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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter Movies in Brief (except the last two)

Welcome back to the Chaos Corner, folks. I've just seen the final installment of the Harry Potter saga. As I type this, it is making a billion bazillion dollars at the box office. But, before I can review the Deathly Hallows, I feel that I must review the previous ones, as well as my perspective on fantasy films, how I was exposed to HP to begin with, and how my thoughts have changed over time. So, let us begin the tale of tragedy and triumph!

First (Potter is an untalented, lackluster child)- I have not read ANY of the books. Now, I read a great deal (not just 40K novels ;-), but have never been interested in HP. I barely registered that the books even really existed. They were on the periphery for me. When the first movie came out, I heard about it, but again, it didn't interest me. It was a children's thing, I thought. However, I ended up seeing the movie on DVD in 2002- I was teaching, and the grade took a trip to Pennsylvania. On that trip, they wanted to see HP. It was hard to hear some of it over the kids on that bus, but I got the gist. For me, it was a kid's movie, though I did appreciate the performances of Richard Harris and of course Alan Rickman. Indeed, Rickman in particular made the movie interesting- was he the bad guy or not? Rickman's great in just about anything, and his "past" as Hans Gruber and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham only made his turn better. Chris Columbus can't direct his way out of a paper bag, but the British actors made it fun, and the 3 kids were harmless (ie. not annoying) So, I liked the movie enough... but then, it happened. The kids wanted to watch it again. Yes, again. That minute. Right now. Ugh! No kidding, we watched it like 4 times total (damn traffic!). Now, there was no way I could withstand that. My mind began to break down. By the third viewing, my mind was reduced to a quivering mound of useless jelly. By the end of the umpteenth viewing, I hated it. Loathed it. Swore a blood oath to Khorne to never again see the cursed movie or any that followed. Well, you can already see where this is going...

Yes- this is what the bus looked like for me on the 80th viewing of Harry Potter! And still the kids  said "Again!"...

Second (The power of love)- For most of its run, I ignored Potter's doings. I did notice how much money they made, and how they briefly competed against the superior LOTR (more on that later). I also thought it was funny when people broke the news "Snape Kills Dumbledore" (due to hilarious spots on YTMND and other sites). Otherwise, no interest or contact with HP. But then, it happened. In 2009, my girlfriend (and soon to be wife) revealed that she was a Potter fan. She had read the books, seen the movies, etc. She wanted to see the then new one coming out, HP: Half-Blood Prince. At this point, I told her my horror story on the bus to Penn in 2002- the first movie on infinite loop with a bus full of screaming 8th graders! Hell is real, my friends! My wife explained that the first two movies weren't really great, but the series gets better, and that they take dark turns as the books progress. Partly out of curiosity, but mostly out of love, I agreed to give them a second chance.

Third (I've had teachers like this. Heck, I am a teacher like this)- Thus, my learning of HP lore began. Watching the first one again, I nearly had a seizure (yes, I saw little pink 8th grade monsters at the margins of my sanity), but with my wife, I recalled my appreciation for the British actors, and the kids did a good job. About two weeks later, we watched Chamber of Secrets. Again, Columbus can't direct, but the strengths of the last one were here again. Plus, a cool spider and monster at the end. Not too long after, we watched the Prisoner of Azkaban. Ah! Now it gets interesting. The kids are a bit more mature, the dangers a bit more dark (Dementors!). Having Gary Oldman also helps (great actor). Michael Gambon steps in as Dumbledore- whereas Harris was grandfatherly and nice, Gambon is rougher around the edges- appropriate for the darker tone of the movie. A strong movie, no doubt. The Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix blur together for me a bit- we were watching them quickly now to be caught up for HBP. The kids are fighting their hormones as much as the Death Eaters (to good effect), I got a kick out of the temp headmaster Umbridge (is JK Rowling parodying Margret Thatcher? Yep- you bet), and we get to see Voldemort in the flesh, played by the excellent Ralph Finnes (though his role is underdeveloped in these movies). Finally, we went to see Half Blood Prince opening weekend. I absolutely liked this one. Really, it's the start of a trilogy, if you will. It sets up the pieces for the rest of the tale. The mood, imagery, development, and effects are all excellent. Jim Broadbent does great work here, as do the usual suspects (Rickman, Gambon, the kids). The last half is great stuff- drinking the poison, the fires and Dumbledore saving Harry, and then, of course, Snape's actions. Wow. Now that's a cliffhanger. Now, would Deathly Hallows be so good? Hmmm...

Am I as good a teacher as Snape? Heheh!

Fourth (You have the ring, and I see your wand is as big as mine)- Now, of course, I am a Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan (I play Warhammer, how could I not be?!). These HP movies are fantasy (LOTR), no doubt, and they are a serial epic (Star Wars).  So, how does HP compare? Well, I'll need to give my thoughts on the final two to give the complete answer, but as of seeing through number 6, LOTR no doubt was better. Far and away, for dozens of reasons. As for SW, well- the original trilogy can't be touched. However, as compared to the prequels- Azkaban and HBP are great- dark, foreboding, and well done. The Prequels are hit and miss. Ep III saves the whole enterprise, but... could HP be better? Hmm. I now have an idea for a future article here... hehe! Certainly, the series has come a long way from that bus in 2002 if I'm suspecting that HP rates better than the SW Prequels!

I will soon post my review of the Deathly Hallows Parts I and II. What will the verdict be? You'll have to wait and see!

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