Azkaban

10 Jun

So I went out to see Prisoner of Azkaban all by my lone wolf lonesome last night after work. It was either that or wait two weeks until Gloria had a free weekend.

POA, is of course, my favorite of the five books, and the first book I read *before* seeing the movie. Yeah, I’m one of those fans who came to Harry Potter first through the movies, and of course I sat through both of the first two going, “I don’t get it,” and “What just happened?”

The books are just so intricately complex, and if you’re going to capture any of that in a movie, you have to just leave out a lot of lengthy explanations of things and just expect the audience to fill in the blanks.

When did the first movie come out, December of 2001? It took me until September of 2003 to get around to reading the books. I admit I was a book snob. Anything *that* popular had to be lowest-common denominator tripe. And the movies didn’t much change my mind. Fun little fantasies, but chock full of credulity-straining wish-fulfillment (Harry’s little Cinderella tale, from cartoonish emotionally abused home life to incredibly!powerful!wizard!celebrity who seems to be able to get away with breaking all the rules) and deus ex machina endings (“Harry defeats Voldemort by some means he doesn’t understand, but luckily there’s Dumbledore afterwards to explain how he did it!”)

It was rahael who convinced me I needed to read the books. If she thought they were complex and interesting enough to be worth my time, then they must be.

And even though the books still have that cartoonish Cinderalla stuff and the deus ex machina endings, it all comes across much more satisfactorily. Harry’s celebrity works more against him than for him. He does face consquences for his mis-behavior. And the reasons Harry is able to defeat Voldemort are given much more explanation, and the reason they work the way they do is given complex back story built up in later books (like, for example, how he was able to mysteriously burn Prof. Quirrel in the first book is all related to how his mother saved him from Voldemort way back when).

But I’ve talked about all this before. The reason I liked Azkaban best of all the books is it doesn’t follow the formula of all the other books, where Harry eventually must face-off with some version of Voldemort and is aided by Dumbledore. This time, the bad guy is someone else, and of course the twist is that Sirius Black ISN’T the bad guy at all.

And of course, I *loved* the time-travel element, where all these events that happen which left you wondering at the time, “What was that? Where did that come from?” turn out to be Future Harry and Hermione’s actions in the past. It’s a similar thing to Rowling’s usual deus ex machina (“and suddenly something pops out of nowhere and saves Harry!”), but then we are given the reason *why* it happened, and the time-travel element used is so well-established earlier in the book without calling too much attention to itself, it’s very satisfying.

And of course, Azkaban was the beginning of my HP OTP (I swear one of these days, we’re going to communicate purely by acronyms), Sirius+Harry. And git your mind out of the prison cell, dweebs, it’s another one of my sentimental father-son ‘ships.

As for the movie version, I had the misfortune of running out of library books the other day and I decided to start re-reading PoA. I was up to the Leaky Cauldron chapter when I went into see the movie. So of course for the first few scenes, I was all in critical-comparison mode, going, “they didn’t build up how mean Aunt Marge was before Harry went all Dark!Willow on her”, and “The Knight Bus doesn’t avoid obstacles, obstacles avoid the Knight Bus!”

Well, I’m not going to dwell on book/movie differences. I get that squeezing a 300+ page book into a feature-length film means cutting corners and sometimes even inventing new things that can do in two minutes what Rowling takes two chapters to do in the book. Some people may not always agree with how the film-maker cuts corners, but you can’t really argue with the fact that he has to cut somewhere.

What disturbed me about the movie was how disjointed, gloomy, and grimy it all seemed compared to the first two books. The campus grounds and surroundings were obviously different from the first two movies, more gothic and raw (“wow, England really looks like that? And here I thought their forests were all neat as a pin”). The students running around in their muggle clothes or in disorderly-looking robes rather than looking all uniform. Everything was just a bit less glowy and neat and orderly and magical.

Which I get on a couple levels–new director, new visual vision, and, the older Harry gets the less simple his view of the world is. But I *liked* the kind of unreal, child-like fantasy quality of Hogwarts in the first two movies. I’m one of those grown-ups who still gets warm-fuzzies from Disney.

Oh, I’ll get used to the look after I watch the movie a few dozen times, no worries there. And the story-telling was good. They kept all of the elements in the book that I remember liking.

Of course, sometimes I still had trouble filling in the blanks, and had to scramble my brain to remember how something worked in the book so I could figure out what was going on on screen.

But watching the movie also helped me make sense of some things in the book that confused me at the time, like that whole scene in the Shrieking Shack. I have to admit I couldn’t tell Sirius and Snape and Lupin and Pettigrew from each other half the time. The movie made it simpler, maybe just by putting faces to names and allowing us to see the action rather than just imagining it.

So all is well in movie-land. Off to work.

8 Responses to “Azkaban”

  1. londonkds June 10, 2004 at 10:11 am #

    It’s a national thing
    I wasn’t aware of it while watching the film, but reading your post made me realise how much I liked the imperfection of the weather, scenery and so forth. For the first time it made me feel as if Potter was taking place in an alternate version of my own universe, rather than in an entirely fantastic one.
    (For example, from my experience, the weather in the Hogwarts Express sequence was what it’s actually like in the Scottish Highlands for most of the year.)

