NOTE: This post will contain spoilers. If you have read and/or seen Prisoner of Azkaban, you’ll be fine, but there is one spoiler for the later books/movies as well, which I’ve marked, so please be careful not to read that if you aren’t familiar with the whole series.
Ah, Harry Potter. My favorite series — of books, that is. The books are wonderful, engaging stories that can be read many times without getting old. Unfortunately, the film adaptations are another story altogether.
For me, about half of them are good, for various reasons: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Order of the Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows Part 1. I’ll probably do other posts detailing why I like these films, but for now, I’m focusing on the films that I dislike — specifically, the third film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was directed by Alfonso Cuaron (who recently won several Academy Awards for Gravity).
The book is absolutely spellbinding, and it contains, in my opinion, the cleverest and most awe-inspiring plot twists I have ever read in any story. Ever. Period. Thus, you can imagine how excited I was to see the story played out onscreen, especially after the first two films, which did not disappoint as adaptations.
But as soon as the credits began to roll, I went on a wild rant about how much I absolutely hated the movie I had just watched.
Now, I’ll say right off the bat that I do now appreciate certain aspects of the film. I specifically watched it again not too long ago so I could focus on finding things that I did like about it, and I wrote them down as I watched. Some of them are:
- Cinematography. The movie as a whole was filmed quite beautifully, and Cuaron did many creative things with the camera, making a visually intriguing film. He also did a fine job transitioning from scene to scene, which Chris Columbus — director of the first two films — admittedly struggled with.
- Music. John Williams’ third (and, unfortunately, final) Harry Potter score is absolutely breathtaking, and may just be the best of all eight film scores.
- The scene in which Harry rides Buckbeak for the first time. This scene blew me away the most recent time I watched the film, and gave me goosebumps. The sweeping score, the camera work, the ecstatic shout from Harry — it all adds up to what is one of the very best scenes in the entire film series. True movie magic right there.
- Several small things. The character of Stan Shunpike was done well; a nice scene between Harry and Professor Lupin that was not in the book, but was a rather welcome addition; Snape’s famous line “Turn to page 394;” Fred and George talking in turn and at the same time when they give Harry the Marauder’s Map; etc.
So I was definitely able to find some things I liked about this film. But that’s not what this post is mainly about. As I watched the film, I also wrote down everything that I didn’t like. I’ll start with the smaller nitpicks. Prepare yourself.
- “Lumos Maxima!” At the beginning of the film, we see Harry practicing this spell under his sheets. But students aren’t allowed to do magic outside of Hogwarts, or they risk expulsion. How on earth the filmmakers made this slip-up is beyond me.
- The Knight Bus. The appearance of the bus should have been much more dynamic and sudden. Instead, it basically just comes trundling down the street toward him, cool as you please. Meh.
- The talking shrunken head. This was a pretty stupid addition.
- Tom. The man who runs the Leaky Cauldron went from a gray-haired, kind-looking man in the first film to a bald, creepy hunchback in the third film. Seriously. What the heck.
- The Monster Book of Monsters. It has eyes and teeth. Some might say that’s a nice artistic touch. I say it’s just dumb.
- Fred and George’s hair. It goes to their shoulders, for crying out loud! And in the next film, Ron follows suit! Just awful.
- Lupin waking up on the train. Way too sudden and unrealistic.
- The choir. When the kids return to Hogwarts and enter the Great Hall, a bunch of students holding frogs sing at the front before Dumbledore speaks, with no explanation as to why Hogwarts suddenly has a choir. Kind of weird and stupid, if you ask me.
- The Fat Lady. Different actress, and she sings opera now! Yay! . . . Or not. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
- The bird. A somewhat lengthy shot of a bird flying around Hogwarts takes up valuable screen time which could have been used to include something more important.
- *SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS* Ron + Hermione. In the books, there’s not even the smallest hint of romance between any of the main characters until book four. In the third film, though, we have a couple of scenes with hints about the Ron/Hermione ship — Hermione grabbing Ron’s hand when Buckbeak first appears, for example. Sorry, Mr. Cuaron, but it’s too soon for that. *END SPOILERS*
- Random black kid. We see this kid a few times throughout the film, most prominently in the first Divination class scene. Who is he and where did he come from?
