15 April 2010

Franchise Collection: Harry Potter

The true franchise of this generation, the Harry Potter films starts off its whopping two part conclusion this November with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.And since I've feeling a bit Harry Potter-y the last few days - revisiting Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire as such - I figured I might as well post a few thoughts about the franchise here, and that way, by the time the final two films come along, all eight of the movies will have been discussed (!!!). So, yippie in that regard. The biggest surprise that one of the movies I quite disliked actually ended up better than I remembered it, and another was just...bad.

Anyhow, the Potter franchise is nevertheless phenomenal. Although it's a tad sad to see the light at the end of the tunnel only to be replaced by glowing "vampires", I can't wait to see how it ends. To watch Harry and Voldemort circle each other, for the final moment when ---

Harry Potter and the Sorce
rer's Stone
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma
Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart
screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves

directed by Chris Columbus
Release: 16 November 2001
Warner Brothers, 152 mins., Rated PG

Plot: 11-year old Harry is a wizard, finds himself famous for somehow being the cause of a Dark Lord's defeat, befriends some nerds, and confronts some baddies.

As a introduction to a world full of wonder and spectacle, Sorcerer's Stone is a crowning achievement. Kids will love it. Well, obviously. Written and directed to target the young crowd, the movie is a utter cheese fest of happiness and good will with a dose of darkness thrown into a mix. The cheese I speak, of course, is basically any moment with Harry victorious and his classmates falling in love with him. And I absolutely cringe during Ron's "he's gonna sacrifice himself!" moment. Oh, the overdone drama. And for its time, the digital effects were probably the top-of-the-line, but in retrospect, there's really some not-good work done (e.g., the giant troll, the Centaur).

Even with the cheese, I quite like it, nevertheless. A very faithful screenplay with great amounts of humor, a decent enough score by John Williams (Jaws), Hagrid, Qudditich, and the first inklings of Voldemort and a really cool finale - Sorcerer's Stone is good. But not great, definitely compared to the rest of the franchise.

Though even as a wee lad, I noticed a particular shortcoming - poor pacing. And rather poor, unenthusiastic directing by Chris Columbus (Home Alone), who nicely redeemed himself with Percy Jackson & the Olympians nine years later.

Harry Potter and t
he Chamber of Secrets
starring Daniel Radc
liffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Jason Isaacs, Kenneth Branagh
screenplay adapt
ation by Steve Kloves
directed by Chris Columbus
Release: 15 November 2002
Warner Bros., 161 mins., Rated PG

Plot: More baddies, more mysteries.

I think that if it wasn't for the uber-cool Basilisk and the Harry versus Malfoy duel sequence halfway through the film, I probably wouldn't dig
Chamber of Secrets all that much, either. Darker, in some areas, compared to the first film [note: me like darkness], it nonetheless has so many Disney lovey dovey feel-good moments, it's somewhat of a chore to sit through. However, this flick really begins to show the rising talent of its stars - well, with the exception of Rupert Grint, who isn't given anything other than comedy to work with until Goblet. But Radcliffe quite shines as Harry, and Emma Watson continues to perfectly embody the nerdy Hermione to a T.

But once again, the script is quite devout to the source material (to its detriment), there are scenes that felt tacked on and sorta ruined the momentum of the film (i.e., the Whomping Willow, Harry and Ron against Aragog), and then the disastrous digital work on the ever-annoying Dobby (I might be in the minority, but I was quite pleased with Dobby's fate in Deathly Hallows).

For a movie that features a angry willow tree, a flying car, a legion of giant spiders, a chamber located underneath a bathroom, foreshadowing to Half-Blood Prince & Deathly Hallows, a book that reveals secrets, and a freakin' giant Basilisk, Chamber of Secrets also suffers the same editing flaw of Sorcerer's Stone. By all rights, Chamber should be quite exciting, and the mystery absolutely engaging - but it is not. Oh well; at least there's some nice bits to keep one interested.

And finally, Richard Harris - we'll miss you. Honestly. Dumbeldore will never be the same again.

