Oh Oh It’s Magic PT 7 uh PT 2 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, 2011)

Harry_Potter_008_PosterTen years of film-making culminates with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.  After managing to destroy a couple of the Horacruxes and escaping the clutches of Bellatrix Lestrange, the trio realizes they need to return to Hogwarts.  But this is not so simple.  Snape is now Headmaster, Dementors patrol the grounds and Death Eaters are on the watch for Harry Potter.

They find themselves seeking the help of Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth. They were never aware of a brother, and he seems embittered towards his brother.  In the Trio’s absence, Neville Longbottom has rallied their fellow students to be ready for war against Voldemort.  Harry realizes what the final Horacruxes are.  He seeks one, while Hermione and Ron work on a plan to destroy the other. There is a large battle at the school, which Voldemort brings a halt to.  He promises to let everyone go if they only turn over Harry Potter.

But Harry realizes he must face Voldemort on his own.  This leads to a rather touching moment with our three heroes as it is clear, this may be the last time they ever see each other.

Part two, while a logical progression from the dark part one, is far more exciting and even fun.  The drama is more hopeful. The funny thing is, taken as a whole, both films work quite well. Part one feels less oppressive when directly followed up by part two (as opposed to the theatrical releases which were several months apart).

Part two brings the series to a close with a sense of hope and optimism.  There are many moments that are thoughtful next to the exciting battles. And yet, even split among two films, you feel like we don’t get enough of some of those favorite characters (such as Remus and Tonks). I enjoy the series and feel this film brings it all to a close quite nicely.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT7 um PT 1 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, 2010)

225278id1g_HP7_27x40_1Sheet.inddFinding the world becoming more and more dangerous, Harry and his friends leave behind the muggle world.  We see them saying their goodbyes, or in the case of Hermione, tragically causing her non-magical parents to forget she even exists. Several members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive at the now empty Dursley residence for Harry. To protect him, several of the members take the polyjuice potion to assume the likeness of Harry, creating multiple Harrys.

There is an attack by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, but with one exception, all arrive safely at the Weasleys.  There is a wedding for oldest Weasley Percy and Fleur.  The head of the Ministry of Magic arrives to deliver Dumbledore’s last will and testament.  He leaves a gift for Harry, one for Hermione and one for Ron. Harry receives the Golden Snitch he caught in the first film.  Ron receives Dumbledore’s De-lluminator (last seen in the first film)and Hermione is given a storybook.

At the wedding, there is an announcement from the Ministry that it has fallen into the hands of Voldemort.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron flee together. Rather than return to Hogwarts, the three dedicate themselves to tracking down and destroying the remaining Horacruxes. As the Half-Blood Prince explained, these are objects in which a wizard has put a portion of their soul. This involves murder, making it an especially heinous form of magic.  Only by destroying these objects can Voldemort be truly vulnerable.

The Deathly Hallows kicked off a trend in movies adapted from book series.  When it was announced that they were going to split the film into two parts, some felt it was merely a cash grab.  And while I won’t disagree that there was surely an element of that from the studio, I also feel it would have seriously hampered the series to try and force the story into a single film.

There are some notable moments, for instance, there is a terrific animated sequence that tells the story of the “Deathly Hallows”.  Radcliff and Watson are really quite good in this film.  And yet, Part one struggles a bit as an independent film.  It is rather slow at points, focusing on the bleak and hopeless tone.  It is, at times, incredibly oppressive. And while it ends with a somewhat exciting escape, it still is kind of hard to enjoy the film on its own.    But more on this in Part 2.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT 6 (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2009)

Harry_Potter_006_PosterNow that the magical world knows Harry and Dumbledore were, in fact, correct and the Voldemort is back, the Death Eaters are becoming bolder than ever, going as far as to attack the non-magical world.  Harry is hesitant about returning to Hogwarts, but Dumbledore convinces him and uses Harry to entice another professor back to Hogwarts.

Horace Slughorn is the new potions teacher, but this is not the true reason he is wanted back at Hogwarts.  You see, Horace is a bit obsessed with celebrity.  He is drawn to star pupils. One of those pupils was Tom Riddle, who came to Slughorn for information on very dark magic. But his memory is muddled, and Dumbledore hopes Harry can get the information from him.

In the meantime, Harry has found a potions book for his class that is marked as the property of the Half-Blood Prince. It features shortcuts to success and unique hand-written spells.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron try and figure out why Draco Malfoy seems to be behaving very mysteriously. Harry suspects that Malfoy is behind several incidents with cursed items.

The film also builds on the seeds of a budding relationship between Ron and Hermione and introduces an “unexpected” love interest in Jenny Weasley.  The films actually started seeding this awhile back, with Jenny clearly having a school girl crush on him, very visible anytime she was around. Thankfully, the film avoids the book’s annoying “Spider-Man Ending.”  In the book, Harry gets all, “I cannot have love, for that puts people in danger”.  The film tosses this aside.which is a wise move.

The visual look of the film is matching the darker tone of the book.  David Yates uses a darker and at times duller pallet, but to the benefit of the film’s atmosphere. The film ends on a grim note, but effective in it’s set up for the final arc of Harry Potter.

The cast is, as always, quite strong. This film features the best chemistry between Radcliff and Gambon.  As Horace Slughorn, Jim Broadbent is both likable and sad, in you realize his desire to be admired is overpowering to the point that it has brought great sadness to his life.  And Tom Felton is a real standout, with this film elevating Draco Malfoy from entitled snob to a very conflicted kid.  He really sells the notion that Draco is not as enamored with the life of a Death Eater as he portrays.

