Potterwatch, vol.1

It very well might be a cultural phenomenon, but that doesn’t change that Harry Potter has never washed with me. That has a lot to do with the fact that you have to be a kid to fully appreciate the series. Failing that a lot of the more long-standing fans of the series grew up alongside the protagonists. To that end Harry Potter is the star wars to this generation of kids. I was a huge fan of the original star wars trilogy, which was still huge in the 90s when I was a young ‘un.

This post is to celebrate the fast approaching final instalment of the series. In this individual celebration I have gone back and watching one of the films every week in preparation for the deathly hallows part 2, which is both the last film in the series and the first that I will see in a cinema. This is potter watch, the films from someone’s point of view who finds harry potter a little bit alien.

The Philosopher’s Stone

J.K Rowling’s massively successful book series turned movie franchise all sorts here. Millions of children finally get to see Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore and the world of magic up there on the big screen. The sheer ecstasy that children got when they seen this film for the first time is beyond my comprehension. The only parallel I can think of is The Phantom Menace, which I inexplicably went to see 4 or 5 times.

The world of magic away from the muggles is beautifully imagined by Chris Columbus is awe-inspiring. Even as an adult, there are certain scenes in this film which are so vividly constructed that it does become very difficult to ignore. The cast also beggars belief with actors such as the late Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, and John Cleese. I could go on. This is one of the most consistent points to praise about the series, reading through all the people who have starred in the series since 2001 reads like a who’s who of British screen, cinema and stage.

The first hour builds the world of Hogwarts as a world of wonder with a mystery hidden behind every corner and that is helped by the child actors who really do sell the wide-eyed wonder needed to sell the world of harry potter for what is. That’s not to say the kids are good actors, they are very sweet and cute, which is a good substitute to their acting skills. It’s quite convenient that every positive about the film occurs within the first hour. Convenient as it separates the film into two halves, the good and the bad. The second half is where it all turned sour, turning this charming little film into a mystery film. I have been told by fans of the series that this is a common theme throughout the series. It does get better but in this film it takes some wet behind the ears children and has them battling traps and magic that we have been told has kept many powerful wizards and witches at bay. I find it all a little too tough to swallow. The whole school of adventure stories which has small children besting adults is something which hasn’t sat easily with me for a long time. It all started off so promisingly too, here’s hoping it gets better in the next film – the chamber of secrets.

The Chamber of Secrets

The world and its characters have been established so now we can get on with telling the story. Unlike the lengthy build up in the first film, chamber of secrets goes straight into it. In chamber of secrets Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts for the second year only to find the school besieged with mysterious attacks and voices.

Chris Columbus is far from a good director and it shows in this film and then some. At the point of writing this first entry into Potterwatch it is safe to say that this is the worst film of the series so far. I don’t believe the series will reach such a low point again. At least the inner optimist hopes so, if this low point is reached again this is going to be a very long 7 weeks. The reason why I believe this to be the case is because the magic has worn off, so to speak. In the first film everything was bold and exciting; now in the second film you are used to that so it up to the story to keep your attention and excite you and at 161 minutes that is a hard task. For a film that is a kid’s film, the sort of kid’s film that is aimed exclusively at kids a film of this mammoth length is just too much. That isn’t helped by the fact that this is the series at its most generic.

It’s not exactly been a long time since I have watched this film, a week or two at tops, yet I still forgot what happens in the film. Give me a few months and I’ll completely forget that this exists, is there a worse thing to say about a film? I don’t think so. The problem is that it copies the tone and development of the first film, it might work for the target audience but for me the plot development was really stifled and convoluted. The story just didn’t work because of bad writing. Using magic as a defense against sense, the way in which the story progresses just comes across as a gibberish at certain points. It made this a very hard film to watch at times. I know it’s unfair to blame the director as he has tried his best; instead the blame for this one lies solely on the feet of J.K. Rowling. The magic and wonder of the first book/film has gone and in its place we have a copycat. A copycat with very little that is new to the film beyond the new additions to the cast which include Kenneth Branagh, Toby Jones, Jason Isaacs, Mark Williams et al. There is a positive to be had from the film, the visual effects are much better in this film than they were in the predecessor.

This one is just all too forgettable. Hopefully the series picks up with Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Prisoner of Azkaban

Wow, was I ever wrong. As bad and flawed and this films predecessor was that’s how good this film is. When the concept was first proposed to me to do this Potterwatch project I expected it to be an incredibly long and drawn out experience with very few high points to speak of. The prisoner of Azkaban quickly put such an idea to its death. This is a brilliant film that could very easily sit on its own and not the one of many strings to the bow that is Harry Potter. There are a few problems I have with this entry into the series and that is mainly to do with the continuity of handing over from Columbus to Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men). That gaff is Hagrid’s home. In the first two films he lived in a big lush field by the side of the school, in P.O.A he has moved to the bottom of a nearby hill. I realise it can be explained in one of two ways, either Hagrid moved or it was magic’s doing. But it wasn’t explained so it left me feeling a little sore and confused. I mean a hill made by magic? That’s just silly. Back into what the film does right rather than the unimportant things that I am picking out that are probably more than a little bit petty. Let’s get to what the film does really well.

Let’s rewind to the first film for a second. The performances from the central trio of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were pretty bad however they were young, sweet and cute which more than made up for their performances. In the second film their limitations were much clearer for all to see. Add to that the fact that we had the cast’s voices in the process of breaking; Ron in particular was alternating between squeaking and his usual voice. In the third film the young cast is really coming into their own, you can see them growing as actors. Which is fitting as this film is about developing relationships and not the constant threat of Voldermort.

The relationship between Harry and the new defence against the dark arts teacher, professor Lupin (David Thewlis) is the films greatest strength. Seeing this rapport grow from their crossing of paths to them become friends and eventually to the films brilliantly constructed climax which leads you in multiple directions only for the carpet to be pulled from under your feet multiple times. This would be an all too easy dynamic to ruin in the hands of a less gifted director, but Alfonso Cuaron has not only rose above the potential pitfalls he has made a film that has made assessed what I thought about Harry Potter in the past. I was someone who believed this to be a series made for kids alone. Not only was I wrong, I also really enjoyed the prisoner of Azkaban and found myself sucked into the emotional resonance come the film’s end. I do believe that this is a high that will never be topped within the series.

Rob Simpson

NEXT TIME I WILL BE TALKING ABOUT THE NEXT TWO ENTRIES INTO THE SERIES – THE GOBLET OF FIRE AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. 

———————————————————————————————-
Vulture Hound is now available to follow on Twitter (www.twitter.com/vulturehound) and friend Facebook (www.facebook.com/vulturehound)

Comment