Harry Pot
ter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma
Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman
screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves
directed by Alfonso Cuarion
release: 04 June 2004

Warner Bros., 141 mins., Rated PG

Plot: Prisoner Sirius Black is no longer a prisoner and has his eyes set on Harry Potter.

The one installment of the franchise I watch more than any other, I guess I find myself absolutely floored by the absolutely beautiful cinematography gracing every shot. Azkaban is, without a doubt, the best looking of the franchise, with Cuarion's amazing eye of detail, placement, and childlike wonder infusing every second with pure and utter awesomeness. There's so many parts that I love: the sequence where Harry flies Buckbeak, and it's as if the audience is experiencing the same elated freedom Harry is, complimented by John Williams' gorgeous composition. Another fine part is during Qudditch when Harry is confronted by the Dementors, and the utter chills that overcome my body when the black object that whizzes past Harry reappears behind him and follows him in the clouds, revealing itself to be a Dementor. And I quite liked the scene with a angry Harry in Hogsmeade (spelling?), where he is enraged with the information he just heard about Sirius Black.

I also love the casting of David Thewlis (Dragonheart) as Remus Lupin, as he's a actor that I've enjoyed watching for years and years, and it's absolutely fantastic to have him in my favorite franchise. Ditto with Gary Oldman (Batman Begins) as the pivotal character of Sirius Black. Here, Oldman's allowed to ramp up the crazy, but the beauty of his performance is more profound in Order of the Phoenix, which is truly a majestic performance.

However, with everything I've read over at Nick's Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob (who is a really big Potter fan), I just might have to re-read Rowling's novel so I can properly put Azkaban the movie into perspective. As it stands, though, the movie is a pleasure to watch, and it's here that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint begin to shine as true actors. If I feel like popping into a Harry Potter flick, it's either Order of Prisoner for me.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson
screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves

directed by Mike Newell
18 November 2005
Warner Bros., 157 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Harry gets selected as Champion in the Triwizard Tournament - much to the bitterness of Ron - and fights to stay alive, only it's one puzzle piece of a much larger picture.

I think a nice way to sum up
Goblet of Fire is distraction. I was distracted by everybody's terrible hairdos, and I mean everyone. I was distracted by Michael Gambon's disastrous portrayal of Dumbeldore, turning this gentle but powerful wizard into a aggressive, frustrated git. I became distracted, for the first time, with all the alterations made from book to screen. Distracted by David Tennant, who didn't destroy Voldemort with his sonic screwdriver or set the Daleks after him. Distracted by senseless, illogical things in the movie - namely the First and Final tasks. There are some great things in Goblet of Fire, but I can't help but feel they become overshadowed by its downfalls.

Now, about the First Task and Final Task. It's been a long time since I sat down to really read the book, but as far as I know, all the action between Harry and the Horntail happened in a particular area so the audience can see the entire event transpire. Don't get me wrong, it's super cool to watch Harry fly around on his Firebolt throughout Hogwarts and narrowly missing becoming dragon food, but that whole thing didn't flow for me. A worse offender was the Final Task, where, if I recall correctly, the maze was set-up in the Qudditch arena, where Professor and spectators can keep an eye on what's happening and give aid if necessary. In the film, the giant-ass field in so, er, giant that it would be impossible for anyone but Gwarp to see their sent up signals. It just doesn't make
sense, and it doesn't even look cool.

But Goblet is nonetheless a enjoyable movie, and boasts the utter awesomeness of Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody and Ralph Fiennes giving a freakin' WOW performance as Lord Voldemort. I've never really been able to "see" what Voldemort looks like, judging by Rowling's descriptions, so having Fiennes' as Voldemort is quite, quite helpful. Whereas there's some great actors in this flick, Emma Watson, however, wasn't at the top of her game (same thing, I fear, happened in Half-Blood Prince). Rupert Grint, meanwhile, gets the perfect balance of seriousness (jealousy) and jokes.

A expanded running time and a few more scenes dedicated to characters and more logical choices would help the movie quite a lot. I'm holding on hope that these new "Ultimate Editions" of the franchise include a good 20 or 30 minutes of extra footage to help pad out Goblet of Fire, and hopefully improve it. One final note: In regards to the Yule Ball, Harry, my pal, I feel your sufferings...