- Giraffes and hippos. We see both of these animals in some of the paintings around the Hogwarts staircase and . . . I don’t know, it just seems out of place to me.
- Galaxies in the Great Hall ceiling. The ceiling of the Great Hall is supposed to mirror what the sky outside looks like. You can’t see galaxies like that by just looking up at the sky. Another little “artistic touch” that only manages to irk me.
- Flying out of bounds. This happens in the first two films as well, which is one of my only gripes with them. Why on earth are the Quidditch players flying out of bounds in the films and not getting penalized for it? Why even have the borders around the field at all?
- The Grim in the clouds. In the book, Harry keeps seeing a dog everywhere which he thinks is the Grim — a legendary dog that haunts churchyards and is an omen of death. During the Quidditch game, he sees the dog sitting in the stands. As we all know, the dog turns out to be Sirius in dog form. In the film, however, during the Quidditch game, Harry sees clouds forming together to make the shape of the Grim, which makes no sense whatsoever, because one of the main points of the story in the book was that he was not seeing death omens.
- Flying dementors. Dementors don’t fly. They hover a little above the ground, but nowhere in the books are they described as being able to fly. It’s a small thing, but really, it does irk me.
- “Mooney.” It’s supposed to be spelled “Moony,” but you can see on the map in the film that it’s spelled like “Mooney,” which I’ve read was some sort of inside reference among the filmmakers — the nickname of someone, I believe. Again, it’s a small thing, but . . . don’t mess with the spelling for a dumb reason like that.
- Lollipop. When Harry gets to Hogsmeade, as he’s leaving Honeydukes under his Invisibility Cloak, he steals Neville’s lollipop! Since when is Harry a conniving thief and a jerk? And not only that, but we see the lollipop floating on its own, as if Harry didn’t pull it under the cloak with him. Um, hello? Since when is Harry stupid, not thinking that people will take notice of a lollipop floating down the street? Geez. Dumb, dumb, and dumber.
- Rosmerta. Her character is just all wrong. More on “wrong characters” in the section about bigger things.
- The “godfather reveal.” The scene in which Harry overhears Rosmerta, Cornelius Fudge, and McGonagall and learns that Sirius Black is his godfather goes much too quickly.
- “HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!” After Harry tells Ron and Hermione what he overheard, he yells this cheesy little bit of dialogue. However, it does at least create some good memes:
- Buckbeak’s execution. The explanation as to why Buckbeak is scheduled to be executed is kind of glossed over in the scene in which Hagrid breaks the news to the trio.
- Chasing Peter. Harry sees the name “Peter Pettigrew” on the Marauder’s Map, and goes out in the middle of the night to follow the map. Without his Invisibility Cloak. Excuse me?
- Professor Trelawney. Emma Thompson is a great actress, but there was just something “off” about her portrayal of Trelawney, in my opinion.
- Hermione quitting Divination. This scene was underdone.
- Who’s that kid with Malfoy? We see Malfoy with Crabbe in the scene where Hermione punches him, and there’s another kid with him. Is he supposed to be Goyle? If so, he looks nothing like him. If not, who is he and where did he come from?
- Hermione’s punch. In the book, Hermione slaps Malfoy in the face after he mocks Hagrid, but in the film there doesn’t seem to be as much of a reason for her to hit him. Maybe I need to watch it again to be sure.
- The werewolf. It looks. So. Stupid. Cuaron decided to make it look thin and sickly, in order to represent that lycanthropy is an illness. The result did not make me think that. It just made me think, “Wow, what a stupid-looking excuse for a werewolf.”
- Lake vs. pond. In the book, the big climax takes place by the lake. In the film, it takes place by a pond. Why?
- “Does my hair really look like that from the back?” Okay, look, you stupid people making this movie. Hermione couldn’t care less about what her hair looks like, ESPECIALLY in such a tense and high-stakes situation as trying to save Buckbeak while not being seen by their past selves or anyone else. GEEZ.
