Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Ten years after the murder of his parents (Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) learns he is a famous wizard and begins at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he quickly becomes a popular student, and best friends with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). However, mysterious events connect together to propose a threat to the Wizarding World and the three friends go on an all-out investigation to stop a catastrophe from happening.
After four years as bestsellers under its belt, it came as no surprise that JK Rowling's beloved fantasy series was adapted for the big screen, before the last three books - The Order of the Phoenix (2003), The Half-Blood Prince (2005) and The Deathly Hallows (2007) - were even published. More surprising is the fact that it became the highest grossing film series of all time, after the release of the first six installments (2001-9), even outgrossing James Bond (1962-) and Star Wars (1977-2005). To have achieved this the series would have had to have started out strongly, and by heck it does.
Hogwarts is brought to life with such glory - the castle being colossal and rightfully dominating, a jaw-dropper of an ancient architectural masterpiece; the lake, the fields and the background mountains are vast and stunning landscapes; the Quidditch pitch feels like such a grand stadium; and the Forbidden Forest is dark and creepy. The Wizarding World is bright and colourful, with all of the Wizarding tools, clothing and, of course, Diagon Alley, made so eye-catching and beautiful to look at, thanks to vast amounts of bright and careful detail.
Very loyal to the source material (first published 1997), the film is carried, not just by the three leads, but by the supporting characters, brought to life by superb British talent. The late Richard Harris is wise and powerful as Professor Dumbledore, the Headmaster; Robbie Coltrane is heartwarmingly gentle and kind as Gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid; Alan Rickman makes Potions Master, Professor Snape, cold and spiteful; Dame Maggie Smith is both strict and caring as Harry's Head of House, Professor McGonagall; and Ian Hart makes secondary antagonist, Professor Quirrell, a nervous, yet determined, deep and complex individual.
All-in-all this film is a heartfelt, beautifully designed and choreographed, loyal and visually stunning start to the biggest film series to date, fully utilising some of this nation's finest acting talent, and making a film that the whole family will really enjoy.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, John Cleese, Tom Felton, Sean Biggerstaff, David Bradley, Zoe Wanamaker, Matthew Lewis, Harry Melling, Leslie Phillips.
Oscar nominations: Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan), Best Costume Design (Judianna Makovsky), Best Original Score (John Williams).
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) begins Year Two at Hogwarts, Slytherin's legendary Chamber of Secrets is opened, and the monster within leaves animals, ghosts and Muggle-born students petrified. Determined to find out the identity of Slytherin's heir (the one behind it all), Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) begin an all-out investigation full of mystery and peril, and climaxing with shocking discoveries and the prospect of almost certain death.
A year older than in the first film, and more experienced as young actors, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson display more confidence in their performances in this film than in its 2001 predecessor, with much more boldness and energy, standing out/being more memorable than a year previously. The supporting cast are also excellent. In the final film completed before his death, Richard Harris brings a strong air of wisdom and authority to the role of Professor Dumbledore; Robbie Coltrane is heartwarmingly gentle and kind as Hagrid; Kenneth Branagh is deliciously over-the-top as the vain Professor Lockhart; Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs are cold, calculated and menacing as Professor Snape and Lucius Malfoy respectively; and Dame Maggie Smith is firm and authorative, but fair, as Professor McGonagall.
Loyal to the original 1998 novel, the film has a darker feel to it than the original in its grittier narrative, which peaks during the climactic trip into the Chamber of Secrets. The animal skeletons, shed skins of the Basilisk (Slytherin's monster - a snake of at least fifty feet in length) and rats give it a real sense of danger, and makes it feel like such a place of peril and death. The fact that the Chamber is a network of caves and tunnels, hundreds of feet below ground means that everything is grimy, dimly lit and compressed, creating a real feel of doom and gloom, which is only fitting for the dark and suspenseful climax.
The film (like its source material) also plays successfully on man's biggest fear - fear of the unknown - especially if you haven't read the book before (I'd read it five times before seeing it a week into its cinematic release by the way). The fact that we don't learn of the one behind the attacks, or the creature responsible, until the final half hour of two and a half hours, builds up a vast amount of tension throughout, as all you know is that it is a truly terrifying creature as even the spiders and Acromantula (carnivorous spiders, as large as cows) flee from it.
