Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One last Harry Potter roundup ...

Harry Potter's cinematic journey ends for me tomorrow when I see Deathly Hallows Parts 1 AND 2 at a drive-in with my brother and sister. I have neither the time nor QUITE the nuttiness to watch all seven movies beforehand, but I can recap my takes on them. In doing so,  I can only marvel at how remarkably consistent the series has been. Some are better than others, of course. Incredibly, not only are  misfires absent, but the lesat of the films is still very good. Magic indeed.

Harry Potter and  the Sorcerer’s Stone
This was my introduction to the Potter world, because I hadn’t read the books at the time, and I was quite enthralled. The pacing is a bit sleepy at times, but that’s a result of having to spend so much time on exposition. (Too bad about the dodgy Quidditch effects, though.) Too many people like to crack on director Chris Columbus for not being a visionary artiste. However, he deserves a great deal of credit for establishing the template for the series, and especially for his role in finding Radcliffe, Watson and Grint.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This tends to be the film I remember the least well, maybe because the thrill of discovery was gone for me. I read the book before seeing the film, and the film follows the novel so slavishly, there was no sense of surprise. On the plus side, it’s much better paced than the first film. Kenneth Branagh is a hoot as the stuck-up but hapless Professor Lockhart. GRADE: B+

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Potter fans like to complain about this one because it dared to muss their beloved text, but I think that’s exactly why this is the best film of the series by far: It lives and breathes on own without being shackled to the words of J.K. Rowling (who, it must be said, had no problem with the changes). Everything, from the direction to the performances to the digital effects, is greatly improved. The time travel scenes at the end of the movie, which double back on themselves, are outstanding, thanks to director Alfonso Cuaron’s clever eye. GRADE: A

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The series gets its first British director, Mike Newell, and having someone who knows what a British school is like goes a long way toward making the film feel authentic. Contains some breathtaking scenes, like the opening World Cup of Quidditch, and the truly terrifying climax with He Who Shall Not Be Named. Debits: The pace goes slack in a few places, and some characters, like Rita Skeeter, feel like window dressing. GRADE: A-

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
When the film works, it works very well, particularly during the action scenes, and whenever the deliciously nasty Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is onscreen, but on the whole, the movie tries to cram too much into too little time. This is what happens when the longest book becomes the shortest film. GRADE: B+

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Has many great moments and is the best-looking of the Potter films. Overall, it’s my second favorite of the series; my only quibble is that the final act seems a little rushed and lacks punch. GRADE: A-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
Perhaps inevitably, it’s a little slow to get going, since the story is being spread across two movies. It gradually picks up steam, however, and the visualization of the deathly hallows, with the animated shadow puppets, is one of the best moments of the series. GRADE: A-

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