I'm not a Harry Potter fan, nor have I ever professed to be one. I've never read the books and I've only seen one film, the previous one, and only that because of Gary Oldman and Alfonso Cuaron, so I feel I can say with some certainty that I'm quite the outsider when it comes to this subject.
I can also say, in terms of pure cinema, this fourth Potter film was, to put it mildly, quite boring for me. There were some clever, funny, creepy, and spooky moments, to be sure, but they were few and far between, and what filled in the gaps was, very simply, dull. As an outsider, I felt no emotional attachment to these characters. I can't say I cared about them one way or another, which is always a problem with adaptations. You have to please your core audience, of course, but you also want to entice and entertain those who perhaps aren't as familiar with the source material, which I don't feel this film did as well as Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban.
Brendan Gleeson was fantastic as "MadEye" Moody, the new, maybe-crazy Dark Arts teacher. He was just brilliant, stealing every scene he was in. And Ralph Fiennes was decidedly sinister as the series' Big (bald and noseless) Bad, Voldemort. Fiennes does villainous extremely well. Always has, ever since Schindler's List, and I think Hollywood should definitely give him more opportunities to showcase his evil side (and no, the remaining Potter films don't count).
Unfortunately, Gary Oldman's return as Sirius Black (Harry's what, godfather, right?) was all too brief. He was reduced to a pile of ashes in this film, and I mean that quite literally. His only scene was as a face of burning embers speaking to Harry from a fireplace. Nice effects and all that, but c'mon. You have Gary freakin' Oldman in your movie. There's got to be more for him to do than fizzle and crackle as kindling.
I was also rather disappointed in Mike Newell's directing. He told the story well enough, got us from point A to B to C, but he did it without any of the style and flair that Cuaron infused the last film with.
As I never read the book, I cannot comment on whether the film was accurately adapted or not. However, as I always say, when it comes to novel-to-film adaptations, you must leave the book outside the theatre as you enter. It is incredibly difficult to make any film, let alone one based on a seven-hundred plus page novel. When condensing hundreds of pages of prose into a two or two and a half hour film, and have it make sense...you must understand the sheer magnitude of such a task.
It's not an easy job, and is usually quite thankless. Screenwriters are already the least respected talent in Hollywood, and they have the hardest job. Without them, you get no movie at all, the bad or the good, so I don't want to hear anything about how different the movie is from the book. It doesn't matter. What matters is, did what was up on that screen work as a film? Was it able to adequately tell the story it set out to tell? Was the source material treated respectfully, so that the themes, the spirit, of the original work came through?
All in all, it was not the longest two and a half hours of my life, though it certainly wasn't brisk. I'm sure I'll still see the fifth film (I hear Gary Oldman's going to have a great scene in that one, what with the dying and all), though I probably wouldn't mind waiting until the DVDs come out.
And with that, I'm off to bed. It's way past my bedtime. I haven't been up this late in weeks and I am exhausted...