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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

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I swear, if you say this one is boring – this conversation is going NO FURTHER.

Also, sorry for the big gap in my reviews. I know you’re at the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen to Harry.

If you thought shiz was going down in the last movie – just imagine the wizarding world without Dumbledore.  No more Hogwarts feasts.  No more Quidditch matches.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s life at the wizarding school is a thing of the past, a fond memory to keep them going through the wilderness.  They’re big kids now, in a big world.  One can only hope that they learned enough to survive.

There’s a full-on war, here.  Even the Ministry of Magic is taken over by Death Eaters early in the film.  It’s up to Harry (and his pals) to off Voldemort… but it’s a little more difficult than just marching up to his front door and Avada-Kedavraing him (not that that’s even easy).  Turns out Voldemort has taken every measure possible to ensure his immortality by splitting his soul seven times.  These bits of