Welcome

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.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A new Box Office Record has been set

The weekend just finished saw the worldwide box office set a new record as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) surpassed the $500 million mark, replacing Rio (2011) as the 10th highest grossing film of 2011, and in doing so made 2011 the first year in cinematic history where the 10 highest grossers each surpassed the half-billion dollars mark, after 2010 only just failed to as How to Train Your Dragon (2010) missed the half-billion mark by just over $5 million.


















Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Entire Franchise to Date: 'Madagascar'

Madagascar
***

When Zoo animals Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are being shipped to the wild, their crates fall off the ship and wash on to the shores of Madagascar. There they are treated like Gods by the Lemur population, but the lack of food starts to make Alex one dangerous predator.

In the post-The Incredibles (2004)/pre-Ratatouille (2007) era for computer animation DreamWorks were especially average or even disappointing, and Madagascar was released early on in this. Don't get me wrong, the film is by no means bad, but it isn't brilliant either. The animation is bright and colourful, with New York City and the jungles of Madagascar being beautiful and bold in design, and the Ocean waves graceful, although the faces of the animals don't convince as much as the faces of animals in Pixar films due to the fact, particularly around the nose area, they look a bit too blocky and set shaped, although the fur is very detailed, particularly in Alex's mane.
The screenplay itself isn't too bad either, with some quite comical moments and sly set-ups, plus some brilliant dialogue for the four Penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights), but it is brought down by a rather anti-climactic final 15 minutes, and the odd scene which is slow-moving as it is just the four main characters arguing and stressing out. There is also a substantial lack of character development, with the only exception really being Alex, and despite some excellent, energetic voice performances you just can't be brought in so much by underdeveloped, under-written characters.

At the end of the day, though this is a fun and enjoyable film, and despite its flaws it's worth a watch, and the success of this film started DreamWorks second franchise after the Shrek franchise (2001-).

2005.
U.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, Fred Tatasciore, Elisa Gabrielli.

Annie Award nominations: Best Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation), Best Animated Effects (Matt Baer), Best Animated Effects (Rick Glumac), Best Animated Effects (Martin Usiak), Best Character Design in an Animated Feature Production (Craig Kellman), Best Production Design in an Animated Feature Production (Yoriko Ito), Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Tom McGrath), Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Catherine Yuh), Best Music in an Animated Feature Production (Hans Zimmer).


Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
**

When flying back to New York the plane carrying Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), the Penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio), the Monkeys (Conrad Vernon), Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) crashes in an African Wildlife Preserve, Alex is reunited with his parents (Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd), but quickly loses his dad the title of Alpha Lion, so must take on the power-hungry Makunga (Alec Baldwin) to regain his dad's repuation.

For the initial twenty minutes or so, we have a film that feels just as enjoyable as the 2005 original, but is also presents a fairly moving opening, which comes a surprise and successfully draws us in. The jokes are less than expected, but still fairly amusing. After the crash land in Africa, however, the film just seriously goes down hill.
In Africa the jokes become far more frequent and far less amusing, resorting to cheap gags, such as cartoon violence which looks more like cartoon violence happening in a live-action film, as cartoon violence doesn't suit computer animation; and also jokes about big butts, which are rarely funny, as well as gags of common errors/foolish mistakes, which are underwritten and just fail to amuse.
After this the characters also become far too underdeveloped, with several new characters introduced as part of the Africa story, but barely getting the surface of them scratched, and some of the original characters in a number of scenes get pushed aside and get a lot less development than is expected. The number of scenes which are both underwritten and also unnecessary is genuinely staggering, and its clear they failed to focus on the screenplay as they worked as hard as possible to get a sequel to what became a much loved film three years earlier out in cinemas. Even the Penguins aren't as entertaining, with their antics not as funny when you see their general personalities in a couple of scenes.

At the end of the day the main strand of the film is The Lion King (1994) but in the over-excited, gag-reliant style of Madagascar, and it is poorly written, with the plot not well developed, pointless subplots, and no amount of bright, colourful animation - which isn't brilliant, but still nice to look - and energetic voice acting can make up for this. It is the worst computer animation from DreamWorks to date, and is not one to watch in a hurry.

2008.
PG.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bernie Mac, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, Andy Richter, Elisa Gabrielli, will.i.am, Conrad Vernon, Fred Tatasciore, Quinn Dempsey Stiller, Declan Swift, Thomas Stanley, Zachary Gordon, Willow Smith.

Annie Award nominations: Best Animated Effects (Fangwei Lee), Best Writing in an Animated Feature Production (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Etan Cohen).


WHAT'S NEXT?
The TV series The Penguins of Madagascar (2009-) continues to air, while TV special Madly Madagascar is set to air this year. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted gets its cinematic release on June 8th 2012, while an Untitled Madagascar Penguins film has been confirmed. DreamWorks have also stated it is very likely a fourth film will be made where the animals return at last to New York.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Angels & Demons


**

Investigating the mysterious circumstances around the death of the Pope, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) uncovers a plot to kill four Cardinals, however the trail ultimately leads to a plot to blow up the Vatican.

A somewhat formulaic sequel to The Da Vinci Code (2006), there are a number of "saw it coming" type moments, e.g. a dead body pointing to the next piece of the jigsaw, or a helpful supporting character - this time Camerlengo McKenna (Ewan McGregor) - turning out to be the real antagonist. The screenplay also suffers due to being underdeveloped, with some scenes dragged out by poorly written and sometimes pointless dialogue, while others are fast paced scenes, in what feel like attempts to get through the narrative as quickly as possible, resulting in very little character development and weak emotional arcs.

