Potterwatch: Harry Potter Retrospective, part.3

Time can mend all wounds and change all things. Rewind just 7 weeks back and I had seen the first two Harry Potter films and felt no need or wish to change that. I was one of the countless people who either hated or was entirely disinterested with the series. These people are essentially striking it off as a series of simple kid’s films that could never possible resemble entertainment or high quality film making without ever seeing it. Much like Matthew Wright (the Wright stuff, channel 5) I only wanted to hear the perspective of people who agreed with my perspective on the series, ignoring everyone else and writing them off as either fan boys or boring. One challenge and six weeks later, I have watched all the films bar the two deathly hallows films, the second part of which is out on Friday, as if that escaped you attention.

Now I can happily say that there are a few films in this most fruitful of franchises that I have no problem saying I enjoyed. Furthermore I am putting great consideration into seeing a midnight screening of Deathly Hallows 2. Even if something was merely suggested at turn of the year I would have laughed in your face. Now with no greater need for introduction I bring you the last part of my Potterwatch series of posts – looking at the Harry Potter films from the outside in. This week we have The Half Blood Prince and the first Deathly Hallows.

The Half Blood Prince

 This film has been cited by some as the strongest of the series, sitting at the top of the pile alongside The Prisoner of Azkaban. I was looking forward to finding out whether that was the case or not, unfortunately, being one of the half-dozen people in the world that has an interest no matter how fleeting who hasn’t seen or read all the books/films makes me incredibly susceptible to spoiler. Those dirty things. Unfortunately for me then that one of the trailers before seeing Transformers: Dark (Side) of the Moon, was Deathly Hallows part.2, a particularly spoiler heavy one too that highlights the story leading up to the final, era closing, film, revealing a rather bit event in the process. Fortunately this spoiler didn’t happen towards the end of the film and I was so embroiled with it all, as I have been with all the preceding films it didn’t really bother me.

This films main purpose is to set up the double bill that is the deathly hallows, that much I know, ask me to synopsise this film and I will start to have problems as the story of the half blood is much more densely populated than any other film up to this point. There’s something about the threat of Voldermort becoming real and the world being effected like never before. Even the Muggle world is affected in an early scene where a bridge is destroyed by some of the dark lord’s minions. The main crux of the story is divided twofold between Draco and Snape conspiring to kill the biggest threat to their master, Dumbledore and Harry being charged with the task of discovering the truth about Tom Riddle’s childhood and the potential secret to his power.

That makes this film a first in the series. Until this point the series was fixated on adding depth to the characters on the side of good and reason, now the side of dark gets a turn. Every scene and film that Draco Malfoy has been in he has played the horrible little racist turd who says things that shouldn’t be said, only to be beaten up by Hermione. Never once has he been required to be anything more than one of the central figures of hate. Yet lo and behold he gets a role in this film, which reveals him to be a child full of fear, anxiety and problems which land him in a situation that leads to the films brilliant end. The same goes with Voldermort, here he features as a child who suffered at the hands of discrimination and alienation forging him into the character of blind hate and anger for Harry. If half blood prince does anything good it’s that it travels down the dark side of the galaxy more than ever before which is expressed no better than in the scene where Harry nearly kills Malfoy.

Since the franchise made the transition from light to dark one of the many recurring themes is that the endings make the film what it is, be that good or bad. The ending of the half blood prince might have been spoilt by a bloody trailer, nevertheless I have no problem saying that I really enjoyed it and to be effected by something I knew was going to happen is a massive statement towards the skill and delivery that David Yates brought to his contribution to this most successful of film franchises.

The Deathly Hallow, part 1

It’s finally here. I have finally watched all the Harry Potter films in preparation for the release of the biggest release of 2011 – The Deathly Hallows part.2. First though we have the first of this two parter. Before I get into the beef of the discussion for the franchise there are two issues that I feel I have to talk out. The first being the bridge between films, at the end of the half blood prince Ron Harry and Hermione were still children in an adult’s world and were beaten soundly as a result of this gap in powers and abilities. Now in this film our protagonists are beating death eaters, warping to and from different areas and generally punching above their weight. Sure this makes sense as the lead in to the end game, however it feels like a lot was skimmed over or dropped when translating the book. The second issue was how the death of ‘Mad Eye’ was handled, he was killed off-screen. Deaths of background characters would be expected to be done in the outside the periphery of the central narrative but not someone who is leading the front line in the battle between good and evil. Exclude these two admittedly large issues and you will find another great addition to the Harry Potter Galaxy from David Yates.

Watching one film in the series a week has got me up to speed rather quickly and it has also engrained into me certain expectations of what you will see in a Harry Potter film, very few of which actually make an appearance in this the penultimate film. As such it doesn’t feel like a Harry Potter film, yes the world of magic still has a role to play as do the characters that populate it. However this is to all intents and purposes a road trip movie, one that is set in a dystopian world subjugated by the will of evil. This is a world away from the unbound glee and enthusiasm of the philosopher’s stone. The way the series has grown reminds me of the best kind of fantasy cinema, the type during the 80s which was just as much for children as it was for adults, the very same fantasy that was satirised so memorably by the princess bride.

This is a film based on the first half of a book and it shows. The David Yates and Steven Kloves partnership has padded out the film to its mammoth 2 and a half hours running time by slowing the pace right down. Whereas the other films struggled to translate everything wrote by Rowling onto the big screen, Deathly Hallows 1 has the luxury of limited source text to adapt. When I say this what I mean is HP7 has the opportunity to slow, to be the calm before the storm. It may be slow in comparison to the other films and for the traditional hardcore fans of the series this very well may be the very definition of boring. In my opinion it gives the story a chance to breathe, if the each of the 8 films was as relentless as the last it would have glossed over one very important thing – context. Sure we all know by this point in the series what is happening and what the stakes are however if the pacing of each film is relentless you nor the characters have the chance to stop, slow down, and consider what they are charging towards.

As well as providing that all important context, HP7 also provides the actors a chance to express their inner most thoughts, fears and worries. It’s in these moments that the young actors get to truly spread their acting wings and give us some truly heartfelt moments. The Deathly Hallows part 1 might not win the most fans in the series, it also might have a few problems that aren’t addressed, but in my humbled opinion this is the most necessary film and part of the story. As a by-product of me having such an opinion, I believe this to be the series best output since the prisoner of Azkaban. That’s right and I am not saying this with a hint of irony or sarcasm, the words I type are true.

HARRY POTTER 1-7

When I started watching this series not only did I not expect to like any of the films, I also didn’t have any expectations. Not only have I been proved (or betrayed, depending on your perspective) wrong by my inner child’s sense of adventure by really enjoying 3 of the 7, I have also seen what the fuss is about. Watching those precocious kids develop from cute to impressive, by way of embarrassing, has been a joy. Hell, I would even go as far to describe myself as a casual fan. Wow, I never expected these words to come forth from my fingertips. Seeing those kids develop into strapping young lads and a beautiful girl has been quite  the viewing experience. Although I have to say that the one child actor out of the lot who will have the best and most fulfilling career will be Emma Watson, she has developed into an actress far more gifted than I would ever dare to expect. Here’s hoping Harry Potter 8: The Deathly Hallows, part.2 is a fitting end to this adventure and the deserving full stop to this undisputed end of an era.

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