By Captain Dan
IT ALL ENDS
Yes it does, and if my memory of the final novel serves me well, as well as the current 96% rating it currently holds on a certain veggie themed website is any indication, it all ends in grand fashion. If you haven’t seen any of the HARRY POTTER films or read the books, chances are you are not going to, however, I feel oblige to tell you there may be spoilers ahead. Not for the final film mind you, even though I have read the book, I would not dare pull an Ebert CRYING GAME goof by spoiling the epic of our time. STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES were born of stories of old, based on the serials George Lucas and Steven Spielberg grew up with. LORD OF THE RINGS was based on a book series from the 50’s that set the standard for fantasy storytelling for the decades to follow.
HARRY POTTER is a completely different animal. One that has started a chain reaction of kids to young adult novels being turned into films while the book series has yet to be finished. Some have been somewhat successful(SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS), some not so much(PERCY JACKSON) and some have become an a phenomenon themselves(TWILIGHT). But Harry is something special, something we are not likely to see again for a while. Comparable to what Walt Disney did in 1938 with SNOW WHITE, beginning a revolution in animation. Comparable to what George Lucas did with STAR WARS in 1977, creating with a small 10 million dollar film, a multi-billion dollar empire that spans literature, video games, television as well as dominating the box office. In other words, Potter is one of the few things that lives up to and deserves every bit of it’s hype. It started out a kid’s book that both parents and children could enjoy together and turned into something so rich in detail and scope, it’s an entire world at one completely different from our own and also a very relatable one.
J.K. Rowling is an amazing talent and I can’t wait to see what she does outside the Potterverse. But even if she never writes another thing, her work will live on the way T.H. White, L. Frank Baum, J.R.R. Tolkein, and C.S. Lewis did before her. Hmm, they all go by initials, interesting. The fact that she was so intimately involved in the cinematic adaptations of her 7-volume opus, meant the books would be faithfully represented.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE(2001)
Thing about being too faithful to a book, you run the risk of bogging down your story with too many characters and too many subplots. You can do that in the book, even one that has as little as 300 pages or so like SORCERER’S STONE. The movie was a highly anticipated event once it was announced, with the book series being the hottest seller since Stephen King was selling a million copies a day. Names like Spielberg were being tossed around as director and Warner Bros. which owned the rights was throwing money at the producers to make this film a success, knowing that there were at least 4 more books coming on top of the three that were already out. There was a lot riding on this pre-teen wizard and his two soul mate companions. Though uneven at times, STONE is a wonderfully magical introduction to the world of Harry Potter and just a sip of one of the sweetest tasting smoothies Hollywood has ever served. With Chris “HOME ALONE” Columbus at the helm, an opening trailer that included breathtaking shots of Hogwarts castle and flying motorcycles with giant bearded men and Maestro John Williams bringing his golden touch to the music we were sold. Now the only thing was for the cast to impress.
This to me was the most important thing. The majority of your target audience’s imagination has already had three books in which to establish a look and feel for these three children, Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. For Harry, big name child actors were being thrown around like Haley Joel Osmet and GASP Jake “Ep 1 Anakin” Lloyd. All I have to say is YIPEEEE!!!! To the choice of unknown Brit Daniel Radcliff. Rounding out the three are Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. All three of these 10 year olds were absolutely adorable and guess what, they can act. More on their acting prowess later. Now with the kids in there, filling out the adult roles proved to be just as much of boon with the casting of whos who of Britain’s finest film thespians Sir Richard Harris(Dumbledore), Dame Maggie Smith(McGonagall), Robbie Coltrane(Hagrid), and of course the great, great, great did I mention great, ok how about awesome Alan Rickman(Snape).
Like Michael Jordan in his first NBA Finals, Harry took the ball all the way to the hole and slammed it down with authority, letting the whole world know he had arrived. And like Jordan with that first Finals victory, he let us know he was far from done and the best was yet to come.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS(2002)
SECRETS is considered the weakest of both the book and film series amongst the fans, most critics and I agree it’s just as good as the first film. More action packed and slightly darker in tone than the first one, perhaps that’s what some have a problem with. People who believed after the first one that this was just going to be light hearted fluff. But SECRETS showed that the stakes were real, people have died and will die again. The books and characters were aging with their audience. Going through the similar highs and pitfalls that go with being in Jr. High transitioning to High School. Of course this is story about wizards and magic so things are slightly different but still the moral of the story is the same.