Visually some of the scenes are very powerful, particularly the film's presumed climax (as opposed to the ultimate anti-climax), thanks to some literally explosive special effects, as well as being dark and gritty where appropriate by making strong use of shadows and blood, while the score by Hans Zimmer only heightens the  power and grit of these particular scenes. In terms of the cast Hanks is a decent lead, bringing a sense of wisdom and authority to Langdon, while McGregor puts some passion and emotion into his performance as McKenna. However, almost all of their co-stars give dull and even bored performances, putting little passion and work into their performances, presumably due to the poorly developed characters the screenplay provides them with.

In short, a religious yarn, very flawed in places, just like the 2000 source text, and altogether a little too predictable and unoriginal after The Da Vinci Code, which also includes a hugely disappointing anti-climactic ending.

2009.
12.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, David Pasquesi, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, Elya Baskin, Pasquale Cassalia, Auguste Fredrik, Endre Hules.

Art Directors Guild nomination: Excellence in Production Design Award (Contemporary Films: Allan Cameron, Giles Masters, Keith P. Cunningham, Dawn Swiderski, Luke Freeborn, Alex Cameron, Mark Homes, Jeff Markwith, Patricia Johnson, Patte Strong-Lord, Clint Schultz, Gunnar Ahmer, James Gemmill, Robert Gould).

The Entire Franchise to Date: 'Cars'

Cars

***

Set in a world populated only by anthropomorphic motorised vehicles (that also includes planes, trains and motorbikes), the film follows cocky race car, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who is stranded in Radiator Springs, a town in the middle of nowhere, en route to California and the biggest race of his career. But during his time in the town he learns just how valuable life is and learns to appreciate the little things in life.

Cars is the seventh Pixar film, after Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004). All of these incredible animations have been hit, no question about it whatsoever. Cars, however, is the first miss, and so far the only one from Pixar to date. Do not misunderstand this, statement, for it has nothing to do with the animation. As always the animation is absolutely outstanding. It is bright, it is colourful, and it is full of outstanding detail. The dust and sand of Route 66 and the surrounding area feels so real, not too blocky, not too thin and flimsy, but captures real life dust effects down to a tee. Despite being anthropomorphic, talking cars, the cars are still very realistic, thanks to the fact that they still glint and shine in the sunlight. The racing scenes, however, are the most incredible animation pieces of the entire film, fast paced, quickly edited, and made with stunning detail and just feel so realistic to watch, and are very engaging also. In short they are mini-masterpieces, and the animation is all-in-all flawless.

The characters are also good entertainment, with some very good voice performances. Wilson makes Lightning cool and cocky, while Bonnie Hunt makes Sally, a Porsche Lightning falls in love with, very sassy. Paul Newman makes Doc Hudson, a retired race car from the '50s a very deep, complex and amusingly grumpy character, and strong supporting vocal performances are provided by Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, George Carlin, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Wallis, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, John Ratzenberger and Katherine Helmond. The most memorable character, however, is rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Dimwitted, wise-cracking and quite brash, Larry brings great energy and strength to his performance and really steals the film as Mater.

The film's major flaw, however, is the screenplay. All other Pixar screenplays have been deep and complex, but with lots of excellent gags that make the films so engaging. Cars, however, does not have this. The majority of the gags (in other words any gag that doesn't come from Mater) just fall flat, there's nothing well-written or particularly funny about them, and it's just as if they were written by a small child. The racing sequences may be vastly exhilarating to watch and very well made, but they are really let down by almost all of the other scenes in the film, which are dragged out and plod along at a slow pace, making it often hard to keep one's attention. Even the message of the film, is understated. It gets little development, and is barely more than the other characters saying "You need to realize how important life is" to Lightning.

Good entertainment, with outstanding animation, this film is, but it is little more than that. As it is Pixar, and I am their biggest fan I say watch it anyhow as it's enjoyable and you will be left speechless by the incredible animation.

2006.
PG.
Stars:
Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, Tony Shalhoub, George Carlin, Michael Wallis, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond.

Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature (John Lasseter), Best Original Song (Our Town - Randy Newman, James Taylor).


Cars 2

**

Cars (2006) may have been the weakest Pixar film, and one of the lowest box office performers ($461 million worldwide, while all other Pixar films during the 2000s grossed $526-$868 million), but it made some $8 billion in merchandise, gaining a huge fan base along the way, so a sequel would always be on the table.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is invited to participate in the first World Grand Prix, and flies overseas with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). However, when Mater runs into British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), he is mistaken for a spy and becomes involved in their mission to stop Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann) from bringing down biofuel Allinol.

Like every single film Pixar has made Cars 2 features incredible computer animation, which brings together every colour imaginable, into what can only be described, visually, as a piece of artwork. All characters, including those in the very background, are very well designed so they look like genuine cars in their slick movements on the roads, but also have a lovely humanesque quality in their expressions.
The locations are also as beautiful in design. Tokyo is bold and dazzling, looking just as incredible in animation as it does in real life; Italy is beautifully rustic, a real architectural stunner; Paris is captured to a tee, even featuring street markets and is just as closely detailed as it was in Ratatouille (2007); and finally London is perfectly recreated in everything, from major tourist attractions, English pubs, Routemaster buses, and black Taxi cabs, bringing a genuinely authentic feel to it.

