Harry Potter Movie-Watching

So throughout last week (which was very heavy on the tests and projects and stuff) I found that watching Harry Potter films was a very pleasurable form of escapism :] And so in the evenings if I had time (and sometimes also when I didn’t have it) I would put a Harry Potter film in the DVD player.
The inspiration to do so was Robert Pattinson of course (he’s in the 4th film), but it kind of… er… continued *grin*

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (USA/UK, 2005)

Seen: Monday, 19th January 2009 (DVD, seen it before)
Runtime: 157′
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Mathew Lewis, Robbie Coltrane, David Bradley, Warwick Davis, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Shirley Henderson, Ralph Fiennes, Jarvis Cocker, Miranda Richardson, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Pattinson, Clémence Poésy, Stanislav Ianevski, Katie Leung, Frances de la Tour, David Tennant
Production House: Warner Bros, Heyday Films
Plot: (from imdb)

Harry finds himself selected as an underaged competitor in a dangerous multi-wizardary school competition.

Scene From the Film
I hate most of the Harry Potter trailers, so here’s a scene from the film involving Robert Pattinson *grin* And here you can see Robert Pattinson talking about how he completely can’t relate to his character ;)

Impressions In Short
One of the more curious aspects of watching the Harry Potter films is how every director brings in their own style to the films. Mike Newell put the emphasis on energy, action, comedy and a lot on the British public school boy thing (something Robert Pattinson fits perfectly and Mike Newell was clearly very keen on exploiting it *grin*).

Some Details
This section may contain spoilers cause I assume most people will have either read the book, seen the film or don’t care a damn about being spoiled.
The beginning of the film is awfully rushed and then it gets very rushed again in the third Triwizard task (which is completely different to what’s in the book and actually doesn’t make all that much sense, but I guess they couldn’t completely remove it because of what happens at the end and for various reasons - time constraints being a major one - it was impossible to keep it the way it is in the book).
The best parts, IMO, are the whole Yule Ball sequence (all the comedic scenes leading up to it as well as the ball itself) and the second (underwater) Triwizard task.
I also think Mike Newell’s best contribution to the films is the public school boy thing. In particular I love his addition of a character who isn’t in the books - a tiny little boy going by the name of Nigel (the name itself is just perfect lol). Ron uses Nigel to perform all sorts of menial tasks for him, which is exactly what I associate with traditional English public schools and somehow it just fits beautifully. Ron is exactly the kind of guy who would use someone beneath him like that given the opportunity and the comedic angle on it is really well done - I love the way Rupert Grint delivers that scene :)
The culmination scene of Voldemort’s return was of course always going to be very powerful (I think it’s one of the most dramatic scenes in all the books) and while the drama and intensity is definitely there, I thought there were moments when it fell a bit short.
Firstly, maybe it’ll sound silly… but in the book Harry is restrained differently and it gives a very different dynamic to the scene. I mean in the film Harry is restrained by a statue in the graveyard. This looks a bit odd when Wormtail is drawing blood from Harry’s arm (it looks like Harry could have squirmed out somehow or at the very least moved his arm in an attempt to resist :]), but what bothers me much more is that the statue is very tall and so Voldemort is looking up at Harry when he starts torturing him. Visually it just looks kind of wrong. It should be Voldemort towering over Harry and not the other way round.
Secondly, I dislike how Voldemort is portrayed although I know this is sacrilege because everyone loves Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort ;) I think it’s partly because Ralph Fiennes just doesn’t look the way I pictured Voldemort in the books. I mean like he should be leaner and kind of less stocky (Christian Coulson, who they had doing the teenage Voldemort in film no.2, was much more the kind of physical build I’d envisioned). And the other thing is that they chose to completely dehumanize him and kind of create a bit of a caricature of evil in that scene (the mood swings in particular seemed a bit over the top to me). Maybe it’s just me, but I always pictured Voldemort as somebody who was yes, extremely cruel, but in some ways quite practical. Even in this scene where he stages a bit of a charade to kill Harry, it *does* have a practical purpose. He needs an audience to kill Harry because he has to prove his strength and Harry’s weakness to his own supporters.
There are some very good and powerful moments in that scene though :) Like the way Fiennes delivers the line where he’s sort of ordering Harry about and telling him not to turn his back on him because he wants to see Harry’s eyes when he kills him, he wants to see the light in them go out. That bit is amazingly chilling… And also after Cedric is killed - the way Voldemort treats his body… (he puts his bare foot on Cedric’s face - something Pattinson talked about here ;) ). Also Radcliffe is really great in that scene :)
The thing that I most miss from the film that was in the books is all the dark stuff from the past that Harry learns in this book. Some of it is sort of in there (cause it’s important enough to the plot that you can’t completely skip it), but it’s kind of hardly there. Like you don’t get to hear about what happened to Neville’s parents and I thought that was quite an important and dark piece of info (they put it in film no. 5 but I’ll complain about that in the next review ;)). The revelation that Snape used to be a Death Eater is treated very lightly. I thought that was a pretty big thing. So far it sounded like Harry was completely wrong about Snape and then suddenly in book 4 we find out that Snape really did use to murder and torture people. But in the film they don’t properly mention it - it’s kind of there because Karkaroff shows Snape his dark mark, but they don’t make it particularly clear that Snape has one or what being a Death Eater means exactly.

