Only Cuarón and Yates (in the first Deathly Hallows) managed to understand and so properly exploit the ambiguities of what they were working with. For some reason the Harry Potter films arrived already jaded- where the books started wide-eyed and itching for wonder before they found disillusionment, the films were always post-magic, as though the living were playing out their routines with the joyless circularity of the apparitions that haunt the castle. They were always echoes. The child acting across the series is routinely atrocious, and it is made more uncomfortable for the way their grimacing faces deliver lines mixed to sound like a midnight whisper. (So as not to disturb the living). Even when the visuals sweep through space the scoring does little to carry the viewer’s heart into the movement, and the castle feels less like a site of wonder than a sad old ruin that awaits each foray like a gravestone or punctuation mark. Cuarón’s vision of this feels most like Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Souls series (albeit at a breakneck pace), which necessarily fixates on the half-dead and always dying- elsewhere Rowling desperately wants the world to explain itself to us (making it all smaller and not bigger through accounting for every facet), but here the withholding of information about the landscape reads as a stylistic-narrative decision and not the usual cutback forgiven by the films’ status as basically auxiliary. Azkaban‘s unusual approach to timekeeping (it is structured around time’s compression and recursion, but it is somehow also supposed to account for a year) benefits no one, and with more freedom Cuarón might have made its enigmas something like real entities and not the empty shells glimpsed in passing on a theme park ride, but who knows. This is the desperate one, the breathless one, but Cuarón frames it all as something like a rapidly unfolding but no less dorky mystery. Which is a bummer in the scheme of things, but in a series like this it’s the closest we get to anything resembling magic, so it’s easy to see why so many buy it.