The film's main drawback is the screenplay, which jumps from the World Grand Prix to the spy adventure more frequently and unexpectedly than necessary. The main issue though is the fact that there are too many ideas crammed in, such as the races, the enquiries of the spies, and the meeting with Luigi's (Tony Shalhoub) family (Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero). Yes the first two are necessary, and slick in design but they are underdeveloped with little substance, and they would work if there was more time designated to the film's running time, therefore more time designated to these scenes. As well as this the jokes are more miss than hit throughout, with foolish gags that just fall flat, and also effortless car puns, such as Big Ben being called Big Bentley, the Radiator Springs cinema showing The Incredimobiles, John Lassetyre and Gusteau's restaurant in Paris (from Ratatouille) being called Gastow.

The characters are a mixed bunch, but the voice cast are good. Generally the characters are all one-sided and potentially irritating but the voice cast salvage them well: Caine brings his signature British charm to Finn, while Mortimer brings her own lovely charm to Holley; Wilson is cool and a lot less cocky as Lightning; and John Turturro brings great energy to the role of Italian racing car Francesco Bernoulli. The problem is Mater, and while Larry brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to him, the character is written to be too overly stupid and just gets irritating. The rusty old tow truck worked as a supporting character, but not as a lead. Throughout the film as well you can't help but miss Paul Newman's Doc Hudson, who following Newman's death in 2008 has been dead for almost a year and the Piston Cup is now named the Hudson Hornet Piston Cup. It was the right decision to kill the character off as a new voice would be a bit tactless, but one can't help but miss the crabby old philosopher. A major drawback, however, is that old favourite characters such as Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mack (John Ratzenberger) have little input to the narrative, while hippie VW Camper Van Fillmore (Lloyd Sherr replacing the late George Carlin) is little more than an extra until the end of the film.

Even further below Pixar's usual standard than its predecessor, this has a lot of flaws, but it is enjoyable, and is a reasonable film for a family to watch. It's just a shame it's not as good as any other Pixars, which is even more of a shame when you think it came after a four year flush for Pixar - Ratatouille, WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) - and broke that great chain of hit, like Cars broke Pixar's original chain of hits that consisted of six films - Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004).

2011.
U.
Stars:
Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, John Turturro, Paul Dooley, Lloyd Sherr, Sig Hansen, Darrell Waltrip, Stanley Townsend, Brad Lewis, John Mainieri, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Campbell, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis, Jeff Garlin, Brent Musburger, David Hobbs, Katherine Helmond.


WHAT'S NEXT?
While the TV series of shorts Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales (2008-) continues to air, there seems to be no plans for a Cars 3, although a direct-to-DVD spin-off entitled Planes is set to be released in Spring 2013.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Another Unecessary Sequel? This Franchise has Already been Milked Tonnes!

I've just discovered that a project currently entitled Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is due to be released in Summer 2013. Disney - you released a lovely and hugely fun film in Summer 2003, and then followed it with three poor and unecessary sequels (2006/7/11). I get the fourth film left it open for one more sequel at least, and that the franchise's gross revenue of nigh on $3.728 billion is a motive for more films to be made. But all the poor reviews of the sequels should surely be a dissentive. Disney was once about making quality films for the family, now the live action stuff that's churned out every year is almost always sloppy. I'm not looking forward to this fifth Pirates film, and they're even talking about a sixth. Disney should just be satisfied by what they've done and move on to something else, regardless of how enjoyable and loveable Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had amazingly remained.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Entire Franchise to Date: Peter Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings'

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


*****
"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them."
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first installment in Peter Jackson's multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955) and is the start of, quite honestly, the best, most successful film trilogy of all time.

The film starts off with, quite frankly, one of the most spectacular openings that I have ever seen.
In a brief, yet very dramatic prologue, we learn that long ago the uber-evil Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker) forged the One Ring of Power, into which he pours all his power, hate, malice and will to dominate all life, only to lose it on the slopes of Mount Doom in an epic battle against the last alliance of elves and men. After a complicated journey the Ring is found a good three thousand years later on the slopes of the Misty Mountains by hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm).
What makes this such a memorable opening is Sauron in all his glory. For fans of the book it is a great surprise as, in the entire trilogy of books, Sauron is never seen but often referred to, arguably most notably by his 'puppet' sorcerer Saruman the White (played in the film by Christopher Lee) as slowly but surely being returned to his full power after being defeated by Isildur (Harry Sinclair) on the slopes of Mount Doom. That could be looked at from two angles - the first being a huge mistake on Tolkien's part, as people want the antagonist to actually take part/be seen in what they are reading, and the second being an excellent creative decision on Tolkien's part, as man's greatest fear is in fact the fear of the unknown, and Sauron is an unseen character who causes great fear to grip the hearts of most of the peoples living in Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
Jackson's depiction of Sauron in all his glory is truly incredible. At over ten feet tall the enormous Dark Lord dominates the battlefield, wearing tons of armour that won't fail to wow you and make your jaw drop. His weapon of choice is a mace that is at least six feet long and sends the elves and men flying in all directions. The action won't fail to grip you thanks to the outstanding visuals, and in the brief time that Sauron is fighting you will be on the edge of your seat, unable to tear your eyes away, and the scene shows just how powerful and almost unstoppable a force that characters such as wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and elf Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) make him out to be/have been in both the films and the books.