Er… I guess that if you wanted to see it you probably would have by now ;)
I think in the end I end up being excited about all the Harry Potter films not because they’re that brilliant, but because I just love the cast and it’s almost always kind of nice to see a film that is based on a story one likes, regardless of what one thinks of the movie.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (USA/UK, 2007)

Seen: Thursday, 22nd January 2009 (DVD, seen it before)
Runtime: 138′
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Mathew Lewis, Robbie Coltrane, David Bradley, Warwick Davis, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Katie Leung, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Natalia Tena, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Evanna Lynch, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Harry Melling
Production House: Warner Bros, Heyday Films
Plot: (from imdb)

With their warning about Lord Voldemort’s return scoffed at, Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by the Wizard authorities as an authoritarian bureaucrat slowly seizes power at Hogwarts.

Scene from the Film
Below is a scene where Professor Umbridge punishes Harry. I think she’s turned out to be one of the best female film villains ever *grin* I love how this scene is both funny and chilling.

Impressions In Short
I think David Yates is the guy who has managed to do the best “balancing act” and I think maybe that’s why he’s stayed on to do all the remaining films. Everything’s done to a certain standard, you’re not going to find many iffy moments - the cast is particularly good with him directing. But somehow, especially upon re-watching, I find the film almost “too careful” and “too proper”. I mean not in the way that Chris Columbus did film one and two, where he totally killed the spirit of the books and robbed them of all the humour, quirkiness and darkness and just put the storyline into a very clichéd Hollywood film format (yes, I’m being mean ;-P, but I really thought what he did to the books was atrocious). I think Yates gets that the quirkiness of the books is what many people find fun about them (that Umbridge detention scene is proof I think ;)). But I think he feels like he has to pull all the stops of the Hollywood film format too. So you’ve got some clichéd Hollywood sentimentalism there, some really packed action sequences and so on. For some people maybe that’s part of the attraction of what he’s done, for me that’s a bit of a put off *sigh*

Some Details
This section may contain spoilers cause I assume most people will have either read the book, seen the film or don’t care a damn about being spoiled.
I think the highlight of the film was Umbridge for me. She possibly works even better as a film villain than a book one. Imelda Staunton is brilliant :)
Another character that is just 100% perfect is Luna. The way Evana does her - she just understands Luna much better than I ever did when reading the books ;) It’s beautiful :)
The other thing that works perhaps better on film than on the page is what is known in the fandom as Caps Lock Harry. Harry is very unhinged in the book for a number of reasons and so there’s a lot of scenes where he’s shouting (which, as you may have gathered, is represented within the text in capital letters ;) ). Most people find Harry in book 5 very annoying - I did too when I read it the first time, but I liked him better in re-reads. In the film, he’s not annoying at all. In fact he works much better that way I think. Maybe it also helps that Daniel Radcliffe prefers to play angsty stuff (that’s what he’s stated multiple times). They did take down Harry’s mood swings a little bit comparing to the book though - perhaps it was the correct thing to do, perhaps not… I have mixed feelings about that one.
A major theme in the book is Harry’s connection with Voldemort and they tried to represent that in a more cinematic way. I particularly loved the scene on the train station when Harry thinks he can see Voldemort standing there in a black suit. He doesn’t have visions of Voldemort all over the place in the book and I don’t think it would work in the book if he did, but it works brilliantly in the film.
So now the bad stuff… The film was a bit rushed, but I think every Harry Potter film is doomed to seem that way - there’s just too much material and not enough time. There were definitely scenes, which suffered because of this. In particular I can’t get over “Snape’s worst memory”. In the book Harry sees the memory in the Pensieve. In the film introducing the Pensieve into the Occlumency scenes would have taken up time and I guess that’s why they cut it. The reason that Snape was putting certain memories in the Pensieve during their lessons was that he didn’t want Harry to see them in case Harry broke into his mind, so in the film they just exchanged the Pensieve for Harry managing to break into Snape’s memories. On the surface this might not seem like a bad way to save time. The problem with that is that:

