I've now reached the latter half of the series, and things are certainly picking up steam. While she drops a few hints in the beginning of the books, I was surprised to find during my re-read that things really only get going toward the main goal starting in this book. We still don't even know what a horcrux is yet. I guess you could argue that revealing such a thing too early could have led to people figuring it out a little too soon. I enjoyed this book a little bit more on my re-read. My memories of my first time through I recall feeling like all the Umbridge stuff was really heavy handed, but perhaps because I was expecting it, I didn't mind it as much this time. Harry is still an overly moody little jerk, but so was my brother at that age, and Harry's got a lot more than hormones to make him upset. On the other hand it can be a little hard to read the story through his self righteous perspective at times. Strangely, I also find that I'm liking Hermione less and less. She's such an overly preachy know it all, constantly talking down to Harry and Ron, and her treatment of Luna Lovegood really riles me up.
Oh, Luna. In my opinion, Luna is the shining star of the various characters who are introduced to us in this book for the first time. She's flighty and believes in things that even those who know magic is real don't, and seems completely and utterly immune to mockery and criticism. I love her so very much for all these qualities. I couldn't be more happy with Evana Lynch's portrayal of her in the film, and I can't complain about them squeezing her into more scenes than necessary because she's just so good at it. I hear that she showed up to the audition wearing radish earrings and explaining to them that they had to hire her because she IS Luna. I'm inclined to agree.
When I first read the book it was Tonks I became particularly endeared to, and I still enjoy her, though her appearances are very brief. I think the first time around I was intrigued by her ability as an metamorphmagus. The idea of being able to change the color of my hair on a whim is an appealing one - I could have purple hair like I've always wanted on the weekend, then return to my natural color in time for work on Monday. Her carefree attitude in general just makes her a very appealing character.
I was also very happy to see Fred, George, and Neville all come into their own in this book. Neville especially starts to show a great deal of potential here, even if Harry the Ungrateful doesn't exactly recognize it yet. It's certainly a hint to the role he will play in the final novel. Speaking of hints - I noticed this time that Petunia mentions "that awful boy" explained something of the magical world to her as a child. Harry assumes she is talking about his father, but we all know exactly who she was referring to now. That was a nice little surprise.
As far as Umbridge goes, I think Rowling represents her annoying qualities well, though I've always felt she's a little too much of a stereotype. It would have been nice to see a little more human qualities to her - surely there must be more of a soft side to this woman beyond her love of kittens. Of course Rowling is an admitted cat hater, so even that's not meant as a compliment! We're literally introduced to Umbridge while she is shrouded in shadow, which touches on the heavy handedness I spoke of earlier. I also think Rowling fails at an attempt at humor with her too. Her constant reference to her as being toad-like falls flat after awhile, and making fun of someone who is short and overweight feels unnecessarily cruel.
In the movie, on the hand, I think Umbridge is portrayed much better. That's partially thanks to Imelda Staunton's performance, but I also like the way we get to see more of the Educational Decrees and other examples of her just being an all around nasty teacher and disciplinarian. It makes her final comeuppance that much sweeter.
The movie in general is a much looser adaptation than what we've seen previously. Scenes are shuffled around in the narrative and we get some things that simply aren't in the books. I didn't mind most of the added scenes except for when Grawp hands Hermione the bicycle handles - it seemed really random and out place. I thought maybe she was going to use the bell later to call him when she leads Umbridge out the forest, but no such thing happened so I really can't see a point to it. On the other hand changing Cho into the traitor of Dumbledore's Army makes sense, as does the fact that she only did so because of Veritaserum.
It would have been fun to see Harry and Cho's date, because it's such a wonderfully awkward moment for him in the book, but I can certainly understand why it was omitted. Ditto for some of the Weasley twins pranks. What I really, really would have loved to see though is the moment with Neville and his parents at St. Mungo's. Neville's mother excitingly handing him the gum wrapper, and Neville later slipping it into his pocket, makes me cry every time I read it. The scene we get instead, of Neville telling Harry about his parents condition, lacks much emotion and feels way too much like exposition, since that is basically what it is.
I think I mentioned previously that I came into the Harry Potter universe in between Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince, and that I had something spoiled for me before I got there. On a forum, someone had stated that they had been spoiled when someone told them: "I'm not gonna tell you who dies in Order of the Phoenix, but they play an important role in Prisoner of Azkaban!" In quoting this, they did the same for me. At the time, I figured this meant a 50/50 shot of it being either Remus or Sirius, mostly because I was deathly afraid that it might be Remus. As such, when the axe finally fell, I was actually kind of relieved. I do think it is a strong moment in the book though, and I like the way the veil works as a representation of sudden, unexplained death and forces Harry to deal with it.
However, I just can't entirely care, because I don't like Sirius as a character. In this book especially, he is amazingly immature. Using Harry as a substitute for James, goading him into being irresponsible, being irresponsible himself.. this is not the amazing, wonderful character that Harry seems to mourn for so desperately. In fact, giving us that striking memory of Snape being bullied by James while Sirius goads him on feels like a strange choice in a book where we are also supposed to feel sad that he's gone. Perhaps that is Rowling's point - that no one is perfect. But at this point in the game at least, I'm siding with Snape. While he doesn't have to take it out on Harry, I don't blame him one bit for his hatred of James and Sirius.
In the movie, I think they go out of their way to make Sirius seem a lot better than he does in the books. If you didn't know going into the film that he was going to die, it should be rather obvious, the way they frequently stress all these touching moments of him and Harry together. My love of Gary Oldman does make me enjoy movie Sirius just a little bit more than book Sirius, but I don't care for the way they show him going through the veil. It's too slow. I know they were trying to build tension and mood, but I think seeing him quickly disappear would have been much more shocking and heart breaking.
Overall I prefer the movie to the book. With a little more Neville and Tonks, I think it would have been perfect.