Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT 2 (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2002)

Harry_Potter_002_PosterThe first film was a huge success, and so a follow-up was certain.  When the film opens, his guardians, the Dursleys, have given Harry an actual bedroom.  But they also put bars on the window. A strange creature calling himself Dobby (and reveals himself to be a house elf) tries to convince Harry to not go to his second year at Hogwarts. But when the Weasley boys show up with a flying car, they break Harry out and get on their way.  But after Ron and Harry are blocked from the magical platform to get to the train for Hogwarts, they take the flying car.

Once at Hogwarts, the Harry, Ron and Hermione discover a mystery in the past of Hogwarts.  The school is full of passages and hidden rooms.  They discover cryptic references to the Chamber of Secrets and a past for Hagrid.

Like the first film, this one tries to cram in as much from the book as possible.  It also unravels more about the past of Lord Voldemort. The film introduces Gilderoy Lockhart (played with flamboyant revelry by Kenneth Branagh).  Lockhart gives insight into the world of the celebrity wizard.  He is beloved for his books detailing his exploits fighting evil wizards, fantastic beasts and all around heroism.  And yet, there is something about him…he seems…rather inept.

Certain characters offer a window into some of the darker aspects of the Wizarding community.  Specifically the concept of the House Elf.  What we find in the film is that the world of wizards has pretty much enslaved elves.  The elves are abused and cower before their masters.  There may be wizards who treat their house elves well.  But this is never really shown in the films or the books. In the books, Hogwarts uses house elves, though the movies shy away from this.

The visuals are improved in this film, and Columbus is clearly enamored with the world of Harry Potter, as he tries to fill the screen with as many visual queues from the books as possible.

Again, it is the adult cast that shines.  Chamber of secrets will certainly charm many fans of the franchise and will likely entertain general audiences as well.  It’s die-hard faithfulness to the source can still get in the way of this film, but overall, it makes for an enjoyable watch.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! Pt 1 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001)

Harry_Potter_001_PosterEvery so often there is a major phenomenon. And for the late 1990’s?  That was Harry Potter.  In a series of seven books, J.K. Rowling broke records with a tale of a young boy wizard.  Kids were showing up to midnight release parties for the latest books and dressing up as the characters for conventions.

A movie was pretty much inevitable.  They brought in Chris Columbus, writer of youth favorites like the Goonies and Gremlims and director of Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire.  He, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and Rowling worked to craft a film that “captured the magic” of the books.

Young Harry Potter has grown up with his aunt, uncle, and cousin unaware of a big secret about himself.  The Dursleys shower love on their son Dudley, all the while with holding any decent treatment of Harry.  They keep him in a compartment under the stairs, rather than a proper bedroom. On his eleventh Birthday he is greeted by Hagrid, a giant of a man and a representative of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  You see, Harry’s parents were wizards, and he has the gene.

Harry discovers that, in fact, he is a famous wizard. When he was a baby, an evil wizard, so evil in fact he is only referred to As He Who Walks Behind the Rows-wait, He Who Must Not Be Named– was trying to take over the wizarding world and enslave the non-magical world. There was a prophesy about young Harry, and He Who Must Not Be Named (Actual Name; Voldemort) was determined to prevent it from coming to pass by killing Harry and his parents.  While he was successful in killing Harry’s parents, when he attempted to kill Harry, the spell rebounded and killed Voldemort and leaving Harry with a lightning bolt scar.

Harry is brought to Hogwarts, where he makes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and also makes some enemies, primarily in fellow student Draco Malfoy. Malfoy’s family were actually Death Eaters (members of Voldemort’s cult).  They are strict and cruel aristocratic types.  Ron comes from a large wizarding family and Hermione is actually of non-magical lineage (some cruelly call her a Mudblood).

The Sorcerer’s Stone follows Harry’s first year as he solves a mystery in which there seems to be a unique magical object that the headmaster is hiding.  Between Harry, Hermione and Ron’s quest, we see Harry learning about the differences (both good and bad) to be found in the world of witches and wizards.  He gets guidance from the kind hearted Headmaster Dumbledore and faces adverse treatment from Professor Snape.

The cast in the film is what really stands out in the film.  While the kids are not heavily impressive (which is understandable, most of them are in their first or second role), every adult role seems carefully chosen. Richard Harris is terrific as the soft spoken Dumbledore. Maggie Smith is excellent as good but stern Professor McGonagall.  The late Alan Rickman is terrific in the role of the grim and tough Professor Snape, the potions professor who aspires to teach the Defense Against the Dark Arts Class.  But even small roles, such as the ghost Nearly Headless Nick are given to established talent like John Cleese.

The visual effects are all over the place.  There is a sequence in which Harry is on the shoulders of a troll, and it is an embarrassingly low budget looking like video game scene.  This might not seem fair, but this came out the same year as the Fellowship of the Ring, and it is hard to ignore that the Sorcerer’s Stone can fall so short.  Most of the effects are certainly good, but these big moments falling short of the weakest effects in the Lord of the Rings hurts the film.

The movie makes a tremendous effort to bring the books to vibrant life onscreen. And in a general sense, it does pull that off.  The movie really does bring the world of witches and wizards to life. The use of spells, the moving pictures, the castle ghosts. In fact, it sometimes feels like they were so dedicated to filling in as much information from the book that they forgot the story is more important.  Certainly, the plot is there from the book. But the attention to detail actually can get distracting.

Fans of the book are ultimately going to be satisfied.  It is a fun movie for those of us that enjoyed the books.  But it never really comes to a point where it can stand on it’s own without the books.

It Runs In the Family (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: the Lightning Thief, 2010)

Percy_Jackson_Lightning_Thief_PosterStudios are always on the hunt for their franchises.  And Harry Potter had everyone convinced they knew the formula. And so 20th Century Fox brought in Chris Columbus, director of the first two Harry Potter films to adapt the Percy Jackson and the Olympians by young author Rick Riordan.

Percy Jackson has lived his life with his mother and a terrible step-father.  His only solace is swimming and his friend Grover. He struggles with dyslexia and is easily distracted.  One day on a school trip he makes a rather startling discovery.  He is the son of Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea. Grover turns out to be a satyr and his protector and takes Percy and his mother to a place where Percy will be safe.  See, it turns out that everyone in Mythdom believes Percy has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt.  And so everyone is trying to get it from him to start a war.

A minotaur interferes with their attempt to reach Camp Halfblood.  While Percy and Grover make it, his mother is taken by Hades.  Along with Grover and Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, Percy goes on a quest to free his mother from Hades.

The film draws from various Greek stories, bringing Percy against the Hydra, Medusa, and the underworld.  It is filled pretty richly with creatures of myths like Centaurs and furies.

The first two Harry Potter films were faithful to the source to the point of near detriments, but on the other hand the casting of the instructors was downright inspired. Now, I have not read the books, so I am not sure how closely the films follow their inspirations.  But while the cast is good, there are really no…”That person now defines how I would see them in any incarnation”.  Again, the cast is good.  You have Sean Bean, Joe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman, Catherine Keener, Rosario Dawson, and Pierce Brosnan in your supporting cast. And really, Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario connect well as a team.

A lot of the creature designs are pretty good.  Some, are hampered by being very obvious digital monsters.  And honestly, the film makes the same flaw in their choice for Medusa as the Clash of the Titans remake…she is to seductive looking.

However, there are some inspired moments, for example, the hydra begins as five men who combine into the beast.

The Lightning Thief has an interesting enough idea at it’s core that I did find the film to be fairly entertaining.  Not a classic or must see, of course, but it is certainly passable light entertainment.

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