the other hand…
Physical appearance aside, the main reason I prefer Richard Harris to Michael Gambon as Dumbledore is his demeanor. I think Harris always managed to capture the headmaster’s serenity very well — he exuded calmness and wisdom, and it was easy to see why just about every other character took comfort in his presence, his words, and endearing quirkiness. Gambon is simply too serious. His Dumbledore rarely smiles, and he seems more weary and tired, less inspiring and reassuring. This might be unfair since Gambon takes over the role just as things get “darker,” just as a murderer is on the loose, just as dementors are sent to the castle. He has reason to be serious, but still.
Classes at Hogwarts go by at breakneck speed, desperate to cram in all the necessities in as little space as possible so as to leave room for an overdose of premature Hermione/Ron drama. The boggart lesson with Lupin begins well enough (though I have no idea why all four Houses are present; there should only be two Houses per class — these discrepancies with canon aren’t important, no, but they’re mystifyingly pointless). We get our Snape in a dress and the class proceeds… but Harry is at the front of the line with his friends, rather than in the back. This means that Harry does, in fact, face the boggart and it manages to change into a dementor before Lupin intervenes. Then, five minutes later, in another scene, Lupin correctly guesses that Harry wants to know why he didn’t let him face the boggart! Lupin answers that he feared that the boggart would turn into Voldemort, despite having already seen it turn into a dementor instead!
Good job! Strike two, Cuarón! Let’s continue to show the audience one thing and then tell them another!
The first time I watched this movie, I remember thinking Buckbeak’s flight sequence was very superfluous, especially since so many other things are terribly rushed. This second time though, I recognize that especially with so many other rushed scenes, the audience really needs some time to breathe, and that’s what Buckbeak’s flight provides — I think basically every movie has it’s own version, with some flying creature (Hedwig, the dragon, etc) giving the audience a nice overview and fly around the castle grounds. It’s a good break to enjoy the scenery and maybe not think about how so many things are already wrong. (The hippogriff’s foreleg anatomy bothered me, but hey, weird mythical creatures, what can ya do.)
Then Buckbeak touches down and we’re faced with Felton’s awful acting again. Draco’s
kind of hot now appearance is a sharper and more richboy refined in this movie, but his overbearing, shallow, and unnaturally forceful portrayal of the character is just… painful to watch, honestly. There is no variation to Draco’s emotions — he is either a shamelessly arrogant snot or he is a cowardly wuss. There is nothing in between and transitions between them are sudden and cheesy. Draco is nearly as useless as Ron! (But Ron is more entertaining to watch — you tell those spiders, Ron!)
Fred and George introduce the all-revered Marauder’s Map in a cliche twinspeaking fashion, but it’s all in good fun. The map itself looks amazing. In fact, I would say that the map is the most impressive visual element in the film, ahead of Buckbeak and certainly above that other mythical creature later on… So Harry sneaks into Hogsmeade and overhears the game-changing conversation. Many details are omitted here. I suppose most of them aren’t really that important, but it’s very disappointing to me that basically everything about the Marauders in general is cut. :c Radcliffe’s emotional outburst in the snowy clearing could have been better, but his anger there is much more convincing than it had been in the Dursleys’ kitchen.
Harry spotting Pettigrew on the map is the first of two notable story changes that Cuarón makes in his movie. Shockingly, I don’t actually mind either of them. For this, it gives Harry reason to be suspicious much earlier, which is good for convincing purposes, since Lupin and Black have much less time to actually explain things later on. However, after Harry is caught, despite his various other insinuations, Snape does not seem to imply that Lupin gave Harry the map. The Marauders’ identities are never revealed in this movie (or any subsequent movies, as far as I can recall at the moment), which is, again, terribly disappointing. If nothing else, I think would have highlighted the idea that James Potter and Sirius Black were bffs, which I feel is important considering how quickly Harry comes to trust Sirius later, and for establishing the basis of Sirius and Harry’s relationship in general. In any case, explaining the Marauders couldn’t have taken more time than injecting all of that hilariously awkward Ron/Hermione romantic drama.
This is me favoring long-term continuity and understanding over short-term entertainment though, and really, that preference probably summarizes every negative opinion I have regarding these movies.
Because the mystery elements of Prisoner of Azkaban are severely downplayed in the film, the climatic reveal of Peter Pettigrew felt… anticlimatic. I’m glad the foreshadowing with Scabbers and Crookshanks managed not to get cut, but Harry’s rage towards Sirius did not have long to fester, and well… we’re not treated to a delightful tale of the Marauders’ youth, are we? The trio is far too easily convinced given the complete lack of explanation of anything — even with Pettigrew hiding out as a rat for twelve years, the biases stacked against the mass-murderer and misleading werewolf. The trio, and the audience, are surely owed a better explanation?
Indeed, I think all of the juicy tidbits about James and Sirius and Lupin and Snape are what make this part of the story so satisfying. Till now, we’re very focused on the current state of affairs — on Harry’s present — rather than all that happened before. But all that happened before is important; the relationships of the characters that came before, and how they played into the grander scheme of things: Voldemort’s rise to power. These are the things that emphasize that the story of Harry Potter is, in fact, bigger than Harry Potter.
The decision behind cutting these details probably falls into the category of “it can’t be helped” (しかたない!), and I suppose I can accept that well enough, but that doesn’t dammit, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. This resignation leaves the rest of this post rather abbreviated though.
I’m… just not even going to get into how much I hate the CGI werewolf and argsdasdghajsh, why doesn’t he have a goddamn tail!? He looks like an deformed man-rat with mange. /cry
Cuarón’s other notable story change is the details of the time loop, specifically where Hermione calls Lupin away from Harry and Sirius. To me, the addition of the “werewolves only respond to the calls of other werewolves” line stuck out like a sore thumb in Hermione’s earlier exchange with substitute Snape, but whatever, it works! Seven years ago, I recall feeling it was actually a little clever, but now I’m mostly indifferent. But hey, here we are again emphasizing the Hermione saves Harry’s life every day while Ron is useless time and time again: “Sorry Ron, but you can’t walk!”
Funny thing though, the last time I read the book, I picked up this canonical plot hole: if Lupin had been studying the map while the trio met Hagrid in his hut (and that’s where he saw Peter on the map), then he reaaaaally should have seen the time-traveling doubles of Harry and Hermione too since they were right there. Whoops!
Other miscellaneous complaints:
- Lupin’s weird, awkward and out of place monologue about Lily. I think it’s kind of funny when director’s try to insert their own ships though.
- “You have your mother’s eyes, Harry!” I’m half-convinced they actually had characters say this to mess with me. Yes, yes, yes, it isn’t hard to just say that Lily has blue/slate eyes in movieland. Shush.
- Why does “Expelliarmus” send Snape flying against the wall when it properly disarms everyone else by sending the target’s wand flying out of their hand?
- Missing: “What we need is more time.” I just really liked that line.
- Oh yeah, that Firebolt. Might need that. *inserts awkwardly*
- That Trelawney’s prediction comes true isn’t reflected upon. Peter reuniting with Voldy kind of important. A lead-in for movie four? We don’t need that!
- Oh, whatever. I give up on this movie.
Convention last weekend threw me off this rewatch schedule, sadly. As such, it seems I’ll be seeing Deathly Hallows late again because I want to finish my rewatches before going in for that last hurrah. Not entirely sure why. This is what I remember about the four movies I still need to rewatch:
- Goblet of Fire: it’s boring
- Order of the Phoenix: hatehatehate worse movie yet
- Half-Blood Prince: HATE new worse movie yet
- Deathly Hallows, part 1: it’s okay