It opens up much the same as the first one, in the house of Harry’s Aunt Petinua(Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon(Richard Griffiths), and Cousin Dudley(Harry Melling) where Harry lives a miserable existence outside the wondrous world of magic. He meets Dobby the house elf, someone who the studio didn’t want to include in the movie to which J.K. replied, “Dobby needs to be in, he is pretty important in the end.” I know I quoted it, but that was a paraphrase, I have no idea what she said exactly, but you get the point. It’s also a wonderful introduction to the Burrow, the home of the Weasley with Mama Molly(Julie Walters) and Papa Arthur(Mark Williams). So fun to see how fascinated Arthur is with muggles.
SECRETS finds Harry and his friends faced with a monster that kills mudbloods, a derogatory term for wizards and witches born to Muggle(Non-magic folk) parents. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardary was founded by the four most powerful witches and wizards of their time: Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin. The last of these powerful magical beings believed magic should only be taught to what he believed to be purebloods, the opposite of mudbloods. Racism is a very real thing and Potter fans are hit right in the mouth with this in SECRETS. When Draco Malfoy(Tom Felton) sneers a mudblood curse at poor Hermione, she is reduced to tears. Her tears and the subsequent moment with Hagrid, in which he consoles her, shows the evil behind this term and the hatred it conjures.
The final scene in STONE was great for exposition, explaining the powerful type of magic that exists in this world and just how powerful both Voldemort and Dumbledore are, but it lacked the excitement I think it needed. SECRETS gave us that. The final scene between Harry and the spirit of a 16-year-old Tom Riddle/Voldemort and his Basilisk, a giant snake with a taste for mudbloods. With Ginny Weasley’s(Bonnie Wright) and his own life in the balance, Harry summons the courage that comes so natural to him, destroys the power that is keeping Riddle’s spirit alive, kills the giant snake, seemingly sacrificing himself for everyone in the process. How very Christ-like of you Mr. Potter, take that you bible thumping zealots(more on that later). Of course he doesn’t die here, it’s only book 2! Dumbledore’s Phoenix flies to the rescue and heals Harry with his tears.
Also noteworthy about the second flick, is the introduction of Draco’s father, Lucius Malfoy played by badass and terrific character bad guy actor Jason Issacs. His performance from THE PATRIOT ensures I’m a fan of his for life. Also Kenneth Branagh turns in a hilarious show as the pompous yet charming faux-adventurer Gilderoy Lockhart.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN(2004)
While most people say that the movies seem to get better with each installment, I disagree. This, the third adventure, from a filmmaking standpoint is the pinnacle of series and my favorite of the 7 films I’ve seen so far. I will be seeing the 8th later today. By saying that, I don’t mean that subsequent films are super inferior, not by a long shot. I think it pinnacled here and plateaued from there on. Alfonso Cuaron, director of the marvelous Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and the beautiful and haunting CHILDREN OF MEN, stepped in for Chris Columbus who after 3 grueling years was ready for a break. Each of the directors made their films their own, but kind of took the hand off from Alfonso before zig-zagging their own way to the end zone.
Once again, as she did with the previous story, Rowling upped the danger quotient. Sirius Black(Gary Oldman), the man convicted of killing Harry’s parents and their friend Peter has escaped the wizard prison Azkaban. Azkaban is Alcatraz on crack. With prison guards, the Dementors, who make even the meanest prison guard seem like a pre-school teacher. They feed on happy thoughts like a vampire, sucking out that happiness leaving only sadness and despair. Their kiss sucks the soul out a person leaving them an empty shell, a fate worse than death. Sirius is also Harry Potter’s Godfather, a fact that once Harry learns it, sends him on a blind quest to kill Sirius who is thought to be out to kill him.
Guided by Dumbledore(Michael Gambon taking over for the late Richard Harris) and his new defense against the dark arts teacher, having a new one every year is kinda of Potter staple, is Remus Lupin(David Thewlis). Remus was one of James and Lily Potter’s best friends along with Sirius and Peter Pettigrew(Timothy Spall). Remus is also a werewolf. To show how much their friend means to them James, Sirius and Peter became Animagus’s(ability to change into animal form). Harry and Remus discover together that it was not the friend they thought who killed James and Lily. Ron’s pet rat Scabbers turned out to be the long thought dead Peter Pettigrew, a double agent for he who must not be named. You see kids, things aren’t always what they seem. If Harry had killed Sirius without finding out the truth, he would’ve killed the only family he had left. Think before you act children, it may save you some heartache.