Now, for the main strand of the plot...
Sixty years after first finding the Ring Bilbo is preparing to celebrate his 111th birthday. As soon as the celebrations are over he leaves for Rivendell where he intends to live with the elves for the rest of his life. He leaves everything to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), including the Ring. Their old friend, wizard Gandalf the Grey, discovers that it is indeed the One Ring - which is a nice piece of dramatic irony as we are always aware that it is indeed the One Ring, while none of the characters realize it until Gandalf's suspicions are confirmed - and that Sauron and his various Ringwraith and orc minions are still searching for it. Along with gardener Sam (Sean Astin), kinsmen Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), and Dunedain ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Frodo takes the Ring to elf haven Rivendell where Elrond calls a secret council where it is quickly agreed that the Ring must be taken into Mount Doom, where it was forged, which of course lies deep in enemy territory, where it is to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom, therefore destroying the Ring and Sauron for ever and restoring peace to Middle-Earth. Frodo agrees to take it, though he knows he can't do it alone, so Gandalf, Aragorn, elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), soldier Boromir (Sean Bean), Sam, Merry and Pippin, all swear allegiance to Frodo, that they will protect him and help him complete his quest, no matter what the cost to themselves is, and becoming the (titular) Fellowship of the Ring.
The Fellowship begins their epic treck across Middle-Earth, over mountains, through mines, through woods and sailing down the great River Anduin, in their bid to get to Mordor, where along the way they have to fight hoards of orcs, a cave troll and even a Balrog, a legendary fire demon. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Gandalf's old friend, wizard Saruman the White has betrayed them by joining forces with Sauron and is plotting/trying to kill them at all times, and reclaim the Ring for Sauron, and has even built up an army of Uruk-Hai, a superior breed of orc, stronger, faster and more ferocious than regular orcs, lead by the monstrous, blood-thirsty Lurtz (Lawrence Makoure).

Peter Jackson chose to film The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand, and as far as I'm concerned that is one of the best creative decisions any director has ever made. The vast open landscapes are beautifully eye-catching and are used to truly capture the essence of the journey the Fellowship make, the distance shots really making you feel just how long and epic a treck it is for the nine companions. On top of that Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and his team will wow you without fail with beautiful aerial shots of a range of stunning snow-capped mountains that they captured from a helicopter.

If you've seen the film then it will come as no surprise to you that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with a passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the effects. The all time high points in the special effects department are elvish warrior Arwen (Liv Tyler) driving away the nine Ringwraiths pursuing her and Frodo by summoning the river to wash them away; Saruman hitting the Caradhras mountains with a lightning bolt, that causes the Fellowship, who are forcing their way through the snowy mountain, to get buried by an avalanche of snow, and, most memorable of all, the Fellowship of the Ring's bid to escape from the Mines of Moria. Once they are in the final part of the mines they are on a rickety set of stairs above an almost bottomless chasm, only to find several steps missing, so that they have to jump over to get onto the rest of the stairs. Orcs are shooting at them from a platform a good two hundred feet away, the staircase is beginning to crumble, the ceiling above them is starting to cave in, and legendary fire demon, the Balrog, is visibly awakening beneath them. Once they've got past the staircase they have to cross the narrow Bridge of Khazad-Dum, on which Gandalf and the Balrog engage in a fierce, deadly battle with over the near-bottomless chasm, with tragic consequences for the Fellowship. These scenes/images will truly stick in your memory and give The Fellowship of the Ring so much stunning impact that it will be almost impossible to forget the film or the mind-blowing effects.

As well as the effects the film is truly carried by the characters. Although the film is full to bursting with hobbits, elves, wizards, orcs and dwarves all of the characters are still human. Despite all of his wisdom and seriousness Gandalf is rather mischievous, and in his early scenes he takes great pleasure in wowing the hobbit folk of the Shire with his spectacular fireworks. Sam initially has great anxiety over leaving the Shire, which he overcomes after Frodo's life is put on the line, following his being poisoned by the Witch-King of Angmar's (Shane Rangi and Brent McIntyre, with the voice of Andy Serkis) Morgul blade. Legolas and Gimli have a bitter dislike of each other that goes back generations of elves and dwarves, but after Gandalf's death they put aside their differences, united in their grief, and eventually become friends after they meet Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). All of the characters work together beautifully to create a dark, gripping and emotional film, although the comic relief from Billy Boyd's Pippin is more than welcome, and works very well with the rest of the film, thanks to Pippin getting some great one-liners, and Boyd displaying immaculate comic timing.

Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is a quiet one in Moria where Frodo despairs that he won't be able to complete his quest, and is comforted by Gandalf, who says "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All that you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you." That moment packs a hard, emotional punch, and is one of a number of touchs/factors of the film that elevates The Fellowship of the Ring from blockbuster to genuine masterpiece.

In short, the irony considering the length of this review, The Fellowship of the Ring is a beautifully deep, dark and emotional film that will really impact you and make you truly long to watch its two equally outstanding sequels (2002 and 2003), and it is a film that you will remember for the rest of your life.


2001 (Original Edition), 2002 (Extended Edition).
PG.
Stars:
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Sala Baker, Lawrence Makoure, Andy Serkis, Martin Csokas, Craig Parker.

