Columbus’s first two films offer a realist portrait of a magical school. Cuarón’s film offers a magical portrait, both gothic and expressionistic, and that makes all the difference.
The cost of the elevation in style is paid in plot, which is here reduced to something like a sketch that’s so vague I wonder what someone who didn’t have the original novel in their head would make of the thing. But ultimately, the source novels are so densely plotted cuts were inevitable. At least here they are made in the service of something other than distribution constraints.
However beautiful this film, it marks the point in the series where my experience of the novels and their adaptations diverge. The choices this movie makes don’t coincide with my narrative interests. So I wound up slightly annoyed with what was and wasn’t shown and deeply annoyed with how this affects our sense of the characters and their relationships. (Lupin is better than this!)
This annoyance is a problem I’m certain is only going to get worse as I work through the remaining films.