November 18, 2010

MRQE Rewind: The Magical Cinematic World of Harry Potter

I'll admit it: I am totally psyched for the new Harry Potter film. The extra long book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has produced an extra long movie, split into two parts in order to keep audiences from losing all sensation in their rears. The first half hits tomorrow, while we all have to wait until summer for the second part. In anticipation, let's take a look at the Potter films that have led us up to the end of the series: the good, the bad, and the Dobby.

The first film in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is all fluff and fancy. Directed with painstaking accuracy by Chris Columbus, Sorcerer's Stone was fantastic for the kiddies back when seeing Harry, Hagrid and Hogwarts in the flesh was still novel. The rewatch value, however, leaves much to be desired. The shots of tiny Daniel Radcliffe reacting with wide-eyed wonder to some new CGI-assisted delight are too numerous to count, and the whisking of the audience from spectacle to spectacle becomes tedious rather than magical. The special effects seem a bit shoddy to the modern audience, too; the big Quidditch scene looks mind-bogglingly amateur to today's jaded eye. For completists only, and certainly not good for the blood sugar.

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The darkest installment in the series to date, Half-Blood Prince presents a wizarding world under constant and insidious attack. Not even Hogwarts is safe from the enemy, and the film ends in tragedy and Harry's cliffhanger declaration to leave school forever in order to track down the Dark Lord. The direness of the plot is alleviated somewhat by the romantic comedy-esque bumblings of Ron and Hermione, but the comic relief doesn't always work. In the face of such a dangerous enemy, after all, isn't it all a bit frivolous to worry so much about who's taking you to the dance? The conflict of tone is what keeps it near the bottom of the list: you either love or hate this one, it seems like.

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I remember the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets primarily for bringing us Dobby the house elf, who is quite possibly the most aggravating character in the entire series. With his constant self-flagellation, his squawking voice, and his ubiquitous presence in the movie's press campaign, Dobby became a symbol for the Potter haters of all that was annoying about the franchise. The cooler parts of this installment, like Kenneth Branagh as a showboating guest teacher, are completely overshadowed by stupid Dobby. Which is a shame, since the second in the series is an improvement over the previous film. The plot is tighter than Sorcerer's Stone, Harry gets to fight a giant snake with a cool sword, and there's a sequence involving giant, feral spiders that still manages to give me the creeps.

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MRQE Metric: 74
As the Hogwarts gang is besieged, both by dark forces amassing outside and tyrannical teachers, Harry and his friends take matters into their own hands in an effort to thwart Voldemort and his goons. It's also highly watchable: instead of a blow-by-blow of every tiny incident, Phoenix streamlines the plot and presents the most important events while retaining the essence of the story. Much of this is due to director David Yates, who adds a quasi-realistic touch to the character interaction and emotional resonance. The film also benefits from some quality acting: Helena Bonham Carter engages in some prime scenery chewing in her first appearance of shrieking banshee Belletrix Lestrange, and Phoenix also saw the introduction of kooky fan favorite Luna Lovegood.

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MRQE Metric: 75
This fourth outing in the series is notable for its darker turn in comparison to the first three. The first major death happens here (Cedric Diggory, played by a pre-vampire Robert Pattinson), and the last act is no longer tied up in a tidy bow. At the end of the film, Voldemort is reborn and loosed upon the world and Harry has essentially failed, which is pretty weighty stuff for a children's series. Since Goblet of Fire was the first of the series with a huge pagecount, this means there's nearly twice as much material to cover, and the running time (a hefty 150 minutes) certainly reflects this. The result is a sometimes muddled quality to the storyline, but a newly mature tone and a central cast growing into their talent overcomes the occasional awkwardness of the material.

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MRQE Metric: 79
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my personal favorite of the series, and I suspect that I'm not alone in this. After the muddling direction of the previous two films, Azkaban showed us what the Potter franchise could be in its depiction of a world filled equally with wonders and perils. Arthouse favorite Alfonso Cuaron lends the goings-on a lush, unique touch. For the first time, Harry, Ron and Hermione begin to come into their own, and Cuaron's well-measures pace gives the trio room to breathe. Gary Oldman as fugitive Sirius Black sets the bar for future guest stars; his performance is stark, intense, and oddly touching. This one's a favorite of both the critics and the fans for a reason.

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Have more fun with wizards and mythical creatures as you peruse MRQE's 20 Best Movies Based on Myths, Legends, and Folklore.

1 comment:

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