Long stretches underwhelming in first part to Harry Potter finale

The first part of the finale of the Harry Potter series is evidently a transition to the part two of the finale, so a bit of leniency may be required if it does not quite nail it. Nevertheless, it still disappoints to be perfectly honest.

As is the case for finale films that come in two parts, it could have been easily condensed into one movie. By combining the last half hour of Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) to what should follow in the second part, may have made for more genuine excitement and entertainment–through all of a single film.

A long stretch in the first half with Harry, Ron and Hermione, as they break from searching for Voldemort’s horcruxes in a quest to weaken him, may keep die-hard fans interested in the developing relationships between the three friends. It doesn’t come to much, however, even when Ron Weasley’s usually cool temper takes a turn for the worse.

Though deft special visual effects and a touch of action are the best bits earlier on, the last half is more entertaining than what preceded it.

Still very much a film series with a strong sense of magic which may be off-putting—I know I am noticing this more and more as the series progressed and for me it’s becoming stifling. It’s magic fictionalised, but still potent—which may be a tad strange or foreign and concerning for some, like a whole other world, be that an unlikeable one. All the same, it could have been all done and dusted in this film rather than waiting for the second part.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) **½ Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman. Director: David Yates.



Draws one in despite subtleties

In a best-worst scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), a creepy but potent transaction takes place between a Hogwart’s professor and a student’s mother. The scene, though deadly, gives one great expectations as to what may follow, in terms of where the story is going. Harry Potter films have a habit of building up then letting down. The scene didn’t deliver on what I expected.

My expectation involved what may happen between the sinister Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), a nasty piece of work, and Harry Potter. Draco’s grimness and meanness comes under more control. Under control in the sense of deliberately using his dark side. His hatred for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) isn’t childish anymore, but deliberate. But they never get past a few subtle confrontations.

Instead of delivering on Malfoy and Harry’s dislike for one another, and Snape’s involvement with Malfoy, it diverges into other places. Like how a new teacher (a brilliant Jim Broadbent) was involved in the Potter-Voldemort conflict.

And this Harry Potter has more “love”, more like chemistry, than the other films. Ron Weasley is in the thick of it when Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) becomes attracted to him after winning at quidditch.

Half-Blood Prince should have diverged more into the underused Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, a quirky, squeaky-voiced companion of Harry who tends to stroll through her scenes. But this cute, unusual character deserved more.

Dashes of humour mostly missed the mark but only occasionally hit it. Sometimes, the humour just doesn’t work and sometimes it’s borderline. And then, maybe once or twice, hits the spot.

Half-Blood Prince is dark, but it’s mostly subtle than spelled out although one still feels it incessant discolouring especially at the end. In sum, it didn’t nail it even when it goes off into other directions I wasn’t expecting. But there is a but; Half-Blood Prince may be subtle, but not off-putting so, it has a way of drawing one in.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) **** Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright. Director: David Yates. Warnings—contains dark and scary scenes.

Harry Potter takes another down turn despite potential

The Harry Potter wallpaper this time, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), are idiosyncrasies and humor such as cats that move in paintings, and goblin-like butlers who are grumpy, but we’ve come to expect something a little unusual from the Harry Potter films. Even so, the story is more serious than other Harry Potter stories before it, involving Harry’s dreams, conflict with the establishment (the ‘Ministry of Magic’), and challenging his classmates to join forces against the Ralph Fiennes villain, which leads to an awe-inspiring visual effects finale not to be beat. They could have made this more involving although there is an internal battle in Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) between “light and dark” and “good and evil” but Harry’s told he has an authentic, essential self that is the real self, the “light”. Harry’s emotional troubles are interesting.

As Harry’s trouble comes to the surface, Hogwarts is under threat. There are rumors of an inside job going on. Some people mention loveable Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in the fray. But is this insurrection? Is the demonic Voldemort in his war against Harry Potter bringing others with him, even the Ministry of Magic, if possible?

A teacher at Hogwarts is suspicious and pompous. Imelda Staunton hits just the right note in the role. Voldemort is a scarily impressive Ralph Fiennes, made-up like a bus flattened his facial features and a pig’s snout resurrected from the ashes.

However, most of the film is dull and uninspired after a semi-interesting, at least involving beginning and a potentially riveting story.

Through it all, Harry is set to grow in future Potter films. He is still emotionally immature. And he must grow despite the darkness. I like what Harry says. It looks to the future in a positive vein: At least we have something to fight for. Voldemort doesn’t.

Revised version, original published at Entertainmentnutz.com, 2007. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) *** Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon. Director: David Yates. Warnings: MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images)

A vast improvement on predecessor

For non-fans and fans alike, adult and children, there is a great (is saying “great” overdoing it?) story to enjoy here, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). The movie opens with Harry’s troubling dream. Its meaning is dismissed as “just a dream”. Meanwhile, he is chosen, against etiquette, by the goblet of fire, to compete with three older children for eternal glory (good theme in itself). The glory is obtained by competing for it in a three-staged tournament, call it extreme sports for wizards and witches. It doesn’t all go smooth sailing.