Oscars: Best Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson), Best Makeup (Peter Owen, Richard Taylor), Best Original Score (Howard Shore).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Barrie M. Osbourne), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah), Best Editing (John Gilbert), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Gethin Creagh, Hammond Peek), Best Original Song (May It Be - Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan).


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


*****
"The World is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers?
Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-Earth."
Released a year after The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers is the second installment in Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, as well as the best film series of all time in this critic's view.

The film starts off with a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battling the Balrog (an ancient fire demon) on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum and being pulled off by the falling Balrog into the near bottomless chasm to die while the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Bean) look on in horror. However, the scene goes on to show what Gandalf did after falling; while falling the wizard catches his sword and continues to battle the Balrog and the scene then cuts just as the pair are about to fall into a lake of water at the bottom of the chasm. This is a truly memorable opening thanks to three components. Firstly, is the effects and mise-en-scene, with the Balrog being an visually outstanding creation and truly fierce and terrifying through the incricate design of its face, and the sheer power of the flames that engulf it; while the chasm is so detailed, with the great rock walls being seriously sharp and eye-catching and becoming the perfect place for such an epic battle, as the whole being walled in brings forth for the two battling the realization that there is no escaping. Secondly, the editing and sound effects make the battle truly fast-paced and gripping with no dull moments, and a lot of visual exhilaration. Thirdly and finally, is the amount of passion with which Gandalf battles; the raw power and determination he puts into the fighting is truly gripping to watch, and displays more passion in battle than almost any other character in film history, and truly shows just how powerful and driven a character Gandalf is. With all of these combined it truly is a powerful, and memorable prologue.

Now for the main strand of the plot...
The film picks up almost exactly where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, with the Fellowship broken, and sees five parralel narratives...
The first narrative follows Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) who are hopelessly lost in their attempts to reach Mordor, with the Ring very gradually gaining a hold over Frodo. In the hills of Emyn Huil where the pair are lost they capture the Ring's former owner, Gollum (Andy Serkis), who had been stalking them for the majority of their journey since they left Rivendell. To have his life spared Gollum swears allegiance to Frodo and agrees to lead them to Mount Doom and it genuinely seems that he is willing to stay true to his word. Along the way they are taken by Gondorian ranger Faramir (David Wenham), leader of a large number of rangers, and brother of Boromir (Bean) and it soon becomes clear that Faramir's intention for the Ring's fate is just like that of his brother's.
The second and main narrative follows Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies) as they track the Uruk-Hai that kidnapped Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd) over the vast open spaces of Rohan. In Fangorn Forest they come across the newly resurrected Gandalf the White, who, after assuring them that Merry and Pippin are safe (see third narrative), makes it clear to them that they must help King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and his niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) evacuate the citizens of Edoras to Helm's Deep, where they lead the armies of Rohan and Lorien elves in an epic battle against an army of 10000 Uruk-Hai that Saruman (Christopher Lee) has built, while Gandalf uses five days to travel cross-country to muster an army of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative).
The third narrative sees Merry and Pippin being taken by the Uruk-Hai to Isengard. However, when the Uruks stop to make camp for a few hours they are ambushed by Eomer (Karl Urban) and a group of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative) and the two hobbits escape into Fangorn Forest. There they are taken by Ent Treebeard (also Rhys-Davies), who promises to protect them under the orders of Gandalf; and the two hobbits persuade the Ents to march against Isengard after they discover how much of the forest Saruman has had cut down for fuel.
The fourth narrative follows Saruman and his puppet, the traitorous Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Saruman has now got a strong allegiance with Sauron (Sala Baker) and the two towers of Barad-dur and Orthanc are now united. Joining in Sauron's goal to destroy and take over Middle-Earth Saruman forms an army of 10000 Urak-Hai to take Helm's Deep and destroy Rohan's people, after getting vital information from Wormtongue, King Theoden's aid, who uses his authority and a spell Saruman places on Theoden to banish Theoden's nephew Eomer and his soldiers, and kill Theoden's wounded son Theodred (Paris Howe Strewe).
The fifth and final narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) dwell/think back on the long relationship she has shared with Aragorn and, while seeking advice from father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) try to make the hardest decision of her life. Should she stay in Middle-Earth to be with Aragorn and live a mortal life, or should she sail out to the Undying Lands with much of her kin, and live eternal life, but never see Aragorn again?

Once again Peter Jackson has proved that filming The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand was an outstanding creative decision on his part. The vast open landscapes truly capture the essence of Middle-Earth and really makes the viewer feel just how epic the trecks the various characters must take are, and are truly eye-catching and stunning to look at, thanks a lot to Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's well created and very artistic shots. Jackson also truly finds good use for all of the different types of New Zealand's great outdoors, making use/taking shots of open fields, rivines, rivers, mountains and cliffs to help tell his story and create a vast, visually impressive and overall epic Middle-Earth.