Kevin Smith’s DOGMA which faced the same unfair criticism from some religious nuts as being anti-God, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The most important message from that movie is that God doesn’t care what kind of faith you have, as long as you have it. The same type of nuts also attacked Harry, going as far as burning their books. I’d like to remind them that another group used to burn books, mostly bibles, they were called NAZIS!!! Anyway, just cause Ms. Rowling’s story is about magic and doesn’t necessarily mention God by name, doesn’t mean her books aren’t spiritual. Hello, the dementors suck out souls and Sirius is Harry’s GODfather. Oh, you didn’t actually read it, oh well that makes sense. Have you ever actually read the bible? Didn’t think so(To be fair, I’ve only skimmed it myself, Revelations has some really good stuff in there).
Also of note, this is the only book/movie where Voldemort doesn’t appear in some form or another. He is mentioned quite often of course. As her ex-husband, Branangh, did in SECRETS, Emma Thompson has a fun time playing the flighty Divination teacher, Professor Trelawney.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE(2005)
After the near-unanimous critical raving for AZKABAN, the studio really wanted Cuaron back, but being the auteur that he is, he felt that he said all he could with Potter and wished the series the best. Mike Newell took the reigns the fourth time around, the first English director to tackle the most popular British hero since James Bond. While the third is my favorite of the movies, GOBLET is my favorite of the books. The first three books were between three and four hundred pages, book four was a whopping 734 pages. They surely had to trim the fat out of this book for the film. There was talk around this time in splitting the fourth book into two movies, until J.K. mentioned that the books were probably going to get longer. Seeing that this film series would suddenly go from 7 films to 11(although with all the money they could’ve made, they probably wish they could have that decision back.), they decided cutting some stuff out would be best. Cutting out some major subplots, GOBLET turned out to be the most action packed of all 7, once again, haven’t seen 8 yet. I don’t mind anything that they cut from the book. While it worked well in the book, the movie didn’t need it.
They definitely stepped it up in the special effects in the fourth outing, I don’t doubt that there were more SFX shots than in the previous three combined. A scene in which Harry is battling a dragon is eye candy for the soul. The first big scene is the Quidditch World Cup, the sport of the wizarding world. A cross between Soccer, Hockey, Lacrosse, and Rugby on broomsticks. This scene makes me wish Quidditch was real, the sheer scope and magnitude of what can only be a 500,000+ seat stadium is sight to be scene. That scene gives me the same goosebumps when I’m sitting in Candlestick as the 49ers run through that giant inflatable helmet, run the gauntlet of rocket flares and cheerleaders shaking their poms poms to the sound of a rocking stadium chanting NINERS!!! NINERS!!! God, Football better be back. Anyway, that scene was great, makes me want to buy a Viktor Krum(Stanislav Ianevski) poster.
It’s important to note that by this point, the actors own their roles. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson were growing up before our eyes and they had become Harry, Ron, and Hermione as much as they were probably themselves off-camera. It’s here that the first tension tested that friendship that had grown so strong. Ron was beginning to get jealous of all the attention his best friend was getting. Believing Harry cheated to get into the Tri-Wizard tournament was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Once Ron sees his friend in mortal peril, he softens up and the band gets back together.
This is also the first time the trio notice there are opposite sexes. Harry develops a crush on a girl, and Ron gets a little jealous of his former hero Viktor Krum hitting on his friend Hermione. More on that later.
There is also a very emotional moment when Harry witnesses the death of a fellow student Cedric Diggory(Robert Pattison, yes that Robert Pattison) at the hands of the newly resurrected Lord Voldemort(Ralph Finnes). The final scene of GOBLET where Harry finally faces a fully fleshed out and nearly as powerful as he was Voldemort was everything we could hope it would be. Finnes looks absolutely terrifying as the snakelike Dark Lord and his breathy bordering maniacal delivery of his lines add to his terrifying visage.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX(2007)
This is where the end begins. Director David Yates takes over the big chair and keeps it right through 7.2. Although the first four stories definitely contain material important to the overall arc, if you look at each of them, they can stand alone. The final three books make the Trilogy of the End. This is the one in which Harry learns that prophecy that this can only end one way, either he or Voldemort must die. This is the slowest book/movie of the entire series to be sure, but this one is so rich in the history of the Potters vs. Voldemort story as well as fleshing out some of the side characters that in the books have been given much more time, as it should be. Characters such as Seamus(Devon Murray) who comes back to school with a chip on his shoulder regarding Harry and his claims of Voldemort’s return. Then there’s Neville Longbottom(Matthew Lewis), one of my favorite of Harry’s second tier of friends. 1st being Ron and Hermione of course and the rest of the Weasley Kids(Ginny, Fred and George, more on them later).
Of course Potter continues it’s jaunt through the British actor rolodex stopping on Brenden “Hamish” Gleeson to play the new defense against the dark arts teacher Mad-Eye Moody. Joining him is DOCTOR WHO star David Tennent as Death Eater Barty Crouch, Jr.
