The low expectations game works well--I was cringing and writhing in anticipation of this movie and because of that... I'm delighted to report that, while not perfect, it's so much better than I expected. I was thrilled with it because of that. I expect I would have been less thrilled if I'd gone in with higher expectations, but I carefully did not cultivate them. I kept hearing how it's "less faithful to the books" than the other two, but that's not really true. It's no more faithful (unfortunately), but is decidedly not less so. There are spoilers, though I'm of the belief that there should be no such thing as a spoiler for a movie made from a book everyone's already read.
Fen, fen, fen. I love you all.
This was visually gorgeous. Just plain, old-fashioned stunning. The chill effects, the use of weather, the lighting, the stunning evocation of the Scottish countryside (this movie could be an advertisement for Highland tourism--I just wanted to crawl inside the screen)... Cuaron knows how to make visual statements. The only part, visually, that for some reason didn't work was the Hogwarts Express, which looked like it was lit with cheap fluorescent lights, but it was brief, and I'll forgive it for the beautiful lighting elsewhere.
Humor and love--things we love in HP which are given their full due here. I especially loved a (created) scene toward the beginning where the third year Gryff boys are all trying out special effects candies (which aren't later described or investigated in Honeydukes, so it's the only opportunity). It just really shows them as buddies, having a perfectly normal thirteen-year-old moment. The relationship between Harry and Lupin (though I have some problems with the actual events) was emotionally warm, and Thewlis and Radcliffe did an excellent job with it.
Thewlis. Does. Not. Yell. I'd read the rumor somewhere that he yelled, and I said maybe I'd just take it as the reviewer going overboard in describing a firm tone. And it was true! He just used a perfectly fine, Lupin-esque, guilt-scold. His voice was firm, but controlled and fairly calm. He didn't yell.
Snape=knocked out during Pettigrew revelation. I'd heard he was awake. I'd been sitting here thinking, "Oh, my G-d, how in the world are they going to pull off his not knowing if he's bloody awake?" But he was, as in the book, knocked out. He came to too early and for no good reason, but he was knocked out when it counted. Much, much glorious and singing relief.
Buckbeak. Wow, wow, wow. Incredible effect, great critter, very expressive and realistic-looking. And Daniel Radcliffe worked very well with the CGI, interacting with it like a real animal to which he was becoming closer.
Marauder's Map. Cool. Just plain old cool.
Fred and George. Thanks, guys--good twin interaction.
Cast. Always good. I still think that Oldman and Thewlis are too old to play the parts they're playing, but that's not a reflection on them as actors. They did a splendid job at bringing the characters to life. And Rickman is too old as well, but he's always good. So I'll just kind of squint and pretend they're around my age.
And finally, Dementors. Yay! Awesome and terrifying in all conceivable ways.
Rushed. Oh, my heaven, this was rushed beyond belief. Aunt Marge is blowing up within the first couple of minutes, and Harry's out of the house without the slightest set-up. Like both other movies, the screenwriter has chosen to ignore the openings of the books and just jump as fast as he can into Hogwarts, which really loses something, because you don't get a sense of who Harry is and what he's like before his adventures start. I thought this was bad in PS/SS, and got worse in CoS, but in PoA it was absurd. The emotional timing was all off. Harry was in the Leaky Cauldron before there was any chance to feel immersed in the world. And in PoA, it's so important, because the thought of going to live with Sirius is such a huge relief and happiness for him. Skimping on the Dursleys made that a lot flatter. Hogsmeade scenes are rushed as well, the revelation of the crime is rushed, Buckbeak's trial and the attendant drama is rushed to the point of non-existence... everything is rushed.
Lupin uses the wrong light spell on the train. I was so looking forward to the handful of flames. It was perfect, quintessential Lupin--powerful, quiet, but elemental and mysterious. Instead, he seems to to use a version of Lumos. Readers of another journal will be proud of me when I say that I did, in fact, refrain from throwing popcorn at the screen over this, though I'd threatened to do so if they skipped the flames. I was a good girl.
Klepto!Hermione is still with us, stealing lines from Ron (yes, she does steal it, she really, honestly does) and Dumbledore, and figuring everything out. But stealing Ron's line in the Shrieking Shack was just unforgiveable. Deserves a stretch in Azkaban.
Crookshanks gets the short shrift. Cat-lover Fern sighs, very disappointed. Poor thing's not even in the Shrieking Shack, let alone acting as a key player.