Loyal to the source material, this is a beautifully designed and well-created second installment that fully utilises some of this nation's finest acting talents, and is exhilarating, very entertaining and has some moments which will make you jump, particularly when viewed on a big screen.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Christian Coulson, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Gemma Jones, Miriam Margolyes, Toby Jones, Robert Hardy, John Cleese, Shirley Henderson, David Bradley, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Sean Biggerstaff, Hugh Mitchell, Julian Glover, Harry Melling.
BAFTA nominations: Best Visual Effects (Jim Mitchell, Nick Davis, John Richardson, Bill George, Nick Dudman), Best Production Design (Stuart Craig), Best Sound (Randy Thom, Dennis Leonard, John Midgley, Ray Merrin, Graham Daniel, Rick Kline).
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) begin Year Three at Hogwarts, mass murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) escapes from Azkaban prison in order to kill Harry. The Dementors that guard Azkaban are assigned to protect Hogwarts, however, their love for gloom, misery and troubled souls draw them to Harry, putting his life at stake.
The first two films (2001-2) had the family friendly feel associated with the films of Chris Columbus - think Home Alone (1990) and Mrs Doubtfire (1993) - and didn't get dark till the final half hour to forty-five minutes, which was appropriate as the first two books (1997-8) were aimed for 8-13 year olds when JK Rowling wrote them. Like the third book (1999) the film series takes an all-round dark turn with this film, which the rest of the films (2005-2011) would also be given.
Under the direction and design of acclaimed Mexican Auteur Alfonso Cauron, the film is given a very effective gothic design, dimly lit and full of darkness, despair and a theme of death. The Dementors - gliding, tall and black cloaked - stand out as a representation of death, and, in both their design and their hatred for all things good and happy, can be greatly compared to the Grim Reaper. As for Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) - who transforms into a werewolf at every full moon - his gaunt face, scarred and hollowed, shows very effectively how some people's lives can be almost deathly, while his transformation into a werewolf is a genuine masterpiece of editing, thanks to its intricate detail and raw power as a scene.
As with the previous films, the three leads are supported by a most excellent ensemble of British talent. Taking over the role of Professor Dumbledore, following Richard Harris's death in 2002, Sir Michael Gambon brings wisdom and his own type of charm to the role; Robbie Coltrane makes Hagrid both heartbreaking and heartwarming (depending on the scene); Thewlis brings wisdom and authority to the role of Lupin, and makes the fear and hate Lupin feels for his werewolf condition ver heartfelt; Oldman brings deepness and complexity to Sirius, while Alan Rickman is as cold and harsh as ever as Snape; and Emma Thompson is wonderfully melodramatic and over-the-top as Professor Trelawney.
All-in-all, this is a beautifully designed film, that was created so well by Cauron, and thanks to its deliciously dark feel it is, in the view of myself and millions of various critics and viewers, the best Potter film to date.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Tom Felton, Timothy Spall, Robert Hardy, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Dawn French, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Pam Ferris, Julie Christie, David Bradley.
Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects (Tim Burke, Roger Guyett, Bill George, John Richardson), Best Original Score (John Williams).
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
As his fourth year at Hogwarts begins Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself entered in the Triwizard Tournament by an anonymous foe. Up against Hufflepuff's Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson), Durmstrang Institute's Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) and Beauxbatons Academy's Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy) - all of whom are over 17, while Harry is still only 14 - he is offered as much help as possible by Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Neville (Matthew Lewis) and even Professor Moody (Brendan Gleeson). In a series of tasks that go from the air to the depths of the lake, and finally a giant maze, peril and danger lurks everywhere, and tragic loss and an event that will change the Wizarding World forever are not far off.
Substantially loyal to the 2000 novel, the screenplay is gritty, tense, fast-paced and exhilarating. From the prologue where Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), living in a baby's body, kills an elderly Muggle (Eric Sykes) to the climax where he returns to full power and tries to kill Harry in a graveyard, an ever-growing sense of darkness and danger is present, and built up very successfully than an eerie, atmospheric score, dark lighting, and intricate, well-designed cinematography and editing. The tasks are given their wonderful appeal and engaging fast pace through a series of quick edits and excellent special effects. The dragon in the First Task is given stunning and bright attention to detail, making it monstrous, bold and ferocious. The lake (dived into for the Second Task) is dimly and eerily lit, and the Merpeople and Grindylows within artistically excellent. And the Great Maze in the Third Task is dominating, dark and really makes you feel as if you are walled in.
