Friday, July 15, 2011
The Harry Potter movies, Part II
In preparation for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I have been re-watching all the Harry Potter films in chronological order. Today I'll post my thoughts on the final four Harry Potter films.
Before I get to the movies, I want to discuss something I forgot to talk about in Part I of my Harry Potter movie retrospective. The only main character re-cast in the Harry Potter series was Dumbledore, due to the fact that Richard Harris died after the second Potter movie was released. Harris was a great actor who brought a refined sense of wisdom to the character. While re-watching the first two I realized that Harris was more frail than I remembered, and had he lived I think he would have had trouble pulling off some of the more physical demanding scenes in the 5th and 6th movies.
Michael Gambon was a good replacement as Professor Albus Dumbledore, as he re-vitalized the role by being a little younger, and giving Dumbledore a stronger presence. Michael Gambon's entrance to the Harry Potter series re-united him with Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall) who he worked with in Gosford Park (2001). I feel that the Dumbledore of the books is a cross between Harris' and Gambon's versions of Dumbledore.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
The fifth Harry Potter movie features the fourth and final director of the series, David Yates. The Order of the Phoenix is the second shortest Potter film behind Deathly Hallows Part 2. However, The Order of the Phoenix is based on the longest novel of the series. While this may seem like a bad sign, it works since I felt that the 5th book was too long, and also my least favorite book in the series. Therefore this movie trims the fat and gets us right to the story and characters. For example, it took way too long in the book for Harry to arrive at Hogwarts. Yates' vision stays true to the previous films in the series, while keeping the darker tone of the last three books. The scenes with Snape are a nice preview for the final films.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
The sixth Harry Potter movie has great cinematography thanks to Bruno Delbonnel, a three time Oscar nominee for cinematography. I loved the way he shot the hallways of Hogwarts and his use of desaturated colors is fantastic. This movie has a lot of humor and is by far the funniest of the series. But at the same time it is manages to also be one of darkest. In this way it does a great job of capturing the feel of the book. I loved the mystery of Professor Slughorn's memory as well as the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. This movie is another reminder that Alan Rickman owns the role of Snape and Robbie Coltrane owns the role of Hagrid. I can't imagine any actor doing as good as though two in either role. My main issue with this movie is that a lot of Voldemort/Tom Riddle's back-story from the book was cut. This was most likely done for time reasons, because its a show-stopper, and since most of this movie's audience has already read the books. However, it would help those who haven't read the books get more out of the story and give a better characterization to Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
I wasn't too thrilled about the choice to split the last book into two movies, as it felt like a cash grab, but it does work. After seeing both parts I'm actually glad they did it this way and wish they split Goblet of Fire into two movies, or at least had a Lord of the Rings type extended cut. That said, this one still had some padding and was a little longer than it needed to be. The scene near the beginning with multiple Harry Potters scene was done very well. I was also impressed with the Polyjuice Potion scene since it felt like the other actors were really Harry, Ron, and Hermione in disguise because they did such a good job copying their mannerisms. There is a similar scene in Part 2 that is done just as well, but this one is longer and involves three characters instead of one. The animation for the tale of the three brothers was great. I'd like to see a whole movie, or at least a short film done in that style! Hermione's narration doesn't make it feel like too much of a show-stopper even though she is telling a story. Also it is necessary information as the deathly hallows are in the title after all.The ending is abrupt, but that was expected since it was split into two films.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)
The final Potter movie was also my first midnight premiere! Well sort of, I couldn't get tickets to the 12:00 AM showing so I went at 12:45, close enough in my book. The audience was great (many dressed up as characters) as they clapped and cheered at the appropriate times but were never loud or talked over anything. Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, and its quite a thrill ride down to the very end. The pacing issues from Part 1 have gone this time. Even the scene showing Snape's memories did not feel like a showstopper. I think the reason for this was because it was filmed like memories and went back and forth, not in chronological order but by his emotions. This part kinda reminded me of The Tree of Life actually! The Battle of Hogwarts was awesome and this was a great way to conclude the series. If you liked the other ones you won't be disappointed. Oh and I loved John Hurt's cameo as Ollivander, the wand maker. He is in three Potter movies and I think he has the most screen time in this one! There were still a few parts that could have been included to flesh out the story more, especially since this is the shortest Potter film. For example, there could have been a better explanation about Lupin's son, for those who haven't read the books. The only thing that really bothered my was the epilogue. I hated it in the book because it read like fan fiction, and its even sillier seeing it on screen. At the very least they should have just put it in as an after the credits scene. Draco's old make-up makes him look like Sean Penn while Ron and Hermoine haven't aged at all in 19 years. Neither has Ginny, they just let her hair down! Next time I watch this I am just going to skip the epilogue, its much better to go out on the real final scene. I am guessing that this will be the biggest movie at the box office this summer.
Final thoughts on the series:
I wish the series had more famous British actors (Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, etc.) but all the acting is good, especially Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane. I'm glad that the role of the big three (Harry, Hermione, and Ron) went to unknowns. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint all did a great job respectively. I hope they don't get typecast and wish them all the best of luck in their post-Potter careers. While overall the acting was very good, the actress who played Ginny Weasely was by far the weakest. To be fair, Ginny was not a strong character in the books and her relationship with Harry near the end of the series feels like an afterthought. Despite some flaws I don't really think this film series could have been done much better. I can't think of another film series that went so many (8!) films with the same actors and told one cohesive story that is as good as the Potter movie series. It's not the best film series ever, but you gotta give it a lot of credit for having staying power and consistent quality over the course of ten years.
Since I didn't get around to watch any movies recently besides the Harry Potter films, there won't be a wrap-up this week. Instead I'll post my film article on Sunday and then we'll go back to the regular schedule.