Well this was a very enjoyable day. The Prisoner of Azkaban is certainly the best book and film of the series so far, by quite a long way. It was just brilliant, and I really, really had fun reading and watching this one. I was completely hooked the whole way through, even though I’ve read it several times before. What astounded me though is that I’d forgotten about Buckbeak the Hippogriff until I’d reached that point in the book – doubly embarrassing considering he’s on the front cover!
In the third instalment the entire wizarding community is on edge, as Sirius Black, notorious murderer and avid supporter of You-Know-Who, has achieved the impossible and escaped from Azkaban, supposedly so he can murder Harry and bring the Dark Lord back to full power. Sirius, bless him, is quite probably my favourite Harry Potter character of all time, and one of my favourite literary characters in general (which is quite a claim!). I’m a little bit in love with him, but then I’m such a sucker for a tortured soul! The thing is, as much as I like Gary Oldman, he just isn’t Sirius Black to me. He portrays him as being a bit too manic and a bit too unhinged, whereas what’s really sinister about Sirius in the books (to Fudge at least) is the fact that he didn’t go mad in Azkaban, but instead seemed perfectly rational. The wanted posters with Gary Oldman laughing manically bother me because they make Sirius out to be completely crackers, which he definitely wasn’t. Yet he was meant to have laughed when Pettigrew died and he was arrested, but there’s a difference between laughing once and over the top cackling your head off. Then there’s the small matter of his age. James and Lily were supposed to have got married and had Harry fairly soon after leaving Hogwarts, which would only really put Sirius in his thirties, and probably early to mid-thirties at the most. I know he’s had a hard life in prison, but he’s far too old in the films. But what it mainly comes down to (sorry Gary) is that he’s just not good-looking enough. He’s forever being described as being dashingly handsome while at school, and J.K. Rowling has said herself that Sirius was super hot. Actually, I think the terms she used were more along the lines of “of course he’s sexy!” And I’m telling you now, prison doesn’t change bone structure. If you ask me, pre-Azkaban I reckon he would have looked a little something like this
and post-Azkaban (and after a good bath) he may have looked a little something like this.
And that’s the way I’m going to continue picturing him, because I bloody love Sirius and I’m desperate for J.K. Rowling to write some Marauder prequels. Sorry Gary, but you ain’t cuttin’ my mustard.
Moving on from Sirius, we are of course introduced to another new character – lovely, lovely Remus Lupin. He’s just such a good egg, isn’t he? I also have a lot of love for Remus, he’s so kind and thoughtful, but he gets such a raw deal all the time. It’s not like he can help that he’s a werewolf, and he’s still so lovely despite the world treating him like shit. I loved reading about his Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons (seeing Alan Rickman in drag was the icing on the cake), and I’m thrilled with the sheer amount of content that’s gone into this book. All the strange creatures, the characters’ backstories, the world building etc. I was quite surprised that the quidditch cup wasn’t included in the film though. I suppose there just wasn’t room to cram everything in, but that was a pretty major event for Harry so I’d have thought it would work its way in somewhere. The only quidditch that was included was the match with the dementors’ pitch invasion, so that Harry could take patronus lessons from Lupin and get a shiny new Firebolt from Sirius (at completely the wrong point in the film, thereby successfully bypassing a pretty major argument between Hermione and the boys when she has the Firebolt confiscated to be stripped for hexes).
In terms of the rest of the new cast, some were more successful than others. Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney was absolutely hilarious, but then she’s always wonderful so it was hardly a surprise. Dawn French as the new Fat Lady was enjoyable, but rather farcical and a little over the top. This film was also the first outing of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, and I’m still not really sure what to make of him. He’s far too brusque; the Dumbledore in the book would never have shouted at students to move and pushed them out of the way. Dumbledore would never have shouted at students full stop, he’s not the sort of person who has to raise his voice to command attention. Plus it was a little distracting how often Dumbledore slipped into an Irish accent. Timothy Spall made a pretty good Pettigrew though, although it’s hard to imagine James, Remus and Sirius being friends with someone so slimy, so desperate, and clearly not in the same league.
It’s a well known fact that film adaptations, no matter how good they are, can never quite live up to the book, and so once again there were a few things I had issues with. For a start, Harry didn’t see a Grim in the clouds, he saw a large black dog (Sirius) actually sitting in the stands, which made sense because Sirius said he’d ventured out of the forest to watch Harry play quidditch. The Grim in the clouds is just ridiculous. Also, if Sirius just wanted to get a glimpse of Harry before he got on the Knight Bus, he wouldn’t have barked at him and acted aggressively. Lupin’s boggart looked far too clearly like a full moon (complete with clouds), which would have made it all too easy to work out he was a werewolf. The ‘orb’ was far more ambiguous in the book. Plus it doesn’t even make logical sense, surely he’d be more frightened of a full moon that wasn’t surrounded by clouds? Crookshanks was given far less of a role, and the incident of Sirius appearing in the Gryffindor dormitory was overlooked completely, which seems a bit odd as that was one of the most dramatic scenes in the book and led to all kinds of questions about how he was managing to enter the castle. The backstory behind the Marauders becoming animagi to support Remus was never properly explained, which is a real shame because it showed just how close they all were and how they were willing to do anything for each other.
These key relationships are sort of glossed over, and instead we get an increasingly awkward relationship between Ron and Hermione – a subplot which doesn’t even exist in the books until at least the Half-Blood Prince and is at this stage, quite frankly, downright annoying. I’d much rather the filmmakers had added in something that actually exists in the book, like the quidditch cup, instead of wasting their time hamming up relationships and creating subplots that shouldn’t even be there.
Still, irritating teenage confusion aside, this was definitely the best film so far. The effects, once again, were great (even if the werewolf did look a bit bandy-legged, and are dementors meant to be able to fly?). The pacing of the film was better as well, though it can’t really compete with the book, mainly due to the sheer amount of content J.K. Rowling included. She must have the most wonderful imagination, I’m so impressed with all the strange creatures and charms she’s invented. I just really hope she writes some Marauder stories in the future though, because there’s definitely not enough Sirius Black in my life.