As with the previous films (2001-4) the cast are a very good ensemble. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson give good performances as the three leads; while Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Robert Hardy, Timothy Spall and Maggie Smith are as strong as ever in their respective roles. In this installment they are joined by a variety of excellent new additions to the series' cast, most memorable of all being Gleeson, who makes Moody wonderfully short-tempered, intimidating and borderline psychotic; Fiennes, who makes Voldemort so cold, spiteful and altogether deliciously evil; Miranda Richardson, who is beautifully melodramatic and gossipy as journalist Rita Skeeter; and David Tennant is dark and psychologically complex as Barty Crouch Jr, Voldemort's loyalest servant.
All in all, this is one of the strongest installments of the series so far. The most exciting of the first six films (2001-9), with a strong screenplay, excellent effects and a very good cast, it is also very dark and tense - though not so much so as Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Order of the Phoenix (2007) and Half-Blood Prince (2009).
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Robert Pattinson, Clemence Poesy, Stanislav Ianevski, David Tennant, Predrag Bjelac, Frances de la Tour, Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall, Maggie Smith, Robert Hardy, Roger Lloyd Pack, Mark Williams, Jeff Rawle, Gary Oldman, Matthew Lewis, Katie Leung, Shirley Henderson, Tom Felton.
Oscar nomination: Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan).
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
As his fifth year at Hogwarts begins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds that all of his claims that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned are getting boycotted by the Ministry. Realising that the Ministry are also preventing Hogwarts students from learning defensive magic, he (in secret) begins the DA (Dumbledore's Army), where he teaches fellow students defensive magic.
Visually, this is a very well made film, with very eye-catching, sharp effects, full of explosions, fires and collapses; as well as atmospheric, with a very, very dark tone to it, which serves to make the more adult sides of the screenplay a lot more tense and dramatic; and excellent cinematography, with aerial scenes on both broomsticks and Thestrals being very well shot, and really making you feel you are there, the scenes over the roofs of London being possibly vertigo inducing when viewed on a large screen.
The cast all work together well to create a good ensemble. Michael Gambon, Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Robert Hardy, Maggie Smith, Brendan Gleeson and David Thewlis are all just as strong in their respective roles, as they were in the first four films (2001-5). As Neville Longbottom, Matthew Lewis really shows his talent, and gives Neville his most deep and complex appearance to date. For this film, three new strong supporting stars are introduced, in the forms of Imelda Staunton as new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and Cornelius Fudge's (Hardy) right hand woman, making her cold-hearted, sadistic and sickening, also providing some very good comic moments and is so wonderful to watch; Helena Bonham Carter, as Voldemort's right hand woman, Bellatrix Lestrange, and who makes Bellatrix very effectively mentally disturbed, and a wonderful representation of pure evil; and Evanna Lynch as Ravenclaw student Luna Lovegood, who gives good comic timing, and makes Luna very believably airy-fairy.
There are, however, two main drawbacks to the ensemble. The major one is that Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson give inconsistent performances as the three leads. Their performances feel more forced and artificial than before, and it just feels as if the trio have just thought "I've made my millions, I don't think I can be that bothered anymore", but only in some scenes; where as in most others they give strong, developed performances, particularly Radcliffe who is very complex as Harry.
The more minor is the fact that so many characters who were given substance in the novel (2003) - such as Ginny (Bonnie Wright), Kingsley (George Harris), Tonks (Natalia Tena) and Malfoy (Tom Felton) - are given scarecely any role to play and just feel like they have been chucked in as props just to please fans/readers of the book, which is especially painful in Ginny's case as she is a big part of the climactic battle with the Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic.