This is, in my opinion, one of the strongest of all the Harry Potter films.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT 5 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2007)

Harry_Potter_005_PosterThe film opens with a rather heartbroken Harry Potter, haunted by the death of Cedric Diggory and the rise of Voldemort.  The Ministry of Magic has worked very hard to portray Harry and Dumbledore as crackpots. Confronted by cousin Dudley and his friends, Harry becomes angry with Dudley and pulls his wand on him.  This is a nicely acted scene, as the moment Dudley sees the wand, his expression goes from cocky to scared (while his friends all laugh, having no idea Harry is a wizard).

The skies go dark and Harry finds he and Dudley under an attack from Dementors. Harry fights off the Dementors, but this results in his being expelled from Hogwarts for being an underage wizard using spells off campus. Harry must face a brief hearing to address if he will be punished.  Dumbledore prevents this from being permanent.

Harry is also frustrated by the fact that nobody has been in contact with him.  He discovers that Dumbledore has brought together several people to form the Order of the Phoenix.  It includes Lupin, the Weasleys, Sirius Black, Mad-Eye Moody and shockingly to Harry, Professor Snape.

Once back at Hogwarts, the kids are introduced to the new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Delores Umbridge is really there as an eye for the Ministry of Magic, which does not trust Dumbledore.  She does not teach the children spells. Instead, she focuses on books, arguing the children will never need to put such things into action.

Umbridge slowly takes over the school, enforcing ridiculous and endless rules.  She forces out Dumbledore, inspiring Harry to bring together like-minded students to prepare to fight Voldemort.

this is the heart of the film, as Harry and his friends strive to prepare for the coming battle.  But Harry also struggles with nightmarish visions, some of which turn out to be true. This causes him to believe Sirius is in great danger, causing Harry and a few members of his class to set out to save Sirius by breaking into the Ministry of Magic’s archives department.  This leads to an all-out battle royale.

Order of the Phoenix is notable as being the only Harry Potter Film without a Steve Kloves screenplay. And in some ways, this film feels the least connected.  It also suffers from issues like setups not being addressed.  It never explains the Dementor attack.

Certainly, we can assume it  was due to Voldemort or even the Ministry of Magic…but while the event is questioned, it is never answered.

Still, this is a generally good film within the franchise, even if we only get glimpses of characters like Sirius Black (blunting his overall impact). The introduction of Bellatrix LeStrange (played with gleeful delirium by Helena Bonham Carter) and Luna Lovegood (who, in some ways is a sweetly natured reflection of LeStrange) are welcome.  Imelda Staunton makes Delores Umbridge gloriously hateable.

The film also introduces one of my favorite characters from the books, Tonks.  She is kind of what I figure a young and modern witch or wizard would be like (for example, using magic change hair color and styles).

This film brings on David Yates as director and visionary for the rest of the series (under the watch of Rowling and Kloves). Primarily a television director, Yates acquits himself quite well in this big budget picture.

Oh Oh It’s Magic! PT 3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004)

Harry_Potter_003_PosterContinuing to steamroll on, the third film introduces the concept of the wizard prison Azkaban.  It appears to be the only prison, and it is a place you do not want to go.  The wizarding community is on edge, because of the notorious killer, Sirius Black has escaped.  He is infamous among good wizards of his betrayal of his friends James and Lily Potter.

The kids meet their new Professor for the Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Professor Remus Lupin is another mysterious character who appears to harbor a dark secret (but magically, was born with the last name that gives it away).  He, however, seems very kind and Harry learns that Lupin was close to his parents.

The film also brings in two important plot devices.  One is a cloak of invisibility (which will figure greatly later in the series) and the other is the Marauder’s Map.  The map shows everyone who exists in the school and where they are.  When Harry notices a person on the map believed to be dead, it kicks off a mission to determine what is going on.

A large focus of the story is Lupin teaching the kids to conjure a defensive spell known as a Patronis.  The Patronis allows defense against mystical creatures and in this film, that is primarily the Dementors.  Looking like a grim reaper, the Dementor is an Azkaban guard.  They can literally suck the joy and will to live from your body, leaving the victim in torment.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron uncover information hinting that Black may not be who everyone claims he is. The story culminates in Harry and Hermione pulling a magical stunt to pull off some rescues and save the day.

Columbus stepped away as director for this film Warner Brothers brought in Alfonso Cuarón. This turns out to have been a good choice, as instead of being dedicated to forcing the novel into a couple of hours, he (and screenwriter Steve Kloves) focus on the tone of the story.  Azkaban represented a turn towards darker themes in the books, and the film matches that.

Gary Oldman and David Thewlis are welcome additions to the cast, with Oldman turning in a manic performance, reflecting the decade or so of imprisonment. But the biggest change occurred because between Chamber of Secrets and this film, Richard Harris passed away. Harris was just about 70 when the first film was being made, and he did seem quite fragile in the first two films.  This played into the warmness of Dumbledore found in the books.  He was replaced by Michael Gambon (Ian McKellen was offered the role, but turned it down on the reasons that he thought it would be risky trying to play another iconic character after playing Gandalf and felt it inappropriate to take over for Harris who had considered McKellen a “dreadful” actor). Gambon’s approach to Dumbledore is very different from Harris.  His Albus is a bit tougher and sterner. This gets tempered out as the series progresses. Part of this difference is likely due to Gambon never reading the books.

The visuals of the film stand out in this film, with far better CGI than the previous films.

After two decent films, the Prisoner of Azkaban represents a step up for the franchise.

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.

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