Like with The Fellowship of the Ring it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen the film that the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, if anything, improving on those from The Fellowship of the Ring. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the incredible effects of the film. The all-time high points in the effects department include the above mentioned opening battle between Gandalf and the Balrog; the Battle of Helm's Deep where a Berzerker Uruk-Hai blows up the wall in a roaring, ground shaking explosion; a Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul attacking the city of Osgiliath; and the Ents marching against Isengard, trampling the orcs and Uruk-Hai, destroying the walls and then breaking the dam, flooding Isengard and leaving Saruman trapped and a lot more defenceless in his tower. The effects are created with great care, detail and stunning power, making them truly memorable and impacting, stunning to watch and bringing you to the edge of your seat.
The Ents are masterpieces of CGI as the amount of care and detail that went into making them both as detailed and tree-like as possible, and making them come to life with creaking and true domination, which causes them to be seriously eye-catching and boldly stick in one's memory.
However, it is Gollum who captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's lizard and cat like motion capture performances Gollum is a wonderful animal like creation of CGI, who is brilliantly disfigured by the CGI and made animal like, and it is so incredible to think that such a character as that can be created to look so visually impressive and the fact that in appearance he still seems fairly human and 100% believable as a character, in light of the distorted, wiry body and grey skin, will make it impossible for our attention to wander.

In spite of the effects, however, the film, like its predecessor, is truly carried by its characters. The human characters of Aragorn, Eowyn, Faramir and Eomer are all such driven, determined characters, and, in the cases of all but Eowyn, fight in battle with passion and bravery and are truly wonderful leaders of soldiers. Theoden, seems to give up after Theodred's death and after being freed from Saruman's spell, as he feels Rohan can't win against the armies of Saruman, but after being spoken to by his Royal body guard Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) decides that he will fight to the death, even if he can't win and becomes a truly determined soldier. As for the rest of the characters, they may be composed of elves, hobbits, dwarves, et cetera, but they are all rather human. The above mentioned Gollum has some excellently written and truly creepy schizophrenic moments, as he tries to turn over a new leaf as he aids Frodo in his quest to help Frodo destroy the Ring, but still can't resist being an a**ehole towards Sam by calling him "fat hobbit" and getting into constant arguments with him. Treebeard is just like an old man in his pace of speech and movements, and in his kindly protective attitude to Merry and Pippin, and, upon his discovery of the trees chopped down by Saruman's orcs for fuels, channels his obvious grief to give him the strength to lead a revenge march straight into Isengard. Frodo shows just how trusting an attitude he has to Gollum, and shows just how merciful he is to Gollum and how heartbreaking and pitiful he finds Gollum's constant suffering following his half-millenia as the Ring's bearer and his torture at the hands of Mordor's orcs, while Sam shows just how loyal and smart he is, and the screenplay shows just how much the effects of what they see in Middle-Earth effects Sam's emotions and how his sheltered upbringing in the Shire has meant he finds it a massive shock being thrown into the real world of war and suffering. Thanks to his little dwarf legs and beer belly Gimli struggles to keep up with Aragorn and Legolas as they chase the Uruk-Hai over the vast open plains of Rohan, but his love for Merry and Pippin and determination to kill the Uruk-Hai after they have taken Merry and Pippin and killed Boromir is what keeps him going and drives him to continue jogging over the plains.
On the other hand, Legolas sprints non-stop over the plains without even getting out of breath, and he is absolutely unstoppable when battling the Uruks at Helm's Deep, killing numerous foes, and using his skill and strength to help others on several occasions, and it is this that makes him appear a lot less human than any other characters, or he did in the film's predecessor, unless of course you compare him to a superhuman such as Spider-Man, which you would be a fool to do. This is a deliciously wonderful contrast to the rest of the characters and the character of Legolas, well, you can't help but be drawn in by him.

Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is at the end when Frodo despairs that he can't complete his quest, only for Sam to assure him that, although the world is full of death and destruction, that there is some good left which is worth fighting for. This is made as powerful as it is as Frodo's despair is truly heartbreaking to see and causes sympathy to rise from one's heart, while Sean Astin, steals this moment by making Sam's words truly heartfelt and powerful, and you can see the power and determination shining from the actor as he gives it his all with great success. Like with a fairly similar moment between Frodo and Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, this is one of a number moments, touchs and contributing factors that truly elevates the film from blockbuster to a genuine masterpiece.

In short, the serious irony considering how long and detailed this review is, The Two Towers is a beautifully scripted, truly deep, dark and emotional film, that picks up from its predecessor and is of an equal standard and truly builds up the excitement for the spectacular finale The Return of the King (2003).


2002 (Original Edition), 2003 (Extended Edition).
12.
Stars:
Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Craig Parker, Bruce Hopkins, John Leigh, Cate Blanchett, John Bach, Sala Baker.
Sean Bean, John Noble (Extended Edition only).

Oscars: Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Editing (Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Editing (Michael Horton), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee).


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


*****
"Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith. His defeat at Helm's Deep showed our enemy one thing. The heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still - strength enough left to challenge him.
Sauron fears this. He will not risk the peoples of Middle-Earth uniting under one banner. He will raise Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees the return of the King."
Released a year after The Two Towers (2002), The Return of the King is the concluding installment to Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, and the most spectacular, highly rated in this critic's view.

