We watched the third film, Prisoner of Azkaban, tonight -- and it really was good! We had just finished watching the first and second Harry Potter films yesterday.
Even though I had heard that the third film was easily the best, I did not expect something this good. The style of the storytelling was vastly improved in this film. It's more clever and witty (in its quirky way), but also more deeply involving emotionally. The musical scoring was noticeably better, too. Even the CGI seemed better. I very much liked the way the creatures were imagined and realised, like the whomping willow and Buckbeak. I had been afraid I would find Buckbeak as disappointing as I found Firenze the centaur.
In scenes that had direct parallels in the earlier films, the difference in quality was very apparent. The Dursley scene in #3 was much sharper and funnier. And, the requisite Quidditch match (which I thought surprisingly yawn-inducing in the first two films), really was gripping in this one.
As for the actors, there were fine performances all over the place. It was additionally exciting to see the child actors morphed into teenagers, especially because I knew that it was true in real life. Harry and Ron? Better than ever. Hermione was better, too. Michael Gambon as Dumbledore was a very notable improvement. I was sorry Maggie Smith didn't have more to do, but I know that she'll be back. The one new character I was surprised not to have liked that well was Emma Thompson's Prof. Trelawny. I just love Thompson's work, normally, but this portrayal left me saying, "Hunh?" I think they would have done better to use someone else for the role.
I want to throw in a special note of appreciation for Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid. I thought the character a trifle silly in the books. Coltrane has managed to make film Hagrid recognizably book-like, yet never actually buffonish. His Hagrid is completely believable; I so much appreciate that he never resorts to hamming it up. (What a shame the LotR filmmakers could not have shown a modicum of the same restraint towards the character of Gimli. Now THERE was buffoonery run amok in so many scenes, to the detriment of the films.
As for the fandom side, in this film I can see how the Remus/Sirius slash has come to be. By which I mean to say that David Thewlis and Gary Oldman did super jobs in their respective roles and were highly sympathetic -- which means that a slash pairing for them in the fandom was inevitable. And Draco? Remember how I was saying I could not imagine Draco slash? Well, I can imagine it now. All that was required was getting rid of his slicked-back hair. An array of hair hanging over his forehead, and, presto, he becomes suitable slash material.
I would go on to praise this film further but it's very late. I am sure I will watch it again, a sure sign that I really enjoyed it. (I don't plan ever to rewatch films one and two.)
I'm just going public to let you who have heard me dismissing the whole HP thing know that I now can see the appeal, having felt it myself. It's not LotR, but, in film three, it's really enjoyable, involving entertainment.