Archive for November, 2010

7 Things the Harry Potter Movies Got Right

The last minute and I have an affair reaching back well over a decade. Now, on the Eve of the release of Part 1 of the HP finale, I realized I stood little chance of finishing this post in time. Also, I was gently informed that the predecessor to this post was far too long. The solutions to both these problems was obvious… so, I give you:

7 Things the Harry Potter Movies Got Right (Part 1)

7 — (Movie) Magic

Twenty years ago, people noticed digital affects, and were amazed. The T1000 in Terminator 2? Jaw dropping. He’s liquid metal! Today, for better or worse, audiences have come to expect great effects… if we notice them, it’s usually because they look fake. I, for one, rarely notice the effects in Harry’s world.

Budget is part of this–the effects team has no reason to cheap out on these films. Also, we are shown things for which we have no frame of reference; my mind doesn’t have a great many “stock” images of Hippogriff’s and flying curses, so the images presented on screen seem to do a great job. I think this is partially why many of the affects in the newer Star Wars films are unsatisfying–we all know that space battles are supposed to look like WWII fights on a black background (with ironic thanks to Lucas’ earlier films), so when they don’t, we’re disappointed. I never thought the flying car sequences in Chamber of Secrets looked quite right, and it,s probably or a similar reason: we have a good idea of what that would really look like.

Most importantly, the visual presentation of the HP universe extends well beyond the digital. Those Hogwarts interiors are real. The lighting is intentional, and mostly effective (notable exception: some shots in Half Blood Prince, in which the camera showed up wearing sun glasses and David Yates decided to go with it.) Hundreds of hours of forced perspective shots have been lined up in order to make Robbie Coltrane eight and a half feet tall. This conscientious design and labor pays-off and gives this magical world an unexpected, and refreshing sense of authenticity.

I said real, not to scale

6 — Settings

CGI or real, miniature or full set, the film maker’s have nailed the settings [pun totally intended]. They didn’t give us Cinderella’s Castle for Hogwarts… they gave us a chaotic, neo-Gothic fortress. And yet somehow they kept it beautiful.

Not that the films are afraid to get gritty. The Shrieking Shack in Prisoner of Azkaban, the underpass (where the dementors attack) in Order of the Phoenix, the Underground in the opening of Half Blood Prince… these places stand is sharp contrast to the magical backdrop of the films, and are frankly terrifying.

What’s particularly great about the Underground shots is that they aren’t in the book. This scene is inserted to replace the obligatory “back at the Dursley Residence” chapter that opens each book… and it lends enough to the mood of the film to be forgiven. I mention that because the film makers take ignoring Rowling’s descriptions to new artistic heights in the final act of Order of the Phoenix when the characters invade the Department of Mysteries.

Sum of the remainder of an unbalanced equation inherrant to the programming of the Matrix... what the hell?

This all makes me very excited for Deathly Hallows–we’ve been stuck at Hogwarts for 6 movies, with the excoption of the end battles (even in the first two movies, the end sequence comes in never-before-or-again-seen dungeons). Now, we can anticipate more of Grimmauld place and the Ministry, plus Malfoy Manor, Shell Cottage and Gringotts… with the final battle at Hogwarts.

Don’t screw up, Yates…

5 — Casting

Some misguided fans write erotic fan fiction. According to tvtropes.com’s Rule 34 there’s some witch-on-witch-on-Dobby out there. Now, I’m not into that. I am, however, considering doing a piece in which Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman trade some serious wizarding Yo Mama’s.

Yeah, well your mama's so ugly the Basilisk can't look HER in the eye!

Now that I’ve put an image in your mind that makes you wish for an Obliviator Charm, they really got some superb actors and actresss for these parts. That’s impressive, because a lot commitments to child actors had to be made’ with over a decade’s worth of movies to be made. If Daniel Radcliffe had gone Culkin on us, that could easily have derailed the franchise.

But enough about the kids… it’s the portrayal of the secondary characters that wow me. Both Dumbledore’s, despite having radically different interpretations of the character, play him true to the book (When reading the books, I picture Richard Harris orating the lengthier speeches, and Michael Gambon delivering the shorter quips, and of course doing all the fighting). Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid gets more impressive when you realize his accent is 100% fake. The aforementioned roles of Snape and Sirius are played perfectly. And even if she is phoning it in, I am obligated to say Helena Carter is a great Bellatrix.

Allow me a moment here to step out of my demographic and mention that I’m disappointed in Emma Watson lately. Maybe it’s just an American thing… hey internet, send me a British commenter! Does Hermione speak clearly by English standards? Somewhere around movie 4 or 5 she seems to have quit enunciating. It hasn’t been so bad because, as the plots grow more complex and they have to shoe-horn in many secondary and tertiary characters, Ron and Hermione have taken a bit of a backseat. But the way Deathly Hallows is structured, we are bound to get plenty of the trio… and there’s a lengthy sequence where Harry and Hermione will have to carry on their own. This could be really good, or, if previous patterns continue, it could provide an opportunity for an extended bathroom break.

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I made this coarse joke involving Dobby...

4 — Tie: Dialogue & Music

Dialogue is kind of easy because most of the best lines are taken directly from the book. Still, a great bit of abridging, rearranging, and adding has been done, to mostly good effect.

Scenes that come to mind: Neville’s revelation about his parents to Harry in Order of the Phoenix: entirely fabricated for the movie, but totally true to the character. Earlier in the same movie, Harry and Sirius’ conversation over the Black Family Tree–a combination of two separate scenes from the book. All of Harry and Lupin’s scenes are excellent, regardless of which movie.

But the crown jewel comes from the least complimented movie (at least on my lists), Goblet of Fire. Lord Voldemort’s return to power, and the subsequent fight, is overshadowed in weight and creepiness by Voldemort’s lengthy, and ultimately premature victory speech. It so effectively establishes how powerful and frightening this character is that he is still coasting on it three movies later, despite having about 4 lines from then to now.

As for the music- continued in part 2

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