Potty About Potter

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A creation that has as much magic in the backstory behind it as it does on the page and on the screen, young Harry Potter was brought to life by J. K. Rowling in the wonderful city of Edinburgh while the woman struggled to cope with life as an unemployed, single mother (I’m not using this description to cast judgment, I am merely emphasising the situation which Rowling herself has described as pretty much rock bottom as she had battled with depression and financial hardship). Visit central Edinburgh nowadays and there are a number of cafes fighting to tell you that they were “the birthplace of Harry Potter”.  We have Nicolson’s Cafe which is no longer Nicolson’s Cafe. Then there’s The Elephant House. And a few others, no doubt. But Harry Potter was born in the heart and mind of the lady herself. It may be a hodgepodge of influences and myths but it’s blended together so well that few people really begrudge J. K. Rowling her success. I have actually been lucky enough to meet the lady on more than one occasion, purely in a professional capacity unrelated to my movie or writing habits, and have found her to be a polite and unaffected woman who just really seems to have enjoyed making a better life for herself and her family in a way that has touched the lives of children, and the young at heart, worldwide. The sales figures speak for themselves, the statistics about kids improving their reading skills make for some good news and the box office total of the following eight movies is something not to be sniffed at. Yet, the one thing to remind people of and the one thing that remains astoundingly impressive from beginning to end of the Harry Potter tale (both in literary and cinematic form) is that it has always strived to be top quality entertainment. The tale could have gone in any number of directions but led to something truly worthy of the adoration heaped upon it by legions of fans. The movies could have thrown in a few details here and there and been churned out for half the cost, no doubt, but instead we saw that great care was taken to include numerous details and give full life to Hogwarts and the people within and around it. Muggles may not want to go any further but those who are brave enough to try some of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans should keep reading and remind themselves of why, come Friday, they will be rushing to get their hands on Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part Two. Or, as we can surely call it, The Grand Finale.

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

The first movie adaptation of the massively popular Harry Potter franchise had a hell of a lot riding on it. It had to please the fans of the boy wizard, it had to please J.K. Rowling and it had to please those who enjoy the magic of cinema. The fact that it managed all of this is quite a spectacular trick in itself. The fact that it did it all so well is nigh on miraculous.

We’re in safe (perhaps too safe?) hands with director Chris Columbus, who brings to the screen the tale of Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe), his miserable life with the Dursleys and then his introduction to the fantastic Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. He gets two instant best friends in the shape of Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and a mix of guiding figures in the shape of the Hogwarts staff; including benevolent headmaster Albus Dumbledore (played by Richard Harris), Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith). Will school life be the best years for Harry or will “he who must not be named” find some way to return and exact his revenge upon The Boy Who Lived?

I read the Harry Potter books when they first started becoming popular and by the time this movie came out I was more than familiar with the universe that Rowling had created so I was as pleased as anyone to see what a good job had been done in bringing Hogwarts and it’s inhabitants to the screen.

It’s far from perfect though. Radcliffe is a bit wooden, Watson is just damned annoying and a lot of the other kids show their inexperience BUT hindsight is a marvellous thing. Watching the sequels allows you to see the youngsters grow comfortably into their roles and at least their awkward style in this first outing feels completely in character for a bunch of kids thrown into a new school together.

Another failing is the rather weak “villain” this time round, though I must say that the movie’s only real flaw here is following the book and any deviation would most certainly have failed so there was really no other approach to take.

However, if the acting is bothering you and the pace isn’t quick enough then take solace in the fact that you’re never far away from a little touch of magic, be it in the shape of some better acting from the likes of Ian Hart and John Hurt or the fantastic recreation of the magical paintings that adorn the walls of Hogwarts school. Then we have the Sorting Hat, an enjoyably sneering Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton, very good from the off), the inevitable bit of Quidditch and much more that will please those who can let themselves go and enter a magical world contained within a movie screen.

DIRECTOR: CHRIS COLUMBUS
WRITER: STEVE KLOVES (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY J. K. ROWLING)
STARS: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, RUPERT GRINT, EMMA WATSON, RICHARD HARRIS, ALAN RICKMAN, ROBBIE COLTRANE, TOM FELTON, IAN HART, JOHN HURT
RUNTIME: 159 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA/UK

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)

Having managed to get the first movie out of the way and keep his head attached to his body, Chris Columbus returns to direct the second instalment, a sequel that continues utilising all of the positive aspects from the first movie and then adds to them with some slightly improved acting and a better storyline. But isn’t that so often the case once the “origin” tale is out of the way?

