I’ll let you in on a little secret:
I have loathed the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban from the moment I saw it in theaters.
I’m not sure if a lot of people feel the same way, but Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the greatest books in the series (in my opinion, at least), so I had high expectations for the film. At that point, I hadn’t read the rest of the series yet.
And I walked out of the theater very angry.
Part of that anger came from the stylistic changes from the new director. The Hogwarts grounds looked different, the clothing was different, the wands were different, etc. The new style stayed pretty much the same for the rest of the films, and it’s what most Harry Potter merchandise is based on now. Now that I’ve had time to consider it and appreciate it, I do think that some of the changes do a better job at capturing the whimsical element that I so love about the books, like the different wands. But I still hate that the students wear modern clothing. It feels too…close to the ordinary world. (And I mean, there are numerous funny parts throughout the books where wizards struggle to understand Muggle clothing, so all that is lost).
So, okay. I understand that everyone has their own interpretation of Hogwarts and the wizarding world. My interpretation is different than what is portrayed, but that’s okay.
But there were other things that Prisoner of Azkaban did that I didn’t like.
1) Not Enough Quidditch
Okay, I’m glad there was at least a scene of Quidditch in the film, but I feel like it was such a major part of the book. (Maybe that’s because the actual plot of this year was a little less involved than the other books, but that’s not the point.) The Quidditch tournament is where we’re introduced to Cho and Cedric, which leads perfectly into Goblet of Fire.
2) “Magical” Effects
Am I the only person that hates the scenes with the bird and the Whomping Willow? I get that these are there to show us the passage of time and to keep the Whomping Willow fresh in our minds, but they seem painfully unnecessary to me. And I hate how the bird just poofs…unless it’s some kind of magical species I’ve never heard of, I don’t know why that would ever happen.
There are a lot of other little effects thrown into the movie to make it seem more magical. The guy in the Leaky Cauldron stirring his tea without touching it, Professor Dumbledore and Professor Lupin lighting candles with a wave of their hand, the talking head on the Knight Bus, etc. I get that this brings the magical element of the movies alive. But most of it just feels so wrong. Wizards aren’t supposed to be able to do specific spells without a wand! That’s why they have wands! Just because there is magic in this world doesn’t mean there aren’t rules to it.
3) No Marauders Explanation
Deacon has never read most of the Harry Potter books, so I quizzed him after watching it the other day to see how apparent this was. I asked him who created the Marauder’s Map, and he said moony, wormtail, padfoot, and prongs, but when I asked him who those people were, he was stumped. Because the movie does not tell you outright…it only implies. Someone leaving the theater might wonder how Professor Lupin knew about the map, or how they both knew about the entrance to the Whomping Willow, or how they can all turn into animals. The movie completely skips over the actual explanation, which is a shame because it’s the best chapter in the book.
It’s also a bit confusing to people who haven’t read the book because after this movie they almost exclusively refer to Peter Pettigrew as Wormtail, and will also sometimes call Sirius Padfoot. But they never come out and say that they created the Marauders Map, and they don’t say anything about becoming animagi to hang out with Lupin during the full moon.
So these things made me hate the Prisoner of Azkaban film for a long time. But when I reread the book earlier this year, I kind of had a change of heart. The movie is actually a fairly accurate (though condensed) version of the book. Sure, they leave some stuff out, but that’s always going to happen. I still don’t like that they leave out so much about the marauders, but I can appreciate when movies don’t spoon-feed their audience. The Harry Potter books are really marketed towards young readers, so it makes sense for the explanations to be a bit more apparent. It’s more acceptable for films to leave things implied.
And there are a few other things that I think the movie gets right:
- The scene with Aunt Marge is exactly how I pictured it.
- Everything with Buckbeak is done really well, and I love the scene they added with Harry riding him across the lake.
- Professor Trelawney and the Divination class is spot-on.
- The dementors are terrifying and creepy.
- The design for the time-turner and map are better than I had imagined.
- Harry’s hair is exactly as it should be.
- The closed-loop time travel is portrayed really well.
But there is still one change that I can’t forgive the movie for: Harry gets his Firebolt at the very end.
This doesn’t seem like a significant change. And to the casual viewer, it isn’t. If the movie doesn’t have time to show the rest of the Quidditch tournament, it makes sense for Harry to get his Firebolt at the end.
Except it completely changes the meaning.
In the book, Sirius sends Harry the Firebolt right after his other broom is destroyed. Nobody knows who sent it or whether it’s bewitched or not, but Harry still uses it and Gryffindor wins the Quidditch cup. In the end, you find out that Sirius sent it.
But that’s just it–Sirius just sent it to Harry because he wanted to. He wanted to do something nice for his godson since he hadn’t been there for Harry growing up. (And when you find out later on in the series that Sirius had sent Harry a toy broomstick as an infant, it gives you all the feels.)
In the movie, Sirius still sends the Firebolt to Harry because he wants to, but it’s only after Harry helped rescue him. So it can be seen more of a “thank-you” than anything else.
But that’s not how Sirius intended it. He sent an incredibly expensive broom to Harry with no expectations, no exchange of anything, no hope of recognition. For all he knew, Harry would never know who sent it to him. Harry might have lived his entire life thinking Sirius was guilty of murdering his parents. But Sirius still sent it to him because he cared about him.
I think this change makes all the difference. It shows Sirius in a completely new light–not just as an innocent man on the run, but as a man that truly cares about Harry and his well-being. I hate that the movie twisted that.
currently listening to: Dear Hank & John, Ep. 91
What do you think about Prisoner of Azkaban?
Do you like the movie? How did you feel about the interpretation of the wizarding world?