Saturday, 9 July 2011

HP retrospective #2:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
2002, PG, Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Felton, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Toby Jones, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright

Perhaps the hardest book to adapt overall due to the burden of sugar-coating the dark tone in order to make the whole thing accessible to young fans acquired from number one. Similar to this, producer David Heyman and his crew had only just grasped a sense of the phenomenon Philosopher’s Stone became; encouraging, yet pressurising. And so the formula continues: Dursely interaction, Hogwarts Express, danger at Hogwarts manifests itself with Harry undoubtedly at its centre and of course, a heart- warming resolution. A flurry of new characters (Dobby, Lucius Malfoy, Moaning Myrtle) manages to assert Chamber of Secrets as fresh and expansive of JK Rowling’s universe – which of course it does successfully judging by the reaction to that death scene in the first part of the Deathly Hallows. But here, most screen-time is awarded to Shakespearean thesp Kenneth Branagh as the cocky, slimy ‘celebrity’ author Gilderoy Lockhart as Professor Quirrell’s successor to the increasingly more ironically titled subject, Defence Against the Dark Arts. He provides laugh and spits intentionally eye-rolling dialogue and annoys. A lot. But that is his purpose. When an eye rolls, it rolls along with the Gryffindor and Slytherin alike, whilst Julie Walters’ Mollie Weasley gushes at his every word. Talking of the Weasley’s, this is the Potter with that Ford Anglia flying car and our first glimpse of – perhaps visually the most intricately designed location in the entire film series – The Burrow, the Weasley family home.

The story itself is sparked when the Chamber of Secrets is opened inside of Hogwarts, sparking fear of You-Know-Who’s return. But when random students (and cat’s) are found paralysed in terror, talk turns to the closure of school for the year. I always remembered the climax of Chamber of Secrets to be a lot more chilling than it is now, which stands testament to the claim that Columbus offerings are aimed more at a younger age than any of his successors. However, the comedy is presented more often in these early films – with Rupert Grint taking most of the credit for that. Some important tidbits are touched upon here – which enhances Rowling’s continuity –including Harry speaking Parseltongue and the first Horcrux unknowingly being destroyed, as well as the first use of Polyjuice Potion and Floo Powder. It seems a shame that all of the great factors make such a long film, with Chamber of Secrets containing more than enough detail. At 161 minutes, it is officially the longest Harry Potter film there is.
Still, Tom Marvolo Riddle being an anagram for ‘I Am Lord Voldemort’ still holds up as being cool too..!
Best Moment:
The Quidditch match here ranks as one of the best. Fantastically realised from Columbus, it’s a shame it does not endure for longer at the expense of other expendable moments (Hermione’s feline error with the Polyjuice Potion).
Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher:
Gilderoy Lockhart, author of a series of successful books that depicts his epic battles with magical, dark creatures – but in actual fact, a useless fad who ends up with memory loss. Left out of his brief appearance in Order of the Phoenix was probably for the best.
Best Character:
Colin Creevey has to be considered for being extremely annoying at one stage and then ridiculously sweet in the click of a camera. But this is the introduction of a much-loved character that steals the show in just a few scenes: Arthur Weasley.
Best Quote:
Arthur Weasley: Now Harry, you must know all about Muggles. Tell me, what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?


Friday, 8 July 2011

HP retrospective #1:

On July 15th, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is released nationwide, bringing to a close the biggest commercial franchise the world has ever seen, thanks to producer David Heyman. To mark the evolution of this groundbreaking series and its contribution to cinema, I will provide a daily retrospective of the past 7 films to grace the silver screen, culminating in a review of the final part. In case you haven't seen any of the films (where the hell have you been?), spoilers abound. Enjoy!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

2001, PG, Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Matthew Lewis, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Zoe Wanamaker

Our introduction to The Boy Who Lived establishes JK Rowling’s universe as one of wonderment, awe and a bandwagon you completely must jump on to in order to experience the phenomena surrounding officially the biggest franchise the world has ever seen. Upon hearing that iconic piece of music at the very start of where the magic began, Chris Columbus’ debut, from the pre-credits Privet Drive sequence right through to the Hogwarts Express departing the school of witchcraft and wizardry, massively succeeds in appealing to younger audiences as well as everybody else.

Not only is the scope gargantuan due to adept translation of page to screen, but largely thanks to the casting which is – for want of a better term – damn inspired. It is important to note the first of Richard Harris’ two appearances as the incredibly warm and dependable presence of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, before he sadly passed away in 2002 (a few weeks before the release of Chamber of Secrets). In fact, it is near impossible to imagine Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore present here, his characterisation that works so well Azkaban onwards having no place in Colombus’ Potterverse; tonally, Harris nails it. It is something of a surprise how little screen time franchise-stealer Alan Rickman has here as the snarling, scintillating Severus Snape. More is made of Maggie Smith’s fierce, yet loveable McGonagall. Acting heavyweights aside, this is the film that initially made mega superstars out of national treasures Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and the big man himself, Daniel Radcliffe – he IS Harry Potter. Stale at times with cringing delivery, it is important to remember that at 12 years old, not many other children could have embodied the character as well as Dan and shared the screen with such skilled stars. Only upon re-watch does it become alarmingly surreal how Radcliffe has grown from boy to man during the space of these films, all adding to the authenticity of proceedings.

Philosopher’s Stone is as watchable as it was a decade ago, with the effects and set-pieces holding up in what has become a 3-D obsessed time (lets face it, Quidditch is awesome whichever format it’s in), however more flaws become prevalent too. If they can ever be overlooked though, it is for the introduction to what is a long line of films. Today, the direction the books and films alike were headed is as clear as the Mirror of Erised and as a whole, the culmination was a lot darker than anything audiences envisaged at such an early stage. In terms of reminiscent value, this doesn’t get any stronger.


Best Moment:

There is plenty to choose from: Diagon Alley; the Sorting Hat; Ron's heroic game of Chess – but it has to be the first glimpse of Hogwarts; such an iconic location and will always be as jaw-dropping, shiver-inducing and plain exciting as the first time witnessed.

Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher:

Turban wearing Pr-pr-professor Quirrell (Ian Hart). Works on a level of not being an obvious villain, and the reveal of Voldemort etched to the back of his head is visually disconcerting.

Best Character:

I’m going to attempt to stray from saying Snape each time, so first winner of this category for me is Ron Weasley. Comic timing has always come to Grint naturally. Narrowly losing out is Argus Filch, the series' most underrated character.

Best Quote:

Hermione Granger: Now, if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled
Ron Weasley: She needs to sort out her priorities