Ignoring a warning from Dobby the house elf to stay away from Hogwarts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returns for his second year at the school he so enjoys. This year looks like it’s going to be even more of a test with petrified bodies starting to litter the corridors, a strange voice that only Harry appears to hear and a far-too-exuberant Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher in the shape of Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh in one of the finest comic performances that the series will, arguably, ever see). Luckily, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) will stick by him through thick and thin.

While it’s not the best of the bunch (that would, at this particular moment in time, remain the third instalment) this movie gets everything just that little bit closer to Potter perfection than the first movie.

The young actors show that they’ve been doing their homework with performances that are slightly better, the effects have that little bit more polish to them, the supporting cast manages to be even better this time round (mainly thanks to Branagh’s wonderful turn but also, in no small part, due to the inclusion of Mark Williams, a bit more screen time for Julie Walters and the great, imposing presence of Lucius Malfoy as played by Jason Isaacs).

All of the returning adults slip comfortably back into their roles, the plot has some more twists and turns in it and things move towards a finale that’s actually enthralling and exciting compared to the anti-climax of the first movie. And it also has the wonderful Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle, which improves any film (her presence, I mean, though not necessarily as Moaning Myrtle).

Fawkes the Phoenix, the mystery of Tom Riddle, Colin Creevey and his first steps into stalking, a flying car, a bit more Quidditch and one big bug moment that may well be enough to make arachnophobes tremble equals some movie magic.

DIRECTOR: CHRIS COLUMBUS
WRITER: STEVE KLOVES (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY J. K. ROWLING)
STARS: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, RUPERT GRINT, EMMA WATSON, RICHARD HARRIS, ALAN RICKMAN, KENNETH BRANAGH, TOM FELTON, ROBBIE COLTRANE, JASON ISAACS, MARK WILLIAMS, JULIE WALTERS
RUNTIME: 174 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA/UK/GERMANY

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)

The third instalment of the juggernaut that is the Harry Potter franchise is, despite stiff competition, the best of the bunch.

It’s a much darker affair, just as the book was, and is capably directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who keeps things just the right side of entertaining while Hogwarts faces it’s most difficult year yet.

Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban and is on the loose so Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must be even more careful than usual. Especially with the Dementors (Azkaban prison guards, essentially) around. Thankfully, the new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher (played by David Thewlis) seems to be a good egg. It’s a shame that the Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney (played by Emma Thompson), is not quite as cool, calm and collected.

It would be easy to rate this movie just that little bit higher than the previous instalment but one or two aspects keep it on a level pegging. The cast are all decent, although Michael Gambon has some big shoes to fill as he replaces the deceased Richard Harris in the role of Dumbledore. The effects are fantastic (the Quidditch sequence is a vast improvement over the very first match we saw in the first movie) and all of the little touches in almost every frame prove to be absolutely delightful.

But there’s a big disappointment here when we get to finally see one of the main creatures (that I won’t spoil for you by naming). It just doesn’t come close to looking like a living, breathing creature and that’s a major blow in a movie that parades before us a menagerie of fantastical, magical creatures.

Despite it’s long running time, there’s a lot packed in here. This is no place for newcomers to dip their toes. The Dementors are introduced quickly enough and then it’s a case of holding on tight while we’re sent on a journey involving magical maps, an animagus or two, time trickery, a hippogriff and a knight bus. Great stuff.

DIRECTOR: ALFONSO CUARON
WRITER: STEVE KLOVES (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY J. K. ROWLING)
STARS: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, RUPERT GRINT, EMMA WATSON, MICHAEL GAMBON, ALAN RICKMAN, ROBBIE COLTRANE, EMMA THOMPSON, TOM FELTON
RUNTIME: 141 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK/USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (2005)

When I first saw the fourth movie in the Harry Potter series I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The books continued to improve with each instalment but the movie version of Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban had proven to be so good that it was hard to imagine the others reaching that same level of satisfaction, in cinematic terms. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire did a great job of reassuring me that the series would keep delivering the goods – it was full of great special effects, the new characters were very enjoyable and the pacing was well judged even if the thing ran for two and a half hours – but it does suffer slightly in the rewatch value stakes when compared to its predecessor.