- “Yeah, didn’t think about that.” Hermione makes a wolf sound to try to draw away the werewolf from Harry’s past self. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Saving your life,” she says. The wolf heads in a different direction, and Harry says, “Thanks . . . except now it’s heading toward us.” And, before running, Hermione says, “Yeah, didn’t think about that.” Isn’t Hermione supposed to be the one who thinks about things?
- Harry gets the Firebolt at the end. Sure, that did make things simpler for the filmmakers, and I could have lived with it, but then they had that stupid freeze-frame of Harry at the end. Cheesy, much?
Okay, I think that about covers the smaller nitpicks. Now for the major problems.
- Dementors. Overall, they were done okay in this film. I have some nitpicks, though. As mentioned before, they fly. Also, you’re not supposed to be able to see their faces until they completely lower their hoods, but in the film there are at least one or two instances where you can see a bit of a dementor’s face under its hood. Meh. This might seem like a minor thing, but I put it with the major stuff because dementors are a big part of the story.
- The Dementor’s Kiss. Going right along with that, the Dementor’s Kiss is all wrong in the film. In the book, it’s described this way: the dementor lowers its hood, places its jaws on the mouth of the victim, and literally sucks out his or her soul. In the film, however, they changed it. Now the dementors basically go around and do something to people that looks like vacuuming their face or something — you need to see the film to know what I’m talking about. Not to mention, the Kiss (which is no longer really a “kiss” in the film) is never properly explained in the film, so the scene in which the dementors are trying to suck out Sirius’s soul doesn’t make much sense out of that context. Also, the first dementor Harry encounters tries to do it to him, for absolutely no apparent reason. Sometimes I really wonder what Cuaron was thinking — if he was thinking at all.
- Lupin, Sirius, & Peter. These three characters are very prominent and important to the series, but I feel that they weren’t done properly in the films. The actors who played them are good actors, but to me, they didn’t embody their characters properly.
- Dumbledore. Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore excellently in the first two films, unfortunately passed away just before the second film was released. His replacement, Michael Gambon, became a scar on the films that never went away. He’s a fine actor, but he simply doesn’t portray Dumbledore well at all. He never read the books, which at least partially explains why. Would it have been too much trouble, though, for Cuaron to have him emulate Harris’s style as much as possible?
The faux-Dumbledore, who would later go on to say “HARREH DID YAH PUT YER NAME IN THAH GOBLET OF FIYAH?!?!”
- Moving things around. In a move I will never understand, Cuaron made huge changes to some of the sets that Chris Columbus established in the first two films. Hagrid’s hut, for instance, is now no longer on fairly level ground not far outside the front of the castle, but is now situated at the bottom of a steep slope. Another example: the Whomping Willow. Completely different location from the second film. And the Fat Lady’s portrait, which leads into Gryffindor Tower, is not at the end of a corridor anymore. Now it’s at the top of a staircase. The worst thing about all of this is that it is never, ever explained. The stupid filmmakers just want you to go along with it. Well, I sure won’t. Thanks for trampling on Chris Columbus’s legacy, idiots.
- Lupin stopping Harry. In the boggart-fighting scene, Lupin stops Harry from confronting the boggart. But in the film, it doesn’t make any sense. In the book, Lupin stops Harry before the boggart can take shape, and so he explains later that he did that because he was afraid it might have taken the shape of Lord Voldemort, which might have caused a panic. Harry says that he thinks it would have taken the shape of a dementor, which is what we see in the film. So, this is how it goes in the film: Harry steps up against the boggart. It takes the shape of a dementor. Lupin stops him and fights the boggart off himself. Later, Harry asks him why he did that. Lupin says what he says in the book — that he was afraid it would have taken the shape of Voldemort. Now . . . how does that make any sense? Lupin saw the boggart turning into a dementor! Seriously. What a stupid mistake to make.