  • This meant they couldn’t give the scene any fluidity - it had to be a series of broken up images. And for scenes of any sort of bullying or abuse (in the memory Harry’s father bullies Snape while they were still at school), if you break up the fluidity you’re always going to take the edge off it and I think for the character development of both Snape and Harry one needed the memory to look harsh. The way they shot and edited it, it was very tame *sigh*
  • Because the memory had to be short and broken up, they skipped the whole bit with Harry’s mum appearing. It was obvious to most of the fans that JKR put that in for good reason, even if in context of book 5 it didn’t matter. To the makers of the film it clearly wasn’t obvious and they’re going to be kicking themselves now that book 7 is out ;-P
  • If Harry sees the memory in this manner then Snape’s reaction makes no sense at all. He’s been breaking into Harry’s mind for weeks and seeing lots of private memories and he decides to stop teaching him just because Harry managed to break into his mind once? Furthermore - Harry is supposed to fight back! It’s the very purpose of the lessons and Snape gets aggravated (in both book and film) by how feeble Harry’s attempts at fighting back are. In the book Harry invades Snape’s privacy in a way that wasn’t part of the deal. Snape removed that memory from his mind precisely so that Harry would not see it, plus the memory was much harsher (in the book it’s implied that Snape may have been stripped naked in front of a large crowd of onlookers, in the film one doesn’t get that impression at all), so I don’t think many people questioned why Snape stopped their lessons. But in context of the film it just doesn’t make any sense at all.
  • For the audience to even realize what is happening in the memory, Harry has to stay in Snape’s mind for a while. The thing is that Snape is supposed to be exceptional at Occlumency, it’s a major plot point - that’s why he’s able to spy on Voldemort. There’s almost nobody else who is good enough at Occlumency who would manage to withstand Voldemort penetrating their mind so consistently. In the book, the one time that Harry manages to reverse the spell Snape blocks him off almost immediately - Harry does see some of Snape’s memories, but barely anything of consequence.
  • In the book Harry is very disturbed by the idea that his father used to bully someone - even if that someone was Snape. Harry always imagined his father as someone perfect and this completely shatters that image. They skipped this theme in the film completely and I guess it wasn’t so important that they had to keep it, but I really miss it *sniff*

Ok, so that was a very long moan lol But there are others too ;) I promised one about Neville, didn’t I? ;) So in this film we finally do learn about what happened to Neville’s parents. My problem was that they approached it in a very clichéd way. In other words - Neville wants Hollywood style revenge and I think that’s just about the least interesting way of looking at those events :]
And there’s other nonsense scenes which are there to uphold Hollywood clichés… Like a classic one is them flying on brooms through London - don’t you think people on the streets would have noticed that? I understand why they did it - cinematically showing London off like that is quite effective. But I wish they had found a different way to do that and if they couldn’t… well just skip it :] It’s not like one has to uphold this many Hollywood clichés to make a good movie *sigh*
There’s some really bad sentimentality in the film also (like at the end when Harry tries to fight Voldemort out of his mind). And the scenes where Harry teaches defensive spells to other Hogwarts students are really awfully clichéd.
Also, for me the final fight scene between Dumbledore and Voldemort is a big let down. I mean sure, the special effects and visuals of it are amazing - it’s very spectacular. But the emotional aspect of it was the most interesting thing for me and that was pretty much lost. Dumbledore is fighting his own student and making every effort to let Voldemort know he’s just that. That’s why he addresses Voldemort as “Tom”, the name Voldemort had when still at school, the name he hated. It is as much a fight of minds as of magic.

*shrugs* If you’re a Harry Potter fan then you’ve probably already watched it and if you’re not then you might find it mildly interesting or not at all I guess… A lot of people think this is the best film of the lot and I think that the book is much more cinematic than its predecessors, so maybe it lends itself a little better to film :)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (USA/UK, 2004)

Seen: Friday, 23rd January 2009 (DVD, seen it before)
Runtime: 141′
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, Gary Oldman, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, David Thewlis, Warwick Davis, David Bradley, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall
Production House: Warner Bros. Pictures, 1492 Pictures, Heyday Films
Plot: (from imdb)

Convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped the Wizards’ Prison and is coming after Harry.