The central plot this time revolves around the super duper Triwizard Tournament, a competition that involves wizards from various schools competing for the Triwizard cup. The representative from Hogwarts is Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) but he’s not alone. Despite an age restriction and some magic keeping things in line, Harry Potter’s name is also put forward and so he has to compete with the older kids. There are three tests that Harry will have to endure, as well as the disapproval of his friend Ron, who thinks that Harry put his name forward deliberately to get even more attention.

It’s hard to add anything to each subsequent review of the Harry Potter movies because they really found their feet within the first couple of movies and have just gone from strength to strength. Mike Newell is the man in the big chair this time round and shows no sign of letting the franchise down. Of course, that’s due in no small part to the great source material by J.K. Rowling and the sterling work put in by Steve Kloves to adapt those adventures for the screen.

The cast are all so closely attuned to their characters now that it’s hard to believe they go about on a daily basis without utilising magic to get everything done. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry, Ron and Hermione are perfect, Michael Gambon is very good as Dumbledore, Alan Rickman remains excellent, Tom Felton is very good, Robbie Coltrane is fun, Robert Pattinson is better here than he is in any of the Twilight movies and fans of David Tennant will enjoy his small role. Brendan Gleeson steals the show as ‘Mad Eye’ Moody while Shirley Henderson amuses as Moaning Myrtle, Natasha Richardson is great as Rita Skeeter and Ralph Fiennes is superb as the terrible and terrifying Lord Voldermort. I’ve missed plenty people out but you just can’t praise every single cast member involved in these movies, no matter how much they all seem to deserve it.

The effects are as polished and excellent as fans have come to expect but the movie actually becomes most engrossing during the big finale, the moments in which details are shown for what they really reveal and Harry is once again in more than a little danger.

It’s not the best entry of a superb franchise but it certainly doesn’t let down anyone making their way through the full tale from start to finish.

DIRECTOR: MIKE NEWELL
WRITER: STEVE KLOVES (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY J. K. ROWLING)
STARS: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, RUPERT GRINT, EMMA WATSON, MICHAEL GAMBON, RALPH FIENNES, DAVID TENNANT, ALAN RICKMAN, ROBBIE COLTRANE, BRENDAN GLEESON, ROBERT PATTINSON, SHIRLEY HENDERSON
RUNTIME: 157 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK/USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (2007)

The fifth movie in the behemoth that is the Harry Potter franchise, this film suffers in comparison with the previous two movies but that’s simply due to the fact that this instalment is working from slightly weaker source material. Taken as a stand-alone fantasy movie for all the family, it’s astonishingly good.

Strange things are afoot in Harry’s world (well . . . . stranger than usual) while evil Lord Voldemort continues to gain his strength and his followers. Dementors come forward in the presence of muggles (muggles = humans to non-Potterers), Harry and his headmaster, Dumbledore, are accused of lying about major events and even Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry is unsafe as the Ministry Of Magic decide to start running things the way they think they should be run. With nobody ready to believe the bad news, and with possible allies being held powerless by bureaucracy and red-tape, it’s up to Harry and his mates to plan a good defence against the return of the dark lord.

Watching any Harry Potter movie nowadays is like watching one of your favourite sit-coms return for a Christmas special. There’s a pleasing mix of familiarity, speculation, good humour and general happiness while you watch the magical events unfold on screen. The main cast (Daniel Radcliffe as “the boy who lived”, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger) have all, pretty much, grown up on film and grown into their respective roles with each instalment of the series. It’s got to the stage now where they really appear to BE the characters and, fortunately, the same can be said for almost everyone else who gets a major role from the other young pupils of Hogwarts to the likes of Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Maggie Smith as Miss McGonagall and anyone else who gets their face in camera.

