Sunday, December 11, 2005

GoF and the Rest

I watched the Goblet of Fire some time ago and it strikes me that a review might be a little overdue. Instead I shall make a comparison of the four movies that have been made so far, starting with, naturally, the Sorceror's Stone.

I. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone

This Columbusian effort should be lauded for its attempts to portray the book to its best extent. Radcliffe displays appropriate boy-wonder at his newfound circumstances. Setting and environments are beautifully and faithfully rendered and executed, especially Hogwarts and the Lake. Grint (Ron) and Watson (Hermione) are decent. Grint in particular shows a talent for acting his part with all of Ron's particular quirks, pecularities and idiosyncracies, an ability he will improve on in latter films. Watson acts well but her Hermione portrayal isn't quite on the spot.

The film itself is a little rushed, especially the Dursleys segment. Maggie Smith (McGonagall) is stern enough to fit her character, although she might want to build on the latent warmth her character (in the books) can show at times. Harris is a disappointment. As Dumbledore he must be energetic and quirky, and his age, though physically apparent, must never be highlighted in his demeanor and actions. Yet, Harris, though majestic enough, rushes his lines, speaks in a hoarse, slurring voice, and displays little emotion of any sort. Columbus's austere direction in relation to intercharacter interactions does little to alleviate this.

The direction itself is average. While the great cinematic pans that show off environments and scenery in Potter's Wonderous World are done with artistic flourish and a dose of audacity (like zooming through a window) Columbus has less skill in directing his characters. There are no poignant moments. Columbus has prior experience in directing children. It shows, but the scenes containing adults have less import and focus.

The book is adhered to to a middling extent. The main alterations involve the cutting or omission of certain elements in the book, and there isn't much of it. However the result is that the movie feels rushed; it seems like certain elements are added only for the sake of pleasing purist fans. In my opinion this shouldn't come in the way of making a cohesive movie that has the same relaxed pace of the book. Although, of course, if such alterations are only for the worse, like the butcherings of the Ents, Elrond, Faramir and Theoden's characters in the LOTR movies, then they should not be done.

Overall Sorceror's Stone is a decent effort, and while it may not have the same impact as the LOTR or Contact adaptations it nevertheless remains enjoyable to watch.

II. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

By far the worst-made movie in the franchise. Everything that was good in the first movie is missing. Everything bad in the first movie is painfully accentuated.

The acting of the three main characters deteriorates somewhat, except Grint's. Radcliffe no longer has any cause to display the boyish wonder of the first movie, and the emotionality is a bit over his head at this point. The opening scene is lacklustre, failing to capitalize on the potential humorous import. Dobby is terribly voiced and animated, and his conversations with Harry are faltering and unrealistic, on a level far below Serki's Gollum rendering. The entire polyjuice potion sequence is painful to watch. Harry and Ron just give too much away for Malfoy not to notice. The shock of Hermione turning into a cat analogue is painfully underdeveloped. Myrtle, however, acts well, albeit in a slightly over-the-top fashion.

Coltrane (Hagrid) is as ever the quintessential half-giant Hogwarts gamekeeper, and he provides one of the best performances in the entire franchise. Harris, however is worse in this film. His voice has grown even more hoarse and he seems to be rather detatched from the entire course of the film. Radcliffe's voice is also breaking, along with Grint's, which spoils their dialogue somewhat, as it's a little harder to determine tonality and emotional impact from them, and it just sounds like a low-quality audio recording.

I would also like to pour detriment on Tom Riddle's
absymal acting. He is worse than Harris. Imagine a teenage boy looking fairly like Clarke Kent in Smallville voicing cheap stereotypical villan lines and laughing like an incarcerated madman. While all the time acting disinterested and showing minimal facial expression, and doing absolutely nothing to Harry as he climbs around the chamber avoiding the Basilisk except shouting "no!" at appropriate moments just like he would to a brick wall. (I know that's what he does in the books, but the movie just makes it seem ludicrous.)

Columbus's directing is uninspired and dry, going even further than austere. The Quidditch match is "made more dramatic" (and it isn't really, just boringly drawn-out), even though it is described as one of the shortest in gaming history in order to denote the extent of Malfoy's incompetence and the advantage of skill over money. Apart from what I will refer to as the "Columbus epic pan" (wide sweeping pans used to establish setting and accentuate environmental impact on the scene) the direction is at best lacklustre.

Music is also a sticking point. While the themes are typically good (he is, after all, John Williams), the environmental soundtrack used during moments of drama, tension, et al leaves much to be desired. The same thing with Episodes II and III of Star Wars. Ironically Episode I had the best music of the lot.