I was wondering if getting eternal glory would somehow finish with less exertion rather than trying to work for it. But the challenge is present at least in loose thematic form—rather than accomplish eternal glory, how does one receive eternal glory?

That aside, on a purely sports level, Harry’s fellow competitor says quietly, “such a game”, indicating the lengths one must endure in each challenge. The first tournament challenge involves dragons.

The special effects are seamless. But more than special effects, this Harry Potter is the best so far because it is focused. The screenwriter is the same one who wrote previous episodes, which were quite fuzzy. It sticks to the story this time.

The ballroom scenes and other “romantic” moments flex light humor into adolescent, and adult (Hagrid anyone?), courting. It’s a diversion that fits around the main plot. The grand climax is spectacular, but it may be difficult for some younger children to swallow because of its scary and graphic imagery.

The large British cast include Michael Gambon (who again plays Dumbledore a little loose), Maggie Smith, Brendan Gleeson as the grumpy teacher, and Ralph Fiennes as the evil and very scary Voldemort, the first time we see him though he was mentioned before. Not to be outdone, Alan Rickman is creepily good, as his earlier turns in the role proved.

Revised version, original published at entertainmentnutz.com, 2005. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) **** Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman. Director: Mike Newel.

Facing fears in lesser Harry Potter

Harry is in another spot of bother in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Harry’s under pressure from the thought of a murderer, Sirius Black, on the loose from Azkaban prison, is (supposedly) hunting for Harry – he was in prison for murdering Harry’s parents and so must complete the cycle of vengeance.

Although I’m not a fan of the Harry Potter books, the latest installment is cementing the story’s hold in the cinematic lexicon. Though the producers had better come up with something different next time around, though, as this series is starting to creak and groan.

I haven’t read the next Harry Potter book ready for cinematic production, but let’s hope Potter author JK Rowling has spiced things up for us. More story development would do nicely. Something more interesting needs to happen to Harry, his friends, and the story.

The look of Prisoner of Azkaban is darker; particularly ominous is a new breed of demon cum ring-wraith called Dementors that might make younger kids reach for their mom’s hand.

Supporting Harry in avoiding this forebodingly portrayed danger are his two school friends Hermione and Ron. Potter also has an ally in the unassuming Professor Lupin, a likeable and well performed David Thewlis, who develop that student-teacher bond.

Established actors Michael Gambon (from the British television series The Singing Detective) as Dumbledore, who replaces the late Richard Harris in the role, Robbie Coltrane (from the British series Cracker) as Hagrid, the Hogwart’s groundskeeper, and Maggie Smith (another Brit) don’t get many scenes in this (particularly Smith).

Director Alfonso Cuaron, who hasn’t directed many films in his career, took on board a major production whereas his previous films, like the controversial Y tu mamma tambien (And Your Mother Too), have had smaller budgets.

Live animated paintings on walls, invisible horsemen, a half breed animal of bird and horse which carries Harry across a lake in a magnificently picturesque scene, transformations of humans into creatures, and more, do not add up to a wonderful experience. There are lags in pace and it feels flat in places that matter most.

Is that all? I asked myself as the end credits appeared. Still, perhaps the strength of the Harry Potter stories is the sensitively handled central character’s predicament as an orphan, Oliver Twist with a wand, and his journey into a sort of redemption, self-discovery and discovery about his long-lost parents. In this one, he’s learning to face his fears and conquer them. However, something different needs to happen next time around.

Revised version, original published at entertainmentnutz.com, 2004. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) *** Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon. Director: Alfonso Cuaron


Choosing good or evil in Harry Potter sequel

The Harry Potter phenomenon has captured the imagination of children through the best-selling books by J.K. Rowling, and for the next few years the lead-up to successive Christmases will be inaugurated by millions of young fans speculating about the Potter adaptations.

The Potter movies owe themselves to Rowling’s popular books – which are about the discovery of wizard Harry Potter, an orphan destined for greatness – so it may be easy to understand why millions of dollars are falling off trees at the box office.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), the second Harry Potter film, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is warned by an elf not to go back to the Hogwart’s School of Wizards and Witchcraft because of strange disturbances there. However, Harry goes, and along with his two friends, Ron and Hermione, faces the dilemma of finding out what lies in the chamber of secrets, which was opened 50 years earlier to chaos.

The convincing special effects appear to make Hollywood the front-runner in providing realistic images out of fantasy pictorials. The first half is punctuated with some spectacle – flying cars, agile trees, and situations of danger. There is a spectacular but scary finale, a finale which in the end is ultimately satisfying and uplifting in terms of story. However, the story that is maze-like doesn’t move along as comfortably as one would want, though.

Themes are interesting. The first Harry Potter was about immortality—and what one will do to get it (except the antagonist has less purer motives for the obtaining the power of immortality). Chamber of Secrets is about good versus evil and more precisely the choices one must make between good and evil. It’s a good theme in a film that isn’t stunning, but though not perfect, is still good.

Revised version, original published at entertainmentnutz.com, 2002. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) **** Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane. Director: Chris Columbus