The Shrieking Shack itself. While Snape was knocked out and that was a relief to me, the scene, like so much of the movie, was unbelievably rushed and emotionally unsatisfying. This is the climax of the whole movie, and should be where everything comes clear but...
Lack of history. We very, very briefly overhear that Sirius is Harry's godfather and betrayed the Potters, but we don't hear how close they were, how like brothers. We barely get info on Sirius at all. The movie--apparently assuming that everyone has read the book, which is at least true--doesn't even explain about the animagus stunt and why it was done, let alone who Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs are. Color me crazy, but isn't that information pretty danged important? I was sure all the way up to the last scene between Harry and Lupin that Harry would at least say, "Moony... Wait... you were..." And Lupin would then explain everything. But no. No explanation at all. Nothing. I don't mean a shortened version, I don't mean an allusion, I mean nothing. All we got was Thewlis doing his damnedest to convey an entire narrative with clever motions of his eyebrows. Points for trying go to Thewlis, but that one shouldn't have been on an actor's shoulders; narrative is the job of the screenwriter, Mr. Kloves, and that's a major, major screw-up.
Prongs... Prongsy, baby, where are you? We saw a vague stag-like shape, but Harry's Patronus was just light. Of course, no one would have explained the stag anyway. Grrr. All part of missing the past, which was what this novel was about so much.
And we never once hear the word "Fidelius." This could be a problem!
In fact, we don't even get to hear James telling Lily to take Harry and get out.
And Harry tells Lupin that he saw Pettigrew on the Map. For no real narrative reason. There's no good reason for Lupin not to have figured it out on his own, as he did in the book. Oh, except that they skipped the cat/rat fight almost entirely, so Scabbers wasn't in hiding for long (and, don't you know, it's all Ron's fault for being a bad pet owner, and there was no clue deliberately left that Scabbers was dead).
Ron-denigration continues, though not quite as badly, with the exception of Hermione's line-klepting. The dung beetle line was clever and showed Ron using his brain and knowledge, but he was still forced off to the sidelines for Super!Hermione. ETA: Ron also loses his importance, as Sirius never goes after him. The knife scene is gone. Sirius never even takes a stab at Peter. (In fact, there's no mechanism to cast doubt on Scabbers in retrospect at all, as the Sneakoscope is also gone.)
Snape wakes up and gets out of the Shrieking Shack himself as Lupin transforms. Again, no good reason for this change. Nothing came of it and nothing caused it. So, why?
The werewolf effect is pretty tacky, which is especially disappointing after the gorgeous Buckbeak CGI.
Costumes. Horrid. Thewlis looks more like Lupin when he's not in costume, and Oldman's prisoner costume is just tacky.
And the fanon.
For all I heard about how One True Wayish it is, I really didn't see much Remus/Sirius, including Snape's infamous line about the "old married couple." They interacted like old friends. And since there was no mention of Sirius in Remus's musings at all--Harry never asked about him (see "lack of history," above)--there's no sense of their friendship at all, except for whatever people happen to bring to the theater with them.
What this is going to launch are a million Lily/Remus fics. The conversation about what Dementors are takes a very weird turn, and Remus talks a lot more about Lily than he does about James, and about how she was there for him when no one else was at a very difficult time. This turn wasn't in the book, but it seemed a natural enough addition (additions, I don't mind; changes and subtractions annoy me), so I won't exactly call it non-canon, though I certainly wouldn't call it canon either. I kind of wonder if this is what Rowling meant about a "prediction" unconsciously made--that Remus was close to Lily in one way or another (not necessarily in a romance, though of course the fics will come out that way), and we'll find out about it.
As mentioned, the film was visually lovely, and I think we may see an influx of artists impressed by the visuals available in the books. This can only be a good thing.
In all, however, because everything was so rushed, there's not going to be any one thing (other than Lily/Remus) that I see as likely to make an impact on fanon, since so much was lightly sketched that people are going to fill it in with whatever they already assumed... no net change. Fern's prediction for the night.
ETA: One more fanon change. For some totally unknown reason, Lupin has a record player. This is irritating in the movie--why?--but here comes a whole rash of Sues at Hogwarts with loads of electronic gadgets, justifying themselves because, hey, Lupin's record player works just fine. Shouldn't my Gameboy?