The sole beacon in this large mess is the character of Lucius Malfoy. Played with charisma and genuine threat, Isaacs delivers the goods; ever the quintessential villian, he makes another strong appearance in The Patriot, playing the bluster-spouting Brit, Colonel William Tavington.

Overall, however, Chamber is quite a pain to watch, start to finish. It's bogged down by virtually everything that counts in a film of quality, and the result, though understandable enough to the viewer, gives an impression of...well, inadequacy.

III. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Thankfully, Azkaban is a much better movie than either of the former, thanks in part to the pressures of time. In a franchise where the children are the most essential to the success or failure of the movie it never hurts to have a director who, at least, knows his stuff.

Although Cuaron hadn't worked with children before this film the acting of the Big Three is much better now. Part of the reason is, of course, the pressures of puberty, weaving its hormonal magic among the stars of the show. They are more able to cope with the adult issues inherent in the books, and since they're all older than the prescribed age they are supposed to be acting, it's all the better.

The trailer was misleading, I must say. The deceptively edited scene of Hermione punching Malfoy struck me as an inept piece of direction, but thankfully the movie didn't turn out like that. Cuaron's direction retains Columbus's sense of epic scope and adds an additional human dimensionality to the film in a way that wasn't overly present in the previous films. Cuaron incorporates humour and drama, even horror, in a seamless tapestry of beautifully rendered environments and (relatively) human interactions.

Dumbledore has been replaced with another actor, following Richard Harri's unfortunate death in the process of shooting. Gambon is a much more energetic Dumbledore than Harris. Although he has little of the mild wisdom of Dumbledore's character in the books and is actually rather messy-looking (and he rarely smiles in the movie). Overall I'd say Gambon is a better Dumbledore, which is more appropriate to the increasingly Dumbledore-centric stance of latter novels.

David Thewlis is perfect as the werewolf professor Remus Lupin. He has the exact combination of warmth, competence and scruffiness I'd expect from Lupin. Although I don't know about the moustache.

Gary Oldman would have been excellent, if it weren't for the persistent casting of his abilities in villian-roles. This served quite well for his tenure as the mistaken murderer of twelve Muggles, but after the Revelation it just becomes rather surreal, with all the images of his prior roles as villians swimming around disconcertingly in one's mind (Air Force One, Lost in Space etc.) Oldman is another one of those villian actors, just like Jason Isaacs and Rufus Sewell (A Knight's Tale, The Legend of Zorro, and Joaquin Phoenix looking uncannily like him in Gladiator). He was in Batman Begins and if you didn't notice him there he was Commissioner Gordon. Commissioner Gordon. And we all saw him in Air Force One and Lost in Space playing the irredeemable wretches Ivan Korshunov and Zachary Smith. And he was the villian in The Fifth Element. And Dracula.

Ok. Enough of Oldman.

One of the best moments in the franchise so far is Harry summoning the Patronus Light and realizing the fallacy of his self-doubt. Not only is that an extremely significant moment it is also one of the high points of the franchise. Everything about that scene is perfect, from the score to the direction to the acting to the special effects to the dialogue. It was a beautiful moment in a great movie.

Azkaban is made great by the redress of the problems present in the first two movies. Everything from directing to dialogue provides so much more impact to the viewer this time around. The final moments of the film are also masterfully rendered, with the scene and setting providing much of the atmosphere and mood. A fitting capstone to the best movie of the four.

IV. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Thought I was going to be careless and put IIII?

Goblet of Fire is a difficult movie to review. Its's massive, the most ambitiously conceived of the franchise to date. It also has a markedly different tone from the other movies. Once again, a different director takes the helm of the filming. Newell has a markedly different style. Difficult to place, but sequestered nonetheless.

There have been many complaints about this particular movie. While I considered it quite enjoyable to watch it isn't as evocative or powerful as Azkaban and does have its slow moments. The chief complaints seem to focus on the stark differences between the movie and the book. And it is true that the producers changed a hell lot. From tiny little details to larger ones and gaping omissions, they haven't exactly been lenient on the paring knife and the correction tape.

Entire plotlines have been shifted around, taken out, played with, eaten and excreted in a way purist fans find putrescent. The Dursleys have been purged. The Quidditch World Cup is dealt with in 15 minutes. The game isn't even shown. All that's revealed is the not so good-natured strutting matches between the opposing teams and the aftermath, which involves a rather pathetic reenactment of the sorely-missed match by the Weasely twins. Skeeter's eventual demise is removed as well. Personally, I'm not fussy about such changes, as long as they contribute positively to the movie itself. And these omissions are indeed necessary to pare down the length of the already lengthly movie.