  2. neshaffer June 10, 2004 at 10:26 am #

    Re: It’s a national thing
    It was a bit disconcerting for me, partly because I’d heard all these glowing reviews of the visuals on this movie (from what little I would spoil myself for it), and wasn’t prepared for things seeming so… disjointed. I felt thrown off balance half the time. I guess I was expecting just better special effects or something, but the same sort of fantasy-looking school grounds, surroundings, etc. I knew the kids would be in muggle clothes more often from a few times I sneaked a peek at PoA websites, but that was last fall and I forgot about it.
    I’m like, “Wow these are real people living in a real place, I’m not sure I like that.”
    And don’t even ask me why I didn’t like that, my whole thing with the sci-fi and fantasy I read and watch is that I *want* to be able to imagine this is happening in *my world*, not some AU.
    As for the special effects, I didn’t find them any more impressive than the previous movies. Someone made a comment about how the Quidditch match in this movie made the ones in the previous movies seem two-dimensional, but it seemed pretty much the same for me. I loved the fast-paced up-down-all-around Quidditch matches from the previous two movies.
    Anyway.

  3. tyreseus June 10, 2004 at 12:51 pm #

    I saw it last night, too!
    In terms of tone and visuals, I thought the entire movie can be summed up in one scene. You remember when they’re in Hogwarts fairly early on and you get the happy little blue bird flying through the school. It’s a cliche Hollywood trick to say “isn’t this magical and wonderful, la la la!” But suddenly, our happy little blue bird flies into the whomping willow and * poof * little feathers float down from the tree.
    I was going to write my own review of the movie, but lost interest after two sentences. What bothered me most about the difference from book to movie was how much of Harry’s father was cut from the film. No mention was made of how Messrs Padfoot, Prongs, etc. were James Potter’s old gang. Lupin didn’t fill Harry in on the reason Black and James became animagus. And the most emotional moment of the book (for me) was when Harry learns that his patronicus animal is a stag – which was the animal James Potter turned into as an animagus. I really hope they have a directors cut that includes footage showing this. The movie kind of dropped some of the father/son hero worship Harry feels.
    Personally, when I’m paying $9 to see a movie, I’m okay with sitting through three hours of film if it means the story is told more completely. I may be the rare bird here, but that’s how I feel.

  4. neshaffer June 10, 2004 at 12:58 pm #

    Re: I saw it last night, too!
    Well, a lot of the missing stuff you mention is right-on, I noticed it, too, but I couldn’t remember if it was from book 3 or book 4 or what, so I didn’t dwell. It’s been many months since I read the books last.
    As for the happy blue-bird, I noticed *something* crashed into the tree, but not what, and so the audience was laughing, and I’m like… uh.
    Again, I don’t worry too much about the movie leaving out parts of the books. No one who hasn’t read Harry Potter is going to know what the *frick* is going on anyway, and those who have read it will fill in the missing bits.
    For me, the movies are all about having something to visualize when I read the books.

  5. buffyannotater June 10, 2004 at 4:17 pm #

    Re: missing parts
    An article in Entertainment Weekly this week confirmed that all missing mythology elements, such as the origin of the Marauder’s Map and Snape’s hatred of James and Co., will be included in upcoming films, so when all the films are viewed together, the story should be more or less complete. The filmmakers just decided for whatever reason that some of the details would work out better as revelations in later chapters of the story.
    Again, I don’t worry too much about the movie leaving out parts of the books. No one who hasn’t read Harry Potter is going to know what the *frick* is going on anyway, and those who have read it will fill in the missing bits.
    Actually, I went with a bunch of friends, most of whom hadn’t seen it, and everybody loved it and figured it out. They just had questions as to the significance of the stag, and why Harry thought it was his father. That’s something I think the film really should have included. It could have only taken a single line earlier on. “My father’s Patronus was a stag.” Doesn’t seem too hard. 🙂

  6. neshaffer June 10, 2004 at 4:24 pm #

    Re: missing parts
    See, I got the impression when I read the book that the reason Harry thought the person at the other end of the lake was his father was not just the Stag, but because, hey, dark hair and glasses, etc, riding into the rescue, it must be dad.
    *Still, most excellent movie* (insert fangrrl squees! here)
    Rob,
    You haven’t yet checked in over at . Are you still playing? We’re going to start the real actual planning in a few weeks, then the writing will commence, perhaps after Chicago.

  7. scrollgirl June 15, 2004 at 10:34 pm #

    What disturbed me about the movie was how disjointed, gloomy, and grimy it all seemed compared to the first two books. The campus grounds and surroundings were obviously different from the first two movies, more gothic and raw.
    I watched Chamber of Secrets twice on DVD before seeing PoA tonight, but now that you mention it, the scenery/settings do seem more dark and grim. More like the north of England than anything pastoral. I remember the fairytale snow and lights of the Christmas scene in CoS, which was just so beautiful.
    But I do like the gothic and raw too. I like that they’re not afraid to edge into the darkness.
    The movie made it simpler, maybe just by putting faces to names and allowing us to see the action rather than just imagining it.
    Which is one reason I’m not sorry I’ve seen the movie before I’ve read the books. Faces to names always helps me out. Especially when you’ve got a huge cast of characters the way most fantasy books do. Also, I’ve gotten so used to motion — too many years of television — that I think I needed to see Harry Potter in action to make him more real to me. Make his voice more real. His physical voice, I mean. Not his voice character-wise.

  8. neshaffer June 15, 2004 at 10:47 pm #

    Seeing the movies before reading the books was immensely helpful. BUT the movies skip over things that only readers of the books can fill in.
    So I suggest doing both in short proximity to each other!
    It’ll only get worse that way as the movies for books 4 and 5 come our way. Those books are so thick, a 2 1/2 movie will have to cut corners all over the place.

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