Here Harry learns of young group of wizards and witches that made up the Order of the Phoenix. The Order formed to oppose Lord Voldemort’s and his Death Eaters. The Order consisted of the Potters, Sirius, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, the Longbottoms, amongst others. There is only one subplot that they cut out of the movie series that I wish they included and that involved Neville and his parents. In the novel, it is discovered that Harry may not be the chosen one. The wording of the prophecy could very well have meant Neville, since his parents suffered a similar fate as Harry’s. They are still alive, but they were tortured by Bellatix Lestrange(Helena Bonham Carter) to the point of insanity. Now they suffer a living death, lost in their minds. They do mention the Longbottoms fate in the movie but they cut out the whole Neville might be the chosen one stuff. I think including it may have given more gravitas to Neville wanting to kill Bellatrix.
Luna Lovegood(Evanna Lynch) is introduced here, and while the role is not very pivotal yet, she was a delight in the book and young Miss Lynch inhabited that character closer than any other in my mind, on screen.
This film also introduces the most foul and evil character in the entire series. No not Lord Voldemort, he’s been around since the beginning, Come on, think about it…Her name rhymes with a female body part. Yep, you guessed it Mulva uh…I mean Dolores Umbridge(Imelda Staunton). This little walking piece of bitch is just straight up evil. Think of the one mean ass teacher from grade school, if you went to Catholic school it should be easy. The one teacher who parents loved because she was so sweet to them but she slapped your hand with a ruler while smiling(more figuratively on this one…kind of). Stephen King said she was the best make believe villain since Hannibal Lector. Holy crap, that friggin giggle she has. I’ve never wanted to punch a woman in the face, but wow, I felt close with Umbridge. Love to hate her, so naturally, I love this character and Staunton did a fantastic job.
Now the Weasley kids. Ginny is Harry’s true love, but this is the first time we kind of see it. Harry has a crush on a girl named Cho, with whom he shares his first kiss, but there is no spark. Now setting up Harry and Hermione is too easy, plus it would’ve alienated Ron. Ron and Hermione hooking up would not do that to Harry, because that’s not the kind of guy he is. Not to mention J.K. probably had Ronmione pegged since day 1, more on them later. There are subtle, very subtle moments between Harry and Ginny, a little tenderness here, a little jealousy there, just a small taste of things to come.
I could write an entire blog on Fred and George Weasly(James and Oliver Phelps). These scamps are always getting into trouble. With only one year left to go at Hogwarts the twins decide that under Umbridge’s thumb, another year is just too much. So they pull out all the stops by sabotaging the room where Umbridge posted all her new fascist rules and exploding out of school in typical Fred and George style.
The slow pace of ORDER is more than made up for in the stunning final scene in which the Order led by Sirius and Remus battles the Death Eaters, led by Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix. The battle culminating in the death of Sirius Black at the hands of Bellatirx, his cousin. Jesus J.K., can’t you give this kid a break. He just finds his Godfather and now you take him too?! Of course you do! Bravo Ms. Rowling, Bravo! Life is not fair, once you realize that, the happier you will be, trust me. Just when you think it has climaxed Harry chases after Bellatrix into the middle of the Ministry of Magic’s main hall only to come face to face with Voldemort, who goads Harry into killing Bellatrix. Then a flash of green fire and in walks Dumbledore, the faceoff we have been anticipating since the beginning. The one wizard that Voldemort fears and here they are, toe to toe, wand to wand. Dumbledore Kicks his ASS!! KICKS HIS ASS!! But of course Voldemort gets away, because that’s what bad guys do. Well, until they don’t.
ORDER is Part 1 of the end, which why it’s kind of slow. It starts out with the Ministry trying to prosecute Harry for a petty crime, just because they are afraid of what he knows and ends with a Dumbledore/Voldemort standoff that must be seen.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE(2009)
Darker and darker we get and once again, the latest was the darkest. So much going in this one, where do I start. The Half Blood Prince refers to a wizard who has one parent a muggle and the other magic-born, just like Lord Voldemort himself. Voldemort hates his muggle father hence his hatred for anything muggle related including mudbloods. Harry discovers the Prince through a potions book in which the Prince has written all his alterations to potions that allowed him to succeed. Harry’s high marks in Potions allow him to get close to his new potions teacher Professor Slughorn(Jim Broadbent) who may or may not have a secret concerning Harry’s Archenemies.