- The Shrieking Shack scene. Arguably the most important scene in the story, the film version is extremely rushed and underdone, no doubt leaving many audience members who haven’t read the book completely lost (my sister Amy was among them).
- Patronuses. A fully-formed Patronus always takes the shape of a particular animal, depending on who casts it. In the film, though, the concept of “shield Patronuses” is introduced. Take a look:
The “shield Patronus” in action. Also note the pond that I mentioned earlier.
Seriously. What. The. Heck.
- Muggle clothes. Sometimes, the kids do wear Muggle clothes. It’s not often — they’re wizards, for Pete’s sake, so most of the time they wear robes — but occasionally when they’re hanging out in the common room or about to embark on a dangerous trip through a trap door, they’re more casually dressed. Take a look at the kind of Muggle clothes the kids wore in the first two films:
- “You’re a bit scary sometimes. You know that? Brilliant, but scary.” – Ron to Hermione in the first film
See? Nice. Kind of shabby-looking, but that’s kind of the point. They’re wizards. They don’t set much store by Muggle clothes. Now, check out the getup that Cuaron approved for the trio in the third film:
- WHAT HAPPENED?!
Okay, I admit, Ron’s clothes look fine. But what’s with Harry’s modern-looking zip-up jacket? And Hermione is the worst. Denim? That colorful belt? That pink, zip-up, hooded jacket? Sorry, but this is just awful. Look, I know that a lot of people appreciated the transition, but to me, wizards should not care about modern Muggle fashion. These street clothes are way too hip for Harry Potter. It takes away a lot of the magic for me, and that might seem silly, but it’s true. Put the kids in robes for most of the film, and whenever they do wear Muggle clothes, do it like Columbus did. Oh, wait, too late for that now. *sigh* (Harry, by the way, would later go on to have Converse Hi-Tops as his choice shoe. Yes, the costume department went there.)
- The Marauders. This is the big one. The film NEVER, EVER explains who Moony (oh, sorry, Mooney), Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs are besides the creators of the Marauder’s Map. The whole fascinating backstory about the four of them is almost entirely absent. And speaking of the map, when Lupin confiscates it from Harry, Harry never asks “How do you know it’s a map?” So Lupin never says “I helped write it.” Oh, and not to mention, the significance of Harry’s Patronus being a stag is basically just thrown out the window. No plot point of Harry finding his father inside himself, as Dumbledore helps him see in the book. Now, all of this wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if it weren’t, you know, VERY IMPORTANT TO THE STORY?! Come on! Mr. Cuaron, why on earth did you choose to make this film about “becoming a teenager” and not about what was really integral to the story?
- This is basically what I looked like after I saw the film for the first time.
Well, there you have it. THAT is why, in my opinion, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the worst of the eight films. Now, objectively speaking, one or two of the other films might be worse adaptations, but I dislike this one the most because it was the first bad film in the franchise. The first two were wonderful, and then this came along and pretty much brought the whole series to a slog that rarely went away.
You might say I’m too picky. You might even argue that the film is the best of them all. And you know what? That’s okay. I’m not asking anyone to agree with me on all of this. I’m just ranting. I do hope you enjoyed the rant whether you agree with me or not!
Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on all of this? Sound off in the comments!
ADDENDUM — *WITH SAME SPOILERS AS BEFORE*: Someone rightly pointed out to me that I’m incorrect about Cuaron introducing the Ron + Hermione ship too soon. It was really Chris Columbus who did that. Remember how at the end of the second film Hermione runs to Harry and gives him a hug, but when she approaches Ron they just shake hands awkwardly? Well, I’d kind of forgotten about that, so I guess I can’t blame Cuaron for just building on that. *END SPOILERS*
FURTHER ADDENDUM, NO SPOILERS: I forgot to mention one other big problem I have with this film. Many people love it because it was the first “dark” Harry Potter film. Well, in my opinion, it was too dark, and too soon. The third book isn’t nearly as dark as the third film tried to be, and the series doesn’t truly descend into darkness until toward the end of the fourth book. So . . . yeah, there’s that too. *nods*