It seems kind of redundant to mention that David Yates was a surprising choice to direct the film as a number of the Harry Potter movies have been brilliantly realised by people you would not necessarily have considered for the job so I will, instead, just say that Yates does a great job. Michael Goldenberg also deserves a bit of praise, bravely taking on the writing duties for the only movie that Steve Kloves didn’t adapt for the screen and making it feel absolutely as if the tale has been translated and developed with the same voice and style. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t get to throw in any major Quidditch games or have more terrifying Dementor moments but, as mentioned at the beginning, that’s all down to the source material and it’s at this stage that the Harry Potter tale is getting far too involved and serious for such distractions.

DIRECTOR: DAVID YATES
WRITER: MICHAEL GOLDENBERG (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY J. K. ROWLING)
STARS: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, RUPERT GRINT, EMMA WATSON, MICHAEL GAMBON, ALAN RICKMAN, TOM FELTON, RALPH FIENNES, HELENA BONHAM CARTER, MAGGIE SMITH
RUNTIME: 138 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK/USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Following on directly from the events of the fifth movie in the series, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince continues taking the story in a dark and interesting direction en route to a finale that will have to rank up there with the very best of modern family cinema to satisfy the rabid fanbase.

David Yates is back as the director (and would remain in the big chair to see things through to the very end of the series) and Steve Kloves once again takes on the not inconsiderable task of condensing the original material by J. K. Rowling into something faithful and audience-pleasing.

The very, very basic outline of the story this time revolves around Harry being asked by Dumbledore to help a certain Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) remember a very important event from his past that may hold a clue to defeating the dark lord, Voldemort. Some of the participants in the battle that took place in the Ministry Of Magic have been captured and placed in Azkaban while others are still roaming free and plotting a way to help their master rule. Adding a certain mystery to his latest term at Hogwarts, Harry also finds a book marked as the property of “The Half-Blood Prince” that really helps him excel in his Potions class. Hermione and Ron, and even Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), are worried. Then there’s the constant pain in the cloak known as Draco Malfoy, angrier than ever and with the capability, or so he claims, to do just about anything in his quest for revenge against Harry.

It’s clear at this point that the journey is coming to the very end, things grow larger still in scope and the danger is greater than ever (though I’m quite aware that those words have probably been used to sum up every sequel in the series) and the tone is certainly arguably more mature and darker than it was even in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.

The cast have not just grown comfortable within their characters, they’ve grown nicely WITH them. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have developed from slightly wooden child actors who lucked out into really capable young adults carrying off some weighty material and doing so with great ability. Michael Gambon is just fine once again as Dumbledore, Alan Rickman remains mesmerising and great as Snape, Tom Felton has some superb moments as the angry young Draco Malfoy, Jim Broadbent is wonderful as Professor Slughorn and it’s once again a pleasant case of really not being able to fault anyone onscreen at any time.

Almost perfect entertainment, this outing for Harry and co. really only suffers in comparison to past instalments and that magical source material, which provides so much entertainment and yet could never be fully translated for the silver screen (which can be said, usually, for any book so here I’m specifically referring to minor points that fans will notice and feel have been overlooked – the winnings from the tournament in the previous tournament being used to help the Weasley twins open their new store, Ginny and her succession of suitors, etc).

Big budgets, great FX work, wonderful acting, engrossing plots and developments – the Harry Potter movies stand tall with each instalment pretty much providing a “how to…” guide for making magnificent movie magic. And, yes, I did mean that alliteration.

DIRECTOR: DAVID YATES
WRITER: STEVE KLOVES (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY J. K. ROWLING)
STARS: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, RUPERT GRINT, EMMA WATSON, MICHAEL GAMBON, ALAN RICKMAN, JIM BROADBENT, TOM FELTON, RALPH FIENNES
RUNTIME: 153 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK/USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One (2010)

Reviewed here

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part Two (2011)

Reviewed here by Chris, here by our esteemed editor Robin and here by Cleaver Patterson. And I’ll be getting my very own review up just as soon as my good lady eagerly purchases the final FINAL instalment on Blu-ray as soon as it hits the shelves on Friday 2nd Deecember here in the UK.

1 Comment
  1. Kevin Matthews says

    A rabid Potter fan has pointed out that my reference to Miss McGonagall is quite incorrect as she is always referred to as either “miss” alone or Professor McGonagall. Apologies for being such a muggle myself. 🙂

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