Why Does Everyone Think Alfonso Cuarón's Awful Harry Potter Adaptation is Great?
With part one of The Deathly Hallows arriving in just two weeks, it seems that Harry Potter Fever has spread through the Internet with the velocity of Bieber Fever. It's gotten so all-encompassing that even bloggers of a certain age like the Jeffrey Wells have trekked into the fray. "No one of any taste cares very much about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," Wells writes, goosing millions of Hogwarts fans in the process. "The franchise peaked six years ago with Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Except for the fact that it didn't.
Wells isn't alone in his thoughts, of course. Even before I had ever laid eyes upon any of the Harry Potter film adaptations, I assumed Cuarón's The Prisoner of Azkaban would be the best of the franchise lot. After all, not only did the talented filmmaker direct the wonderful Y tu mamá también, but he went on to helm Children of Men, which has to stand as one of the best films from the last decade. "An auteur like Cuarón obviously had to do great things with Harry, Ron and Hermione!" I excitedly thought to myself as I put The Prisoner of Azkaban in my DVD player. "Especially coming on the heels of the hack-work turned in by Chris Columbus in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
Then I saw the film.
Here's the thing: I'm a late arriver to Harry Potter, having just finished the books recently, and then, subsequently, tearing through the movies. And while I don't even pretend to be an expert on the world created by J.K. Rowling, I'd like to think I'm aware of two things: Good movies and good adaptations. Cuarón's The Prisoner of Azkaban fails at both.
As an adaptation, it's mostly trash. Though since adapting Rowling's dense narratives has proved almost impossible (the lone exception being The Order of the Phoenix), that can be forgiven; the Harry Potter books aren't the first to be poorly translated into films, and they won't be the last. Specifically, though, Cuarón's film suffers because it simply doesn't make sense -- massive chunks are left out of the story to the determent of logic and enjoyment. (For instance, Harry is never told that Lupin was best friends with his father, something that probably should have been deemed important information; likewise, Harry is never told that Lupin made the Marauder's Map.)
What makes The Prisoner of Azkaban much worse, however, is that the film never captures the spirit of Harry Potter. That's the transitional film in the series -- when Harry goes from plucky boy wizard to tortured tween wizard -- and yet Cuarón and screenwriter Steve Kloves fail to present it as such. Azkaban is visually pleasing -- even if it feels like warmed-over Guillermo del Toro -- but the central story about Harry's push-pull relationship with his Godfather-turned-possible-murderer, Sirius Black, never reaches a compelling fruition. Unfortunately, that failure is something which has negative effects in future installments; as solid as David Yates' Order of the Phoenix is, you can't help but feel that Sirius' death would have had more meaning if a greater foothold was achieved in Azkaban.
All you really need to know about Cuarón's The Prisoner of Azkaban happens in the final moments: Harry gets his Firebolt broomstick from Sirius (never mind that this occurs much earlier in the book), laughs with his friends and flies away into the sky...and into an embarrassing freeze frame. Cuarón is better than that, Harry Potter is better than that, and the chattering class on the Internet should know better than that. Isn't it high time we all stopped pretending Alfonso Cuarón's is the only director to nail Harry Potter?