The flaws within the ensemble of characters and actors, however, are largely down to the flawed screenplay. Order of the Phoenix is the longest book at 766 pages (UK edition), yet it became the second shortest film at 138 minutes, second only to Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), which is 130 minutes. This is more than noticeable, as vast numbers of subplots - such as a number of Harry's various problems with Umbridge, and attacks on Hagrid (Coltrane) and McGonagall (Smith) - are removed. As well as this almost every single event in the film, which is actually included, is done as quickly as possible, as if they were bet that they couldn't make the book into a film that was under two and a half hours and which results in vast amounts of underdevelopment. As a critic, this is infuriating, as a film and its characters need development and substance, and every scene needs to gel together, which it doesn't. As a die hard Potter fan this is infuriating for me, as I found the book fantastic, with everything clicking together and I couldn't wait to see how the film did it. The feeling of the screenplay trying to get everything over and done with angers most in the climax at the Ministry of Magic, where it's all over and done with in less than twenty minutes, whereas it took at least four chapters in the book.
Majorly flawed, especially in the screenplay, there is no denying that this film is visually fantastic, and has some truly excellent cast members, who make the film very watchable, and rather entertaining in places.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Robert Hardy, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Katie Leung, Maggie Smith, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Tom Felton, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, Natalia Tena, George Harris.
BAFTA nominations: Best Production Design (Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan), Best Special Visual Effects (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Emma Norton, Chris Shaw).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his sixth year at Hogwarts, the pressure of fulfilling the prophecy resting heavily on him, he is tutored by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in just how he must defeat Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, not appearing in this film), with the first obstacle being the fact he must get a vital old memory of the teenage Voldemort (Frank Dillane) from Voldemort's old teacher, Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent).
Opening with a scene of the Death Eaters not only causing destruction to Diagon Alley, but to Muggle London as well, the film features absolutely superb visuals. The special effects are bold, powerful and very eye-catching, the highlights being the destruction of the Millenium Bridge, a Death Eater attack on the Burrow, and Dumbledore's fending of vast numbers of Inferius, by producing vast whips of fire from the end of his wand. Clearly the visuals team spent vast amounts of time working on the CGI created visuals of these scenes, as nothing seems out of place or artificial and it all works together so beautifully. The editing is to an equally high standard, especially in the Quiddith match against Slytherin, which is fast paced and very engrossing to watch, thanks to the quick edits and fast-paced shots, which really make you feel as if you are there, flying with the Gryffindors.
The cast make a good ensemble, but this film has more flaws within the cast than in any of the previous films (2001-7). Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson give their most artificial and poor performances to date, and it is as if they have simply thought, in the moments before Director David Yates yelled "Action", "I've made my millions, can I really be bothered to put in the effort anymore?" Fortunately their supporting stars more make up for it. Gambon, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith are as strong in their respective roles as they were in the previous films. Tom Felton really starts to shine as Malfoy, making him very powerful and his difficult emotions very engrossing and powerful to watch. The latest, strong additions to the cast are Broadbent, who provides excellent comic relief as Slughorn, created to perfection through Broadbent's top-notch comic timing and delivery; and Helen McCrory, in a brief but strong role, as Malfoy's distressed mother, and who plays the distressed, loving mother part beautifully.
The screenplay, however, is the film's major flaw. As a Potter maniac the most disappointing factor is the fact that vast amounts of the 2005 novel are just removed, even events that felt strong and important in the book, most of which being memories of Voldemort, and information about what the Death Eaters are currently up to. The main disappointments, as a critic, come from the lack of character development. A number of minor characters are cut, which one could see as fair enough as they were minor characters in the first place. Vast amounts of included characters have very little role, however, notable examples being Smith as Professor McGonagall, who is strong in the three scenes she has a good part in; Evanna Lynch and Matthew Lewis, who have a lot less chance to shine as Luna and Neville as they did in the previous film; and Timothy Spall as Wormtail, who appears for about ten seconds, with no lines, which is disappointing as he had been very good as Wormtail in films three (2004) and four (2005), and here it is as if they just included his cameo to satisfy the fans of the books. True, he had barely any role in the book, but even just one little bit of dialogue to show the contrast between himself and the other Death Eaters in terms of confidence and importance would have sufficed. The romance between Harry and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) is also very corny and very artificial and tense. It genuinely feels like the most forced romance ever and you are guaranteed to cringe when watching it.