The acting of the Big Three remains good. The characters have matured in ways not entirely alien to the pubescent populace, those who have lived with Harry for the years of his story now. Hermione shows off her, uh, assets in the Yule Ball, looking exceptionally elegant in a pink gown. (Not blue! The purists wail.) Ron and Harry are typical gangly awkward looking teenagers undergoing the throes of puberty. Ron is the sad one. Supporters of the Ronermione pairing (a name of my own coining) will wince at their obvious complicated miscommunication-perception-acceptance love marathon-maze that threatens to upstage dragons in potential threat parameters, as Harry so succinctly puts it. (The actual quote was something like "I'd rather face one of those dragons again than ask a girl to the Ball.")

Dumbledore and McGonagall are better than ever. Gambon is in his element and even shows his softer side now, although he is as scruffy as ever. I only wish they'd included Sirius Black in the flesh, his character provides much in the way as a foil and contrast (and parallel) to Harry's own.

Fiennes is a creditable Voldemort, although he does come across as more fishlike than I'd expected - with his reddish eyes, missing nose and pasty white skin. Though he does radiate a sense of formidable evil in his incongruously cultivated British accent.

What I didn't like was how the Riddle House scene was cut down and altered so drastically - that removed much of the depth from the movie. Although the movie itself was less complex than the book, a necessity to fit two and a hal hours of screentime.

Cedric's death and the tragic scene of Amos clutching his son is another well-crafted moment. The emotional import is present and revolutionizes the course of the franchise, transforming something light-hearted into a progressively darker and more brooding saga in the books and movies to come.

Goblet is, all in all, a reasonably well-made movie, entertaining, yes, but encompassing a few faults of its own, mainly in the preserve of plot progression. Here's to OotP.

Overall Ranking

1. Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Goblet of Fire
3. Sorceror's Stone
4. Chamber of Secrets


friday said...

What! Still no comments?!

well, I have no intention of watching any further HP movies.. with guys falling for girls and whatever. Books at least give you space to imagine!!

The Arbiter said...

I would have thought my inflammatory rhetoric would have ruffled the various bodily coverings of at least a few Christian Coulson fan-beings.

toitle said...

whoever cf is, i couldnt agree with you more: i really hate hate hate hate hattee renditions of books, because its always an uphill battle against purism and proper cinematography. impossible to reconcile.

and GoF is worse than Sorcerors Stone, with or without the factoring in of novelty. GoF is absolutely disjointed and lacks proper coherence; to anyone who hasnt read the book, its just an action flick, quite possibly cold war from the way the portrayed the russians. and with dancing, butterfly-conjuring french schoolgirls.

The Arbiter said...

Krum is a Bulgarian. Not exactly Russian, I'd say. And, no, PoA was more disjointed. But thats inevitable the way the books are structured. More than anything it is a record of the minor (and major) happenings of a school term. And the rabid fans will want everything in. Hard to choose what does and doesn't go in, no?

friday said...

You've met me before, toitle (or is it toilet?), don't worry, I'm not some gymnopaedic chee ko pek. That's all I'll say.

I'm always offended when I watch a movie rendition of a book.. for example, look at the Narnia (the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) movie coming out soon!! It's so... non-magical after you've read the book. Nothing sparkles like in your mind. LotR was, well, good, but they took out something like half of the second 1/3. That's my main objection to it, but I dare say that the casting is darn good - fits into what you'd imagine when you read the book.

To be frank with you, I've only watched the first two movies, and I think that's all I can take. I'm not going to stomach another one..
Yes. Anyone with book 6 and care to lend it to a poor soul!!

The Arbiter said...

I express profound regret at your lack, as I do mine.

1 and 2 were the worst two. Watch the third one.

toitle said...

haha well my point exactly! the way they see it, bulgarian = russian = commie = fur coats and sticks with sparks and ship-subs!

Really? I felt that PoA had more flow and less cut, or rather it doesnt halfheartedly add things in, the things that go go entirely so that while it does offend purists, non purists can follow the story. And any true purist shouldnt be adulterating his personal visualisation of HP by watching the movie anyway!

and haha fine cflee, i believe i have met you before. tis toitle. not toilet. read the haiku.

The Arbiter said...

I see the Americans have taught you well, grasshopper. Very well! You may leave the temple now, belongings swinging on a young birch on your shoulder.

Bulgarians are not Russian. And ship-subs are Rowling's invention. And fur coats as part of the Durmstang uniform. And Rowling is British. Do your homework.

toitle said...

its the whole imaage laaaa. note "The way they see it". Bah. Nevermind :p