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter
screenplay adaptation by
Michael Goldenberg
directed by David Yates
Release: 11 July 2007
Warner Bros., 138 mins., Rated PG-13

: Voldemort has returned, and Harry finds out his scar has a special mental connection to the Dark Lord that ends up being quite detrimental.

The best and most cohesive of the series to date,
Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book and favorite of the movie franchise. There's no particular one person to attribute this great compliment to, as it seems basically everyone involved in this production did a absolutely superb job: the direction by newcomer David Yates, the spectacularly tight but yet energetic screenplay by Goldenberg, the riveting score by Hooper, bloody brilliant performances from every single cast member, and finely crafted editing that makes repeated watchings 100% endurable without checking ones watch. And keep in mind, that's saying a lot - Phoenix is one mammoth undertaking of a book, and to have it so effortlessly translated to screen - and splendidly, I might add - well, it's a shocker.

Director Yates shows off his spectacular talent - beautiful imagery abounds, particularly the climatic battle at the Ministry between Dumbeldore and Voldemort, the framing picking up the intensity of the combat splendidly (also attributed to excellent sound mixing). Editing is top notch, the best of any of the films. The movie flows with ease, never feeling sliced together from miscellaneous shot scenes (which some of the films suffer, regrettably). Composer Nicholas Hooper creates some fantastic cues, such as "Professor Umbrige" and "Fireworks", some of which make a return in
Half-Blood Prince. Daniel Radcliffe emotes some of the most powerful stuff he's ever done. There's a reason why I took a screencap of the sequence above. And of course, Michael Goldenberg (who is currently writing the screenplay for the Green Lantern live action film) did a exceptional job cramming a mammoth book into a two hour movie that fulfills many necessary key sequences and simultaneously has enough breathing room to just let Harry & Co. be themselves.

Basically, it's a strong movie where everything worked together to create something fabulous. Plus,
Order of the Phoenix boasts the best scenes and best performances to date. Sorry, Half-Blood Prince.

Potter Rankings:

Order of the Pheonix

Prisoner of Azkaban

Half-Blood Prince
Goblet of Fire

Chamber of Secrets

Sorcerer's Stone

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Great post, Andy! I did a similar breakdown of the first four films prior to Order being released several years ago.

I totally agree that the first 2 are cheesy with uninspired direction from Columbus. They may be closest to the books, but they can come off as dull to the adult audience. The only times I bother watching them is when I'm having a Potterthon, right before a new film is released.

As for Prisoner, I agree that the film looks great and is very entertaining, but I feel important information was left out regarding the map and Lupin's knowledge. I'd trade Harry's ride on Buckbeak for a few more minutes of dialogue explaining all that rich history of Harry's father and his friends. Any non-reader of the series would be lost, as evidenced by my husband who kept asking me questions.

I find it sad that Goblet doesn't get much love. I think a lot of it has to do with it being the first film to really suffer the axe of cutting down the source material, and for that it pays a steep price. However, I think the film serves the purpose of the story perfectly: it shows the basic plot of the Tri-Wizard tournament and the true return of Voldemort. It cuts the excess fat of the damn house elves and SPEW, etc. Yet it still keeps the spirit of the wizarding world alive. And it shows the death of a student, which is pretty hardcore for the series up to that point. Not to mention Brendon Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody is just brilliant. I could go on and on, but I won't.

On the flip side, I think Order gets more love than it deserves. I really do love the film, but to me this one felt chopped down and rushed far more than Goblet. It was the longest book and the shortest film and the math doesn't add up there. It took me a few times to watch to realize this, but it all just happens too fast. I will agree that it does boast some of the best moments of the enitre franchise with the scenes at the ministry.

Anyway, highly anticipating the beginning of the end later this year. It'll be sad, but at the same time I'll be glad to see it end, because that means they actually accomplished it with almost the entire original cast for a decade. And none of those folks (poor Maggie Smith) are getting any younger.