All-in-all this film is good, but Potter maniacs will be disappointed. The screenplay may have major flaws but the cast as a whole are good and the visuals excellent, so it is definetly worth a watch.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Bonnie Wright, Maggie Smith, Helen McCrory, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Dave Legeno, David Thewlis, Natalia Tena, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch.
Oscar nomination: Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Following Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon) death, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) go out into the real world to find and destroy Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) Horcruxes and defeat him as Dumbledore had intended. But with the Death Eaters taking over the Ministry of Magic and declaring Harry Undesirable Number One nowhere is safe.
After almost ten years of dominating the box office, this marks the beginning of the end of the series. As a die hard Potter nut I was naturally devastated when the books came to an end in 2007, but it didn't quite feel like the end as there were still more films to come. But now it is with a sense of sadness that I come to review this penultimate in the series. Harry Potter has been a big thing for my generation and one feels that they have grown up with Harry, like he is a relative of some sort so one does feel a bond for him, Ron and Hermione. Even though the series went down hill when David Yates took over with Order of the Phoenix (2007), this is definetly the beginning of an excellent conclusion, and the magic is most certainly back!
What works so well with this installment in both the book and film is the fact that unlike the first six installments (2001-9) the three leads are not within the boundaries of Hogwarts. No matter how bleak it all seemed, you always knew that they would be safe as they have Hogwarts, and numerous protectors, such as Dumbledore, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), 'Mad-Eye' Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and Mr Weasley (Mark Williams). But with Dumbledore dead, and the rest of their protectors miles away and in grave danger themselves - *SPOILER ALERT* 'Mad-Eye' is killed early in the story - the sense of danger is greatly increased, as they are in the middle of nowhere, which is greatly heightened by the shots of fields and forests which they find themselves in the middle of, and really creates a sense of in the middle of nowhere type of danger.
The editing and special effects also really make this a successful piece of fantasy. The highlight in the editing department sees Ron, Hermione, Fred (James Phelps), George (Oliver Phelps), Fleur (Clemence Poesy) and Mundungus (Andy Linden) take on the form of Harry using Polyjuice Potion. This is a really clever piece of editing that sees several takes overlapping each other to make the six transformations smooth and believable, as well as rather detailed (some grow taller, some grow shorter, some lose hair, some grow hair, faces change shape, et cetera) making it the most convincing Polyjuice Potion transformation of the entire film series - the transformations of Chamber of Secrets (2002) and Goblet of Fire (2005) looked good but seemed too rushed.
The highlight in the special effects department is an airbourne battle that Harry and Hagrid have with Voldemort and some Death Eaters. With quick, vivid blasts off spells from wands, the images are bold and memorable, and culminate with a golden explosion as such between Harry's wand and Lucius Malfoy's (Jason Isaacs), which Voldemort is using, which is a truly dazzling piece of special effects that steals the entire scene. The fact that this all happens hundreds of feet above the ground is also very eye catching, and could cause a slight sense of vertigo when watched on a big screen, as it also really makes you aware of just how dangerous this film's events will be for Harry very early on (this scene happens about 20 minutes in).
As for the performances of the three leads this film really does show them on top form, which after the last two films (2007/9) is something I never thought I would be saying. The first film (2001) the three generally were not impressive, but with the next three films (2002/4/5) you felt they were slowly but surely improving. Radcliffe did some scenes in Order of the Phoenix very well, but generally, he, Grint and Watson were not impressive, and were ever less so in Half-Blood Prince and it just felt as though they couldn't be bothered anymore now that they had made their millions. However, this film sees them carrying almost every scene on their own and they do finally stand out. Radcliffe brings great weight to Harry's mission, and you can really feel the turmoil, guilt and inner struggles that the mission has on Harry. As well as this, Radcliffe creates some deep poignancy when Harry sees his parents' (Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville) grave for the first time, and we finally see just how much having been orphaned has truly hurt Harry, in a scene full of powerful emotion. Having been the comic relief in the last two films Grint gives a serious and deep performance full of emotion. Being away from comfort and not knowing whether or not his family are alive makes Ron a much angrier, much more aggresive character, and Grint does this with such heartfelt emotion that it really is a most triumphant performance for him. Watson is also quite moving as Hermione, making her fear and despair over what is happening to the Wizarding World very deep, and the character's love for Harry and Ron quite emotionally touching.