The film opens with a prologue set the best part of six centuries before the main plotline. While fishing out on the River Anduin to celebrate hobbit Smeagol's (Andy Serkis) birthday, Deagol (Thomas Robins) discovers The One Ring, lost for over two and a half thousand years. Drawn to its power Smeagol kills Deagol and retreats into the Misty Mountains with it where gradually over time he is reduced to the creature Gollum, mangled, animal-like, and psychologically disturbed, with the entire process of the transformation narrated by Gollum as he tells of how he became what he is today and what he forgot about the life he once had.
There are a number of reasons, not just the fact it is so interesting to see Gollum's story, why this is such a powerful, heart-wrenching and engrossing opening to such an outstanding film, three of which I shall write about...
Firstly, the makeup! When watching the first two films one will wonder how a hobbit could become such a mangled and warped creature, especially when comparing Gollum to Frodo (Elijah Wood), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Sam (Sean Astin). However, the process is shown to be a very gradual one, with each shot showing the hair thinning more, the body becoming skinnier and bonier, the eyes bulging more, the teeth becoming sharper and fewer, and the use of his limbs becoming more warped and animal like, with his voice getting huskier and higher pitched at the same time. The makeup shows just how much The Ring's power transformed Gollum from a hobbit into what he and emphasizes just how much it ruined Gollum. The images of the makeup are also fairly disturbing to look at and are also very striking, so they are guaranteed to stick in your mind as you look upon them.
Secondly, the voiceover! The narration by Andy Serkis in his voice of Gollum which is both husky and high-pitched, and seriously spine-tingling, thanks to the voice being altogether creepy in the first place. Aside from that it also makes it clear how much there has been suffering for Gollum from his point of view and provides some significant character development as you watch the torture The Ring unleashes upon him unfold before your eyes. Third and finally is Serkis's performance. Serkis makes Smeagol icily cold and gripping in the murder of Deagol to a gut-wrenching level. The pain and writhing in the emotions Serkis expresses and the physical movement are truly well-created and feel so realistic that you will be unable to tear your eyes away, with the display in front of you making you sympathize so much for the character's predicament and, in some people's views, weakness, and, will effect the way you view the character in the rest of the film.

Now for the main strand of the film's narrative, which picks up almost exactly where The Two Towers left off. The film sees three parralel narratives, which go something along these lines to carry the film from start to end...
The first narrative follows Frodo and Sam being lead ever closer to Mount Doom by Gollum. Little do they know that Gollum is plotting to kill Frodo and reclaim The Ring, but not before turning Frodo against Sam. Things are also further complicated by the fact that The Ring's power is taking ahold of Frodo, and he is getting ever more loving of it.
The second and main narrative starts with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Theoden (Bernard Hill), Eomer (Karl Urban) and Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) taking Merry and Pippin from Isengard to a 100% safe place in Edoras, with Pippin finding Saruman's (Christopher Lee) Palantir in the water at the base of Orthanc after Saruman is killed by Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) and falls from the top of the tower, and Gandalf taking it for safe-keeping. During the night, however, Pippin looks into it again and sees a glimpse of Sauron's (Sala Baker) plan to destroy Gondor, with the enemy assuming that Pippin has The Ring. From here this narrative splits into three parralel narratives...
Gandalf takes Pippin to Minas Tirith to keep the young hobbit safe, and to persuade Lord Denethor (John Noble) to prepare the city's soldiers for battle. After the 600,000 plus orcs and trolls take Osgiliath and kill all of Faramir's (David Wenham) men, Gandalf leads Minas Tirith's soldiers in the defence of the city as it is attacked left, right and centre by the hoards of orcs and trolls, as far as the eye can see on the Pelennor Fields, lead by Gothmog (Lawrence Makoure, with the voice of Craig Parker), and by the nine Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul, lead by the Witch-King of Angmar (Makoure, with the voice of Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Theoden and Eomer lead over 6000 riders to Minas Tirith in a battle to the death against all the orcs and trolls, and a large group of Mumakil, ridden by hundreds of Haradrim. While all this goes on Aragorn, having been given the sword of Elendil (Peter McKenzie in the first film) by Elrond (Hugo Weaving) - who convinces Aragorn to follow his destiny, leads Legolas and Gimli into the Paths of the Dead to convince the ghosts of soldiers Isildur cursed over 3000 years ago to fight for him and bring them victory on the Pelennor Fields.
The third narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) choose a mortal life with Aragorn, and convince Elrond to reforge the sword of Elendil and give it to Aragorn so he may lead the peoples of Middle-Earth to victory and reclaim the throne of Gondor (see the end of second narrative). However, Arwen's fate becomes bound to The Ring, and unless it is destroyed she will die.

I am aware that I emphasized this in my reviews of the first two films, but it has to be said that yet again Peter Jackson proved that filming the entire film in his native New Zealand was a truly outstanding creative decision. In The Return of the King Jackson makes great use of everything, from forests and lakes, to cliffs and snow-topped mountains, creating a stunning Middle-Earth to perfection. Although I am aware that many will disagree with this, I feel that the most beautiful use of New Zealand was in the lighting of the beacons scene, where Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and his team (from a helicopter) take a series shots from the peaks of a range of snow-capped mountains. These fine shots are so beautifully eye-catching and breathtaking to look at, and will truly make you long to travel to New Zealand.