Before we get to Slughorn’s memory, Dumbledore shares with Harry a memory of his own. This is the one where Dumbledore discovers a young Tom Riddle in an orphanage. Christian Coulson portrayed the 16-year-old Riddle way back in CHAMBER OF SECRETS, and he was fine, but I didn’t realize how disappointed I was in his performance until I saw the two young Riddles in this one. First was the 11-year-old Riddle in Dumbledore’s memory, played by Ralph Finnes nephew Hero Finnes-Tiffin. Of course it’s a plus that he resembles his uncle, but the kid has an intensity about him that makes him almost as scary as when he is in full Dark Lord form. It’s all in the eyes. If I were a director and I was casting, I would look in the actor/actress’s eyes. If they can hold me, they got it. This kid has that kind of stare. You don’t want to look away because you are curious of what he will do next and/or fear what he will do if you happen to look away. “I can do bad things to people who are mean to me. I can make them hurt.” Chilling. Then there’s the 15-year-old Riddle in Slughorn’s memory played by Frank Dillane. Slughorn’s response to this memory, “Do not judge me from you are about to see. You have no idea what he was like, even then.” Both of these kids sent chills up my spine. And they should, this is an evil, horrible person. Having read the books, I know what kind of evil Voldemort/Tom Riddle possess. And these two young actors as well as Ralph Finnes have perfectly embodied the big bad in Potter’s universe.
This was also the movie for Tom Felton to shine as Draco Malfoy. Draco has always been a one-dimensional bully who was never really a threat to Harry. But you could tell J.K. was saving him for something. Never wanted you to forget the little blonde devil. Draco’s father has been sent to Azkaban after he revealed himself a Death Eater at the end of ORDER, right off the bat Draco is even more of an a-hole than usual. Other than the loss of his father and the status that went with him, Draco has been given a very difficult task. One given to him specifically by the Dark Lord himself, in order to return honor to the Malfoy name. His task is to kill Dumbledore, and he struggles with this throughout the movie. Harry discovers this and confronts him, setting up their bloodiest row yet. Harry leaves Draco bleeding to death, only the sudden presence of Snape, saves young Malfoy’s life. A side note, I find it interesting that once TWILIGHT hit big a an interviewer asked Emma Watson if she had a crush on Robert Pattison(In GOBLET) and she said she had a crush on Tom Felton. All the girls did, apparently young Mr. Felton is quite the charmer. And doesn’t he look a little like Johnny from KARATE KID?
Also Snape, is he good or is he bad? For those of you who haven’t read the books, you’re just going to have to wait and see.
There are some fun light moments amongst this darkness, and it had to have some because of the way it ends. The mostly come in the moments featuring the budding relationships between Ron and Hermione as well as Harry and Ginny. Harry and Ginny’s is good to have, just because the hero needs a girl. But I was a bit disappointed in their kiss. In the book it was much more passionate, akin to the way a kiss would be between two young people discovering love for the first time.
Ron and Hermione, now that’s the ship that most people were interested to sail on. All the way back in CHAMBER OF SECRETS when Hermione runs into the hall after being frozen for days and immediately without hesitation hugs Harry. Then turns to Ron, who begins to open his arms but stops and awkwardly shakes her hand. Sounds like love to me. In GOBLET it was Ron who was jealous, in this one it was Hermione’s turn, as Ron can’t stop snogging Lavender Brown. Of course when Ron is in near comatose state, he mutters the name Hermione, much to her delight and Lavender’s dismay.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PTS. 1 & 2(2010/2011)
Like I said, not going to get into these, because I haven’t seen 7.2 and some people who have watched all the others haven’t seen 7.1. I will say this, PT. 1 is slow but important, just like the first half of the book. Now if PT. 2 is even a tenth exciting as the 2nd half of Book 7, hold on to your robes ladies and gentlemen, cause this is going to be a doozy.
I know this is one of my longer ones, but that’s due to my deep love affair with this story. From book to screen, it has been a wonderful 10-year journey I am sad to see end. When the books finished, at least I had 4 more movies to go. Now I have one to go and a gas tank full of memories. I am honored to have watched these kids grow up, especially the big three. I am privileged to have been born in time to watch this spectacle grow into the monster machine it has become. I almost wish I could have experienced it as a child, but then again I had STAR WARS, so that’s where the almost comes in.
I love ya Harry, Ron, Hermione, Weasleys, Dumbledore, Minerva, Sirius, Hagrid, Draco, Neville, Snape, Luna, and you too Voldey, and all the rest of the characters so rich. I will visit you often.
And finally my hats off to cast and crew of this mammoth production. From Director to actor to writer to grip to costumer to Production assistants, thank you for bringing my senses this gourmet feast I plan to enjoy with my children as well as their children.
Bravo Harry & co., Bravo.
Cap Out.FBF with Captain Dan: "It all ends" 7-17-11,