Unlike the previous films none of the supporting cast get a vast amount of screen time, but what screen time they get is used as best as they possibly can. Fiennes ultimately steals the show as Voldemort, making the character very cold, cunning and emotionless. His performance really sends tingles down the spine and you can't help but feel the sort of fear of the character that the Wizarding World fears as the total lack of emotion never fails to shock. This is no surprise as Fiennes is always a fantastic antagonist and is a genuinely talented actor - just look at his performance as Amon Goth in Schindler's List (1993). Helena Bonham Carter is as good as ever as the unstable and sadistic Bellatrix Lestrange, her cruelty and love for torture made quite unnerving and creepy. This film also sees the return of Imelda Staunton as sadistic Ministry worker Dolores Umbridge, and what a performance she gives in her 15 minutes or so, making Umbridge just as cruel and heartless as in Order of the Phoenix, and creating such a gut-wrenchingly false sweet character as before.
In short this is a deep, powerful and strong penultimate film in the series, with great visuals, a superb sense of danger and strong performances, and the film really builds up to the conclusion, out in cinemas this summer!
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans, Tom Felton, Imelda Staunton, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Timothy Spall, John Hurt, Andy Linden, Simon McBurney, Domhnall Gleeson, Clemence Poesy, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Warwick Davis, Dave Legeno, Brendan Gleeson, Guy Henry, Peter Mullan, George Harris, Natalia Tena, Nick Moran, David O'Hara, Steffan Rhodri, Sophie Thompson, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Michael Gambon, David Ryall, Matyelok Gibbs, Hazel Douglas, Kate Fleetwood.
Oscar nominations: Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan), Best Visual Effects (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz, Nicolas Aithadi).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
It's been twelve years since the books first came into my life, and ten since they first came to the big screen. Now it's all over, and it is with a sense of poignancy that I come to write this review. More than half my lifetime spend becoming a huge Harry Potter nerd, memorising both books and films, dreaming of playing Quidditch and duelling Death Eaters, and more than anything hoping that the films would remain strong till the end - Order of the Phoenix (2007) and Half-Blood Prince (2009) being the only ones which weren't.
Sad, I know, but being seven when the first book was read to us in class, and eight when I began working my way through the next three books, and then rereading them constantly as I waited for the final three to be first published, Harry Potter has been a huge part of my life for so long. The books may have ended four years ago on Thursday, but I never felt it was truly over till the films were, and now it is. If you haven't seen the film, or the first part of the finale (2010), or even read the book, you may want to stop reading after this paragraph as this review will contain spoilers!
The final film, this really is the best in the series. A visual beauty with substantial amounts of character development, poignant scenes, a dark feel, powerful imagery and underlying meanings, a fully consistent screenplay and just about every actor in Britain giving it their all.
After breaking into Gringotts to steal a Horcrux, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts, and there the final battle against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his armies will take place. True colours shall be revealed as the battle takes many casualties, and only either Harry or Voldemort can survive. But with Voldemort in possession of the all-powerful Elder Wand, all odds seem against Harry.
Throughout the visuals of the film are spectacular, especially the special effects and general imagery. The first major piece of special effects is the trip into Gringotts, all images of which are bold in design, and the cinematography of which is well edited (particularly in the cart ride) to make this one exhilarating part of the film. In Gringotts the boldest image is by far the dragon and its fight for freedom in the end dominates this part of the film thanks to its superb design, and the fierceness which is brought to it.
