Monday, February 13, 2012

Potter review

(Still dealing with a few personal things. In the meantime, a post I've had banked since around Christmas for a rainy day....)

One of the gifts Cathy and I received over Christmas was the last Harry Potter movie. We're apparently difficult to buy for (I'm not. I'm dead easy. I have a list on Chapters. Go forth and buy from it), but movies are normally a safe bet. I have no idea how many movies and TV shows we have, but it must number close to a thousand at this point.

It's cold and dark up here and there's crap on TV. We need to be entertained.

So on a lark we decided to do a Harry Potter movie marathon. All eight movies over two days. Given that they all clock in around 2.5 hours, that's a lot of Potter in a short period of time. So I decided to do a list of the best to the worst of the movies. Although I will say this much... The Deathly Hallows Part 2 got screwed at the Oscars. This isn't an exceptional Oscar season by any means...there's no Schindler's List or anything out there. And much in the same way that Return of the King got a ton of Oscars as much for the achievement of the whole Rings saga, I think Deathly Hallows Part 2 deserved some Oscar nods.

It really is an incredible piece of work when viewed as a whole. In particular, after a Best Movie nomination, Daniel Radcliffe deserved a nod for Best Actor, Alan Rickman for Best Supporting Actor, David Yates for direction and Steve Kloves who adapted all but one of the Potter books to the big screen.

Anyway, after watching all eight, here's where I would rank them...

1. The Prisoner of Azkaban - The first movie really to transform the series from adaptation of the books into a movie that stands on its own. The first two movies were slavish devoted to the books, which is nice and all, but at some point what's on the page doesn't work on the screen. Azkaban picked the stuff that worked, dropped stuff that didn't, often to the horror of fans, and grabbed things that were fun in the books (the Knight's bus, the whomping willow) and played with them. It's the first Potter movie that felt like a movie.

Also helping was Alfonso Cuaron's creative directing and visual flare. It's a genuinely fun and thrilling movie. The only strike against it is the fairly lame looking werewolf. It may be the lamest werewolf in cinematic history.

2. The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - It's no easy thing to end an epic series on a satisfactory note, which Yates managed. Not too many people walked away feeling they had been cheated or that they hadn't landed the ending. Especially powerful was the five minute sequence in which Rickman all but steals the movie away from the rest of the cast, changing everything you knew about the rest of the series. You know it's good when the worst you can say is that it felt like they rushed the end a bit, that you wish they had managed to find a way to put that Voldermort vs. McGonagall fight in the movie. Oh, and the idiotic decision by the studio to convert the last movie into 3-D. A movie mostly shot at night or in dark places when 3-D movies make everything about 30% darker. Fortunately, not a problem on DVD.

3. The Order of the Phoenix - It's one thing for Rowling to write two of the series great villains with Delores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange, quite another to have Imelda Stanton and Helena Bonham Carter just take them over and give them dimensions not seen in the books. They are tremendously fun bad ladies. Whether its Delores in her terrifying pink or Bellatrix terrifying madness, they are memorable villains. Oh, and to balance things out, another of Rowling's great characters makes her debut with Luna Lovegood.

Phoenix also has one of the best final third of the series, with the battles between Dumbledore's Army vs the Death Eaters, the Order vs the Death Eaters and wrapping up with the best fight of the series, Dumbledore vs. Voldermort. Oh, also throw in the best musical score, outside of the main theme in the entire series and Radcliffe's best acting. If there's a drawback it's that as one of the largest books of the series, it really did gut a lot of fun stuff in the book (the Weasely's departure from Hogwart's is not nearly as much fun).

4. The Half-Blood Prince - Oddly, the most human and fun of the series, despite the thoroughly depressing ending. Wisely deciding to forgo all the flashbacks to Voldemort's childhood, the movie instead focuses mostly just on the kids at Hogwarts and with all the drama that comes with being 16 years old. Funny (Hermione: [snaps her fingers] Hey! She's only interested in you because she thinks you're the Chosen One. Harry: But I am the Chosen One. [Hermione smacks him on the head with the newspaper] Harry: Sorry... kidding!) and heartbreaking (Hermione's reaction to Ron kissing another girl) it's enough to make you wish more of the movies had time to squeeze these moments in.

Unlike the Order of the Phoenix, the last part of the movie isn't nearly as entertaining. The fight in the cave is kind of blah, a big battle at the end of the book is cut from the movie and the reveal of who the Half-Blood Prince is, which you would think is a big deal as it's the name of the movie and all, is just kind of dropped there at the end with no emotional weight at all.

5. The Philosopher's Stone - It's easy to look at the movie's faults - the fact the kids really didn't know how to act, that director Chris Columbus seemed terrified to cut a single scene from the book lest rabid Potter fans kill him in his sleep, making the movie awkwardly paced - than it is to focus on its many successes. The superb casting, the fantastic musical score, the whole scale creation of a new world on the big screen that had previously only existed in people's imaginations...none of these things were easy. Columbus does a workman like job, but like any good workman he set the foundation, allowing others to build and develop on what he created.

6. The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 - It's not so much that the movie is bad, it's just that this movie had the least to work with. The first half of Deathly Hallows is some of Rowling's weakest writing. It's all set-up for the big finale. It's the movie people had to get through to get to the good stuff. Yes, there's fantastic and heartbreaking moments, like Harry and Hermione in front of his parents grave or what happens to Dobby, but too much of the movie feels like the book - lost in the woods.

7. The Goblet of Fire - If I praised Azkaban for transforming the books into a movies at last after Columbus's very dry recreations of Potter's world, then this movie fails that test. Of all the Potter movies, this is the one that feels like it has the least amount of heart. From the terrible way Fleur Delacour is treated (one of the few instances of women looking weak and helpless in the entire series), the aggravating without any charm of Rita Skeeter (and none of the comuppance of the book) and the fact that most of the characters look bored and tired, it's the most lifeless of the series.

8. Chamber of Secrets - Widely regarded as the weakest of the books, it's also the weakest of the movies. What was magical in the first movie looked kind of done over the second time around. And while there's improvement in the kids' acting, it's not until Azkaban that they truly look comfortable in front of the screen. Also, Kenneth Branagh is such a fantastic actor that he had no problem making Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the series most annoying characters, really annoying on the big screen. Nearly every scene he's in is unwatchable.

So there you go. I've probably been a bit harder than required on the last two movies, but really, they do leave me kind of cold. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am in the comments.

Last Five
1. Perfect symmetry - Keane
2. You're missing - Bruce Springsteen
3. What's my name (live) - The Clash*
4. Lamb on the lam - Band of Horses
5. Pleased to meet you - Wolfmother


Dave H said...

I wont be telling you that your wrong. I think you summed them up pretty to close to how I would have called it. I too think the series should have gotten more recognition.

Dave H

John, Perth AU said...

Not quite sure what "Chapters" refers to. Care to elaborate?

towniebastard said...

Chapters is a Canadian bookstore chain...