Few adaptations have been pored over and scrutinized for adherence to cannon as intensely as the Harry Potter films. Every omission and deviation gets pounced upon immediately. Speculation ran rampant that each of the later, longer volumes would be split into two films to accommodate J.K. Rowling's sprawling storylines, until it was finally announced that the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, actually will be. In a few weeks, I'll take a look at the prospects for David Yates' Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due this November. This week, I want to look back at the sole Potter installment to date where the film not only did right by the book, but expanded it, improved it, brought it to life. And that would be Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
I'm usually lavish in my praise for the film; I'm fond of saying that I like it better than Cuaron's purportedly more "serious" works like Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También. What I don't often get a chance to mention is that I'm much less enamored of the novel on which it's based. Don't get me wrong -- Rowling's Azkaban is still Harry Potter, and as such it's fast, and funny, and filled with all sorts of wonderful, world-building detail. But when I read it, shortly after tearing through The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed. It seemed a little contrived, I thought, and overdramatic; a little cheesy. The climax involved a lot of ALL-CAPS YELLING to signify big emotion, the whole thing feeling like it was about to turn into a wizard soap opera. And I remember rolling my eyes at the time-travel, which felt like a cheat despite being gracelessly telegraphed a dozen times.