From here the visual effects and imagery of the film get even better, and in the final battle we are offered an incredible feast of fantastic visual effects, which are explosive - the Death Eaters destruction of Hogwarts; dominating - the giants fighting for Voldemort, over twenty feet tall and brutal in design; well edited - the destruction of the Covered Bridge by Neville (Matthew Lewis) and Seamus (Devon Murray), as well as an incredible final showdown between Harry and Voldemort, which will have you on the edge of your seat, thanks to the editing, effects and pacing of it; bright and dazzling - the various spells cast by both defenders of the castle and Death Eaters, in particular the most powerful of Shield Charms cast by Flitwick (Warwick Davis), Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) and Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), and an incredibly powerful Patronus cast by Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds); bold - McGonagall (Maggie Smith) bringing the Hogwarts statues to life so they can defend the castle, in a moment only heightened in power by Alexandre Desplat's excellent score; and altogether spectacular - especially, for me, the scene where Goyle (Joshua Herdman) casts Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement, killing himself, and nearly killing Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco (Tom Felton) and Zabini (Louis Cordice), in a scene which will have the viewer on the edge of their seat thanks to imagery that also really gets the adrenaline pumping, thanks also to the very bleak situation.
Other powerful imagery comes in the form of the Gringotts dragon, which Harry, Ron and Hermione ride to escape Gringotts. The dragon, who had been kept shackled in the bowels of the Gringotts tunnels for many years, really fights for its freedom, and in design is (despite being scarred) rather beautiful and graceful, and is a wonderful image of a longing for freedom.
At the end of the day, many of the supporting characters don't get a vast amount of screentime, but despite this several of the supporting characters get substantial amounts of character development as their stories peak. Two of the best examples of character development, in my view, come in the forms of Molly Weasley and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs).
Molly, who has been little more than a housewife and loving parent, both to her own children and to Harry, finally gets some substance and development in this film, which begins with the death of Fred (James Phelps), where in a heartbreaking scene we see just how much the death of a son can grieve a mother, and when Molly finally kills Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) during the climax, we see just how much grief can change a person, and how much it has changed this character, into a fierce, gutsy woman who holds nothing back when she duels, as Walters plays her with passion.
In films four (2005) and five, it was clear that Lucius was wholeheartedly loyal to Lord Voldemort, but in film seven we first start to see how much he truly fears his master, and in this final film he continues to be a nervous wreck of his former self, and in the end turns his back on his master for his family, which is a major contrast to the former Lucius and shows just how much fear and love can change one's views and loyalties, in a moving performance from Isaacs.
Other characters, such as Neville, are also given substantial development. Neville has come a long way from that tubby little first year in the first film (2001), who struggled with simple spells, and in this film we see just how much his hate for the Death Eaters, in particular Bellatrix, has motivated him and driven him to be a courageous, fierce fighter, thanks to some very moving dialogue and a very confident and strong performance from Lewis.
The rest of the cast also put their all into this film as well. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson started out in the first film as not brilliant actors, but with each film grew in confidence and, as a result, talent. In films five and six, however, the three just seemed unbothered as they had made their millions, and their performances went down hill. In this two part finale, however, they are back on their strongest form yet, putting every ounce of energy and passion they have into making three strong, confident, leading characters, and the amount of raw emotion they display is moving.
The adults have always been the strongest part of the cast, even if they have often been underused. Smith, who has been underused since film three (2004), gives a fiery and determined performance as McGonagall, as well as sympathetic in the right places, and one is really drawn in by the grit and passion with which she goes through the film. As Kingsley, George Harris gives a very authorative and confident performance, making the Head of the Order of the Phoenix a brilliant and powerful leader. As Voldemort, Fiennes gives one of the best performances of the entire series, making the Dark Lord cold, sadistic and chillingly so, and the perfect antagonist for the series. Once again Bonham Carter draws us in as Bellatrix, making Voldemort's leuitenant deliciously sadistic, cruel, and even psychopathic.
Davis is also strong in this film, having been seriously underused since the first film, as his acting talent provides the role of one character who is surprisingly important, Griphook, whom he makes cold and sly, the kind of character who sends a shiver down the spine, and the supporting role of Flitwick, whom Davis makes a tiny dueller with a huge heart filled with courage and a brain of battle tactics and logic, and also uses his small stature as comic relief in a couple of moments. Out of a large number of supporting stars though, Alan Rickman is the strongest as Snape. In the character's early scenes Rickman makes Snape as cold, heartless and sinister as ever before, but in the later scenes we see Snape's full story as questions about his past and his loyalties are answered, and Rickman gives one of the best performances of his career conveying truly moving and touching emotions that really bring great poignancy to said scenes, and will move even the most hard hearted of viewers.
