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PoA review - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
PoA review
First--waves to cheshyre! Thanks. :)


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.

The Good
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.

The bad
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?
14 comments or Leave a comment
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: June 4th, 2004 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I think it was a very old-fashioned wind-up gramophone. So the no electricity would be okay. I wondered was the Remus/Lily thing what JKR meant as well, and I agree it wasn't necesarily a romance. But I'm pleased about because I always wondered what sort of relationship Remus and Lily had. :-D
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 4th, 2004 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
At any rate, the fact that she declared it to be "emotionally true" suggests that we can lay to rest theories about how it was really Lily who didn't trust Remus.
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: June 4th, 2004 05:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the review - hearing you (Fern the Purist) say it's better than you expected allowed me a sigh of relief. I had already heard most of the things you listed in your 'bad' section, so no big surprises there. Although I can't figure out why they would have made some of these changes. (How can the story work without explaining the significance of MWPP?)

I agree that Thewlis seems to be more Lupin-like when he's himself than when he's in costume. Looking forward to seeing it this weekend.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 4th, 2004 06:50 am (UTC) (Link)
(How can the story work without explaining the significance of MWPP?)
Not well. It's like watching Cinderella and having her go from sweeping the floor to entering the royal ball without mentioning the fairy godmother or any reasonable equivalent. Just kind of... huh?
From: sunshyndaisies Date: June 4th, 2004 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)
The thing that kills me is that they obviously DID film the knife scene (i.e. Sirius going after Scabbers, and waking up Ron)--we've seen bits of the Common Room scene afterwards in many behind the scenes specials. Methinks it will show up in the DVD, but it is so important to the story that I don't understand why they cut that out. I think Alfonso is brilliant, but I don't agree with his decision to leave this out.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 4th, 2004 06:48 am (UTC) (Link)
If it was actually filmed and in the script, I've crossed over into being utterly and completely baffled. That's just silly.
From: sunshyndaisies Date: June 4th, 2004 07:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, the bits we've seen are the ones in the Common Room, which PRESMUABLY were when the kids came down from their dorms after Ron screamed bloody murder. We can tell from a few things that obviously it was something frightening that happened, because McGonagall was summoned into the Common Room, and she had her hair down and was in a nightgown/robes, so she was roused from sleep. She also had a worried look on her face.

So... we know something frightening happened just before, which leads me to believe it was Sirius' knife attack, but having not seen any of the knife attack in the behind-the-scenes stuff, I wonder if they altered that in the script and something else happened to make everyone burst out of the dorms and gather in the Common Room looking worried...

Sorry, just thinking aloud here. I guess my point is that it could be that the incident prior to the Common Room scene may have been something else after all, and that something else was more expendable to the plot than the Sirius attacking scene would have been...

I guess we won't know until the DVD comes out!
myf From: myf Date: June 4th, 2004 06:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm still very much looking forward to seeing it.

(additions, I don't mind; changes and subtractions annoy me)

What's the difference between a change and an addition? Doesn't an addition sometimes change what's going on? Merely curious to know your thoughts.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 4th, 2004 06:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Not really. Well, a addition that did change something would bug me, but just seeing a scene that was missed in the original--your basic fanficcy "missing moment" sort of thing--or having someone mention some new bit of information (in this case, a friendship with Lily) doesn't actually change things. If, on the other hand, the addition had been Lupin saying, "Yes, James and Lily dated from fist year to seventh, and Snape gave her away at the wedding"... that would bug me.

But an addition that doesn't change canon? That's no different than a good fanfic that slips into canon without any indigestion. I don't take it as canon, but it doesn't disturb anything.
likeafox From: likeafox Date: June 4th, 2004 01:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you enjoyed it too! You're right, they took out WAY too much of the Maurader's backstory. I thought the perfect place would have been at the end, after Harry talks to Lupin about the latter's resignation. Harry could have just asked how Lupin knew about the map, and Lupin could have said "I was Moony." about twenty seconds extra that would have let the audience figure it out for themselves. (Those who hadn't read the book already.)

Anyway, other than that and Klepto!Hermione (I love that name, btw, very fitting!) I definitely thought this one was better than the others. I'm glad to see that even purists like yourself (and myself, to some extent) could enjoy it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 4th, 2004 01:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought the perfect place would have been at the end, after Harry talks to Lupin about the latter's resignation. Harry could have just asked how Lupin knew about the map, and Lupin could have said "I was Moony."

I was actually absolutely convinced that it would happen then, when Harry gets that funny little smile on his face as Lupin is walking out. I expected him to stop Lupin at the door and say, "Wait... Moony. You were Moony."

Smile from Lupin. Not even twenty seconds.

But we still needed to know about the animagus stunt. In the script, we don't know that they're unregistered or that that's a crime, which will be problematic in GoF and OotP with Rita Skeeter--those books are even longer than PoA, and they've now put off an important bit of exposition that could have been taken care of here.

Oh, well.
calico321 From: calico321 Date: June 4th, 2004 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with just about everything you've written! I was floored that they completely ignored the connection to the Maurader's map, or why Sirius and Peter are Animagi. I had to explain it to my husband who hadn't read the books.

One thing I will say though, about Oldman and Thewlis seeming too old for the parts: one could argue that a 12 year stint in Azkaban and a lifetime of being a werewolf would cause someone to age prematurely. Just a thought :)
alkari From: alkari Date: June 5th, 2004 04:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Didn't mind about the speed at the beginning. I had the impression that Cuaron was very focused on one storyline and that he had honed it all down. The sense of danger to Harry was still real, and I think that his relief at the prospect of going to live with Sirius can be appreciated from the Dursleys' behaviour in this and the previous films.

But yes, the film definitely needed an extra 5 minutes of explanation, either in the Shack or at the end, because otherwise it assumes to much knowledge on behalf of the viewer. And yes, Klepto-Hermione continues to annoy me, especially as I think she is the weakest of the three kids in terms of her acting. Dan and Rupert have both grown into their roles: Emma is still way too forced.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: June 6th, 2004 08:10 am (UTC) (Link)
However Sirius and Peter became Animagi, it didn't seem to have anything to do with lycanthropy. I mean, the werewolf attacks Padfoot just as he would a human. Uh.

And I know the kind of character they're portraying here, but did they have to make Peter look like an obese hag with chipmunk teeth and leprosy?

Snape was the best actor in the thing, with Lupin a close second. Snape is despicable but still very much the fascinating figure he becomes beyond all doubt in Goblet of Fire. Lupin, you're right, is doing the best he can under the horrible scripting circumstances. Sirius I didn't actually like as well as I would have liked. He was a bit too manic and not vadamous* enough, but he managed to move me nonetheless.

By the way, I'm just honored to be in the presence of FernWithy and Alkari. "Toast" in particular is a wonderful fic. If only Ashavah would find this blog...

*vadamous: valorous-adamant, a word I made up for my review of PoA but
seems to apply to a great many people, although less and less the more recent you get. The Arizona football player killed in Iraq seems worthy of the title. There was no word beforehand that encompassed that nature, the one exemplified by the Polish and the Irish when in unrest, how Guy Fawkes had six days on the rack before he would disclose his own name, that sort of thing. It was a space that needed to be filled.
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