Like its predecessors, it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen The Return of the King that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, quite frankly, topping the special effects of both The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Two Towers. Even a person who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion will be unable to deny just how fantastic the effects are and will find it impossible to take their eyes off the beautiful effects before them. Where the special effects are concerned, the all-time highlights include the siege of Minas Tirith, which leads to the Battle of Pelennor Fields; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli's confrontation with the King of the Dead (Paul Norell); Sam's battle with giant arachnid Shelob; and, most of all, the film's climactic destruction of The Ring, which, upon The Ring going down into the lava of Mount Doom causes the eye of Sauron to implode, causing Mordor to collapse in on itself, and Mount Doom to erupt, destroying the three surviving Nazgul and the Ringwraiths that ride them with balls of fire and molten rock, and great rivers of lava to flow down the sides of the volcano. Each and every one of these outstanding visuals is created with so much great care and attention to detail, making them memorably stunning, impacting and vivid that you will be unable to take your eyes off them as they wow you, and bring you to the edge of your seat. Shelob is a masterpiece of CGI, and just feels so realistic and intimidating through the sheer size and ferocity that the effects department created through said CGI, that she will be impossible to forget and an absolutely incredible character to watch on screen, so full marks to the effects department for her truly successful and outstanding creation.
However, just like in The Two Towers, it is Gollum who once again captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's cat and lizard based motion capture performance, what is truly incredible is the fact that Gollum is seriously disfigured and animal-like thanks to the CGI, yet is still feels really realistic and is 100% believable as a character, making it impossible for your attention to be distracted from this completely and utterly eye-catching and gripping character, and is a true masterpiece in CGI creation.

Like its predecessors, the film doesn't rely on the jaw-droppingly eye-catching visuals to carry the film, but rather uses its characters to carry the film from start to finish. The human characters of Aragorn, Theoden and Eomer are all such strong-willed and determined leaders and are fantastic in the battle sequences, while Eowyn (Miranda Otto) follows her heart by disguising herself as a man in order to battle, Faramir shows just how determined he is to protect Gondor by leading his men on a suicide mission, and Denethor truly shows just how much the loss of a child can affect a parent, as his grief over the death of Boromir (Sean Bean) causes him to give up, and his despair over Faramir's apparent death (which - if Faramir were dead - would mean the loss of both his children) drives him to suicide.
As for the characters that aren't humans, but are instead various elves, wizards, hobbits and dwarves, like with the fist two films, they are all rather, well, human. Merry and Pippin conquer all of their fears and anxieties shown in The Fellowship of the Ring, and charge into battle against the forces of Mordor, slaying many foes, and showing just how much they have truly grown up since they left the Shire. Frodo struggles on his quest and eventually comes to terms with the fact that he isn't strong enough to complete his quest alone, while Sam proves to be a great source of comfort to his best friend, and shows just how courageous he has become over the course of the trilogy, as the toughness of their quest hits them hard in the chest on the slopes of Mount Doom. Even, Gollum, can be seen as human, certainly in the first half of the film, as he has his usual moments of creepy schizophrenia, and starts to doubt whether he has the strength and courage to kill Frodo. Even more surprisingly, is the fact that over the course of the film Gandalf starts to become more and more human, and his great power and skill in battle slowly dwindles. Although he is an unstoppable battler and a truly courageous leader in the siege on Minas Tirith, after his staff is destroyed by the Witch-King, it becomes clear that he is struggling to battle as hard and courageously as before and that he is becoming weaker and even more frail, yet he still maintains a great status of power and strength.

In spite of all the above mentioned elements of the film, it is the relationships, the bonds and the decisions that the characters make that make the film as powerful as it is. Friendship, love and self-sacrifice are truly prominent, as is an ever growing, powerful sense of mortality, with the final scenes of the film showing that no matter how noble a victory can be it can still come at a great cost, as Frodo decides he must leave Middle-Earth and make a fresh start, due to the physical and psychological scarring his journey caused. Tolkien fought in the trenches during World War I, and it is easy to draw parralels between his personal experiences, and the ultimate melancholy tone that surrounds the trilogy's conclusion. For many the heart of the film lies in the moments following The Ring's destruction, as Frodo and Sam lie on a large hunk of tall rock, the lava flowing all around them, and sadly reflect on the fact (they think) they will never see the Shire again, and Frodo say "Glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things". It is a heartbreaking moment, particularly if A) you've never seen the film before, and B) you've never read the books before; due to the fact that these are characters that you have come to love and after going through three films with them you feel such a close bond with them; but it is so touching to see that their journey has made Frodo and Sam as close as possible and that Frodo can't think of anyone he would rather have beside him when he dies; and it is moments such as these that elevate not only the film, but the entire trilogy, from blockbuster to genuine masterpiece.

In short (the irony considering this is the longest review I have ever written) The Return of the King is a truly well-written, beautifully and intricately created masterpiece of a film, that is deep, dark and emotional. A stunning conclusion to this epic trilogy, which truly earned those eleven Oscars, and is undeservedly only the third highest grossing film of all time, behind Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997) - The Return of the King deserves the top spot.


2003 (Original Edition), 2004 (Extended Edition).
12.
Stars:
Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Lawrence Makoure, Craig Parker, John Noble, Bruce Hopkins, Paul Norell, Sala Baker, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Thomas Robins.
Christopher Lee, Bruce Spence, Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only).

Oscars: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens), Best Editing (Jamie Selkirk), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee), Best Makeup (Richard Taylor, Peter King), Best Original Score (Howard Shore), Best Original Song (Into the West - Howard Shore, Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh).


WHAT'S NEXT...?
On December 14th 2012 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a two-part prequel will get its cinematic release, followed by The Hobbit: There and Back Again, set to be released December 13th 2013.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Entire Franchise: 'Harry Potter'

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.


2001.
PG.
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.


2002.
PG.
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.


2004.
PG.
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).


2005.
12.
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.


2007.
12.
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.


2009.
12.
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!


2010.
12.
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.


2011.
12.
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.