This is just about the only Harry Potter trailer that I like ;)

Impressions In Short
This is by far my favourite Harry Potter movie. Alfonso Cuaron took the biggest risks of any of the four directors that worked on the films and maybe that’s why of the five films released so far this was the lowest grossing :]

Some Details
This section may contain spoilers cause I assume most people will have either read the book, seen the film or don’t care a damn about being spoiled.
Stylistically this is a very risky film. I remember reading an interview with Cuaron once where he said that Hollywood overuses close-ups and he meant it - one rarely sees Hollywood films which play out as much of their action in wide shots as this one does. One of the first things I picked up on when I started to watch Bollywood films was how Bollywood didn’t seem to feel like they needed to do their dialogue scenes in the standard close shot editing set-up. This film was one of the first Hollywood films I saw which seemed to feel the same way ;) I remember obsessively comparing its cinematic style to Bollywood when I saw it the first time actually - I saw it soon after I first discovered Bollywood.
Another thing I love about the camerawork in the film is the extent with which movement is used. The camera moves a lot in the film, as do the people in shot - the choreography of the shots really is beautiful :) And Cuaron did something which was even more unusual for a Hollywood fantasy film - he used steadicam pretty extensively (I think the only other fantasy film I’ve seen which did so was Twilight :] perhaps that was another reason I liked it so much). To put that into plain English, I mean a camera which is attached to a human being rather than something more mechanical or static - as in a human being is following the actors around. It’s not a hand-held camera like in a Dogma movie, but it does give a rather different dynamic (you can see it on some of the shots on the trailer).
I think of all the films this is also the one that is the most faithful to the books. Rowling actually stated she was stunned at how some scenes in this foreshadowed what was to come and now that book 7 is out I think I see what she meant. The other films missed out on all sorts of small clues, this film pretty much picked up on all of them and even added some ;) In fact the clue about Harry’s mother which got lost in film no. 5 had a small presence in this one - in a scene between Harry and Lupin that wasn’t even in the book!
Some characters which have been screwed up to some extent in the other films were spot on in this one. Dumbledore and his humour was delivered particularly well (his character seems to change the most between directors *sigh*).
Snape often seems to get sidelined in the scripts as a slimy git with nothing particularly interesting to offer to the story (he almost disappeared completely in film no.4 and featured more in film no. 5 only because of the Occlumency lessons really) and while he is a slimy git, he’s one of the most complicated characters and it was obvious he’d influence the plot of the last two books significantly, but only Cuaron seemed to pick up on that :]
Also Draco Malfoy is so much better in this film than in any of the others so far (I guess he suffers a similar fate to Snape - not that Draco Malfoy is as complex as Snape, but he’s a little more than the films give him credit :]). In fact I think I like him better in this film than in the books ;) I never really got how Harry and Ron would succumb to his provocations that easily, but in this film I can really feel it. His taunts might be sort of tame, but the way he delivers them… it’s quite vile.
This is also, I think, the only film which treats Hogwarts as a character. It really uses the portraits, the moving staircases and so on, as well as the landscapes around Hogwarts (it even makes sure to show you how all the seasons pass). In fact Cuaron moved the outdoor shootings to Scotland so that he could work with the landscapes properly. It totally changed the look of the film.
Magic, also, is something that is organic in this film rather than just a gimmick. It is natural for the characters to use it and that’s why it’s there. In the other films it seems like that’s only part of the reason, giving the audience some exciting visual effects seems to be just as important.
And I like all the small Britishisms. I guess Mike Newell and David Yates put some of them in too, but somehow Cuaron’s appealed to me the most ;) Some of them were really small - like Aunt Marge coming to the Dursleys during rainy weather or Stan Shunpike and his working class accent, but I think that’s why I loved them :) It’s the small stuff rather than the big stuff that really builds the atmosphere.
Then there’s the soundtrack - of all the Harry Potter films it’s my favourite :) It’s much less clichéd than most of the others (particularly film no. 4 and 5, which have rather pompous and dramatic-sounding ones). This one keeps the drama to the minimum and is I think the most varied. The introduction of the school choir (which doesn’t exist in the book) gave them an excuse to play around with different sounds and there’s even a jazzy piece in the bus scene, which I thought was rather unusual.
I guess not all of the film is perfect… It’s kind of rough around the edges sometimes - I think particularly Daniel Radcliffe just wasn’t as good as he is in the later films, though he’s still much better than he was in the first two (as is the whole cast ;-P).
There are places when it’s a little rushed. The one that always bothers me the most is when Harry blows up his aunt. He needed a bit more time to lose his temper. In the book it takes him about 2 weeks - in the film it’s just a few seconds… A sudden mood change like that often gets buggered even by very good and experienced actors and so Radcliffe at that point in time really wasn’t able to pull it off. It looked terribly fake *sigh*
The other thing is that I don’t think this particular book lends itself well to film. A classical film structure would have culmination points spread out differently and I think the storyline was a little awkward for film. The natural climax is the scene in the Shrieking Shack, but too much story remains to be told after that for it to work as a film climax. In the book it works (I think it’s one of the best Harry Potter books in terms of structure actually), but on film it just doesn’t - not quite anyway.

I’m tempted to say yes… I actually forgot how much I had enjoyed the film when I saw it before. I should re-watch it more often ;) But I guess again this is not necessarily a good film for somebody who is not into Harry Potter already *sigh*

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