As for the screenplay this is the best in the series to date, and is consistent throughout. From the opening of the film there is a sense of darkness and bleakness for the Wizarding World created, partly because we know Voldemort has the Elder Wand as the footage of him stealing it from Dumbledore's tomb is reused from Part 1, and also because of the depiction of Hogwarts. The students are marched in blocks through the courtyard as if they were prisoners being marched back to their cells, and the happiness that once filled and surrounded Hogwarts has gone under this new regime, and with Dementors surrounding the grounds Hogwarts has effectively become a prison. This is a very effective way of depicting how the Wizarding World has become subject to the misery caused by Voldemort, as even Hogwarts, once considered the safest place possible has become subject to the Dark Lord, and it is such a shockingly dark contrast to the Hogwarts we had loved from the start.
The screenplay manages as well to really tug at the heartstrings with some truly poignant moments. Harry discovering the truth about Snape is the most poignant scene of the entire series, partly due to some really emotional dialogue, partly due to the moving score by Desplat, but mostly due to Rickman's touching and emotional performance. This scene is only slightly more moving than Snape's death scene, which hits hard thanks to the emotions displayed on screen, and heightened by Desplat's score once again. Other moments of poignancy come in the death scenes of Goyle, Fred (James Phelps), Remus (David Thewlis) and Tonks (Natalia Tena), although the death of Goyle is the only one which is actually seen.
In the book when Crabbe was killed by the Fiendfyre (a role taken over by Goyle in the film, after actor Jamie Waylett was sacked due to drugs charges) the moment he dies is not there in black and white, but we knew he died as he never made it out the Room of Requirement. Showing Goyle fall into the flames was a good decision in my view, as the fear and horror in the faces of Draco, Goyle and Zabini as Goyle falls to his death are quite gut-wrenching, and you end up looking to Goyle as a tragic character, dead at 18, having been Draco's crony his entire life, unable to say 'no', so that when he finally did it killed him.
The deaths of Fred, Remus and Tonks are cut out, but we do get the moments when Harry, Ron and Hermione discover their deaths. The amount of heartbreak clear in the faces of the entire Weasley family over the death of Fred is particularly moving, and it is a clear image of how war can hit any family hard and leave any family grieving. The deaths of Remus and Tonks hit hard as the scene shows their bodies lying side by side, and a moment of poignancy is created as you think of the little time this couple had together, and the tragedy that this loving pair less than a year into marriage died together.
In the book McGonagall informed Slughorn that they would "duel to kill" in order to defend Hogwarts. In the film we see just how strongly that was meant. When Neville destroys the Covered Bridge, Scabior (Nick Moran) and several Snatchers are on it, charging after him and towards several other students, and end up falling to their deaths. This is a true depiction of how much the desire of the Hogwarts staff and students to be free of Voldemort, and how it has really become a case of they will do anything to defend Hogwarts and show Voldemort's armies that they are no pushovers in their fight to defeat them.
Another commendable quality about the screenplay is that it makes the dire epilogue - set 19 years later that sees Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) see their various children onto the Hogwarts Express - as bearable as it could possibly been. The epilogue is unnecessary in both book and film, and it would have been better to scrap it altogether in the film, but its one redeeming feature is that it makes us feel slightly nostalgic of that first journey the Hogwarts Express took on screen a whole decade ago, by simply reusing John Williams's score from the first film. It is anti-climactic, but it was done as best it could be, and surprisingly injected a positive emotional response.
All in all the film is not perfect - is there such a thing as a perfect film? - and it isn't 100% loyal to the book, as adaptations never are, but it is a powerful conclusion for the highest grossing franchise in history, and really closes the series with a bang in what is genuinely the best in the series to date.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Matthew Lewis, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Tom Felton, Warwick Davis, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory, Geraldine Somerville, Adrian Rawlins, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Bonnie Wright, George Harris, Jim Broadbent, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Evanna Lynch, Kelly Macdonald, John Hurt, Domnhall Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Clémence Poésy, Devon Murray, Alfie Enoch, Joshua Herdman, Louis Cordice, David Bradley, Guy Henry, Nick Moran, Dave Legeno, Natalia Tena, Emma Thompson, Jon Key, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones.
Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.