Saturday, June 05, 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I went last night to the late night show of Harry Potter. I read the series again in anticipation. We waited half an hour outside for the theater to reopen. Kids were dressed in Hogwarts uniforms. Excitement was high. The people in line compared favorite scenes, betting which would make the cut. Finally we walked in, found our seats, and cheered for the opening credits. There wasn't much cheering after that.

A different director, of course, makes a different movie. But the audience was anxious to be pleased. We laughed heartily at the first few slapstick jokes. There wasn't much laughter afterwards. For two and a half hours, the audience sat in stunned, horrified silence. We had no inkling that the song "Something wicked this way comes" could be referring to the film. There was audible grumbling when the director butchered scenes, and obviviated necessary plot points. At one point, someone said "what the h*ll?" and everyone agreed. We were relieved when the credits came and we could slip out in shock. Here, in far too many words, are what was wrong with Harry.

The Cinematography Every director has his own signature trademarks. This one seemed to be the inability to hold the camera still. In the entire movie, only two or three shots were holding. The rest was a constant pan or zoom. He'd zoom out just to zoom back in. The audience (mainly me) was getting seasick. It was distracting...but that was the easiest thing to get used to.

Changing Characters We all knew Dumbledore died, so he had to be replaced. No problem. But then Cornelius Fudge was changed from Bilbo Baggins, to All Creatures Great and Small. Why? One of Malfoy's sidekicks seemed to be missing, also.

Hair This was the show of bad hairdressing. Malfoy's hair was no longer slicked back, instead in a cool, teenpopicon look. The Weasley's as a whole were mutilated. Dumbledore's hair was shorter, and his beard was in a knot. Hermione had a haircut a book early. So much for next movie's major transformation in the Ball.

Wardrobe No Hogwarts robes in this movie. Hermione was in lowrise jeans, tight sweatshirts, and teeniebopper belts. Ron was very Goodwill. Harry, for no reason in particular, had clothes that fit him at the Dursleys. One could argue that they wore street clothes at Hogsmead. But since it's the only non-muggle settlement in Britain, I can't see why they wouldn't wear robes, even out of uniform. All the other wizards do.

No Quiddich One game is played, the storm one. Harry flies up into the clouds, gets attacked by dementers. It wasn't enough for him to fall 50 feet, he falls 500. And Dumbledore saves him.

Flying Why can't they just glide? And to top it off, you never hear Harry's mom screaming except as a bizarre special effect. You don't hear his dad at all. No flashbacks. Nothing. And they make sucking effect every time they come around. I was under the impression that they only suck when there's a kiss being administered. And no one explains that Dementers feed on human happiness. They tried, feebly, to show it once...but with no explaination later to back it up.

Major Plot Changes and Omissions These I could go on about forever. I'll tabulate.
1. Harry sees Peter Pettigrew on the marauders map, inside Hogwarts and follows him.
2. Buckbeak's assasination is nearly ommitted, and akwardly introduced in a needlessly overdramatic scene involving Hagrid and a lake.
3.Hermione's time changing is shown as apparating and disaparating. Even changing time she'd still have to walk into classes. And it is almost never mentioned, except for a few really obvious comments by Ron. Literally; "Where'd she come from? She wasn't there a minute ago? Was she?" Badly done, Emma, badly done.
4. Only Harry goes into the bar, overhearing the teachers' conversation about Sirius Black as the secret keeper.
5. Snape doesn't wear the invisibility cloak when he charges to the rescue. Only Harry hits him with the Expeliarmus spell. He is not levitated out of the whomping willow. He throws himself between Harry and the Wherewolf.
6. Major unnecisary changes of venue. If anyone wants to talk to anyone, they can't do it in Hogwarts, they have to go to a large bridge, or the lake, or the forest, or, or, or... Hagrid's hut is suddently down a long hill. So is the whomping willow. We spend a good portion of the movie watching the characters walk to and from places, mainly (it seemed) to show a stunning locale.
7. Harry's "I'm the king of the World" moment on top of Buckbeak.

Bad Directing No action is ever shown. Every scene that we would have liked to see is skipped, instead we watched the characters talk (badly) about what we haven't seen. Example: We don't see Scabbars and the Cat go at it. We never see the cat chase him. We don't see that Scabbers in getting thin an pale (and scabbers is remarkably four times the size of the rat in the first and second movie). All we hear is Hermione and Ron squabling over the presumed animal friction. Crookshanks is not present at the whomping willow. He is never nose to nose with the Grim. Crookshanks doesn't save Sirius from Harry.

Changed Lines When will directors ever learn that they can't write lines. Many memorable lines are saved from the book. Many interpolations are mismanaged. Harry, after the scene with the dementers and the patronus, tells Hermione, "I understand now. It wasn't my dad. It was me. I saved us. I suddenly knew that I could, since I had already done it." Duh. We'd just seen it. Some other famously bad lines. Hermione to Harry after the werewolf attack: "That was so scary!" Harry to Lupin, who asks him to think of different memory: "I have one, at least I think I do. It's complicated....I pictured my mom and dad. We weren't doing anything in particular. Just talking. I don't even know if that's a real memory. It's the best I have. (audible groans from the audience)" Let's think about it. Your parents died when you were one year old. I don't think you'd had any memorable chats with them before they snuffed it. There's more.

Oh, the angst... In general, it was too dark. Anything charmingly Hogwartian was conspicuously lacking. Most of the movie was Harry overacting, crying, raging, pitying himself, and Ron and Hermione badly overreacting. Ron got a particularly short stick...his role was mercilously butchered.

The Final Montage Harry, receiving a brand new Firebolt at the END of the movie, runs outside, jumps on his broom, flies towards the camera, and the shot freezes with him in an exultant grimace, with the logo to the side.

Honorable Mentions Themes from the score only made three appearances. There was schmaltzy music when there shouldn't have been, and none to cover overdramatic scenes. McGonagal was in two scenes, maybe three. The subtext of the assumed Ron/Hermione love interest was played WAY on top.

There's too much to mention. Go see it if you really have to, but I wouldn't recommend it. If you like the books, and liked the first two movies, skip it. The only way they could make the next one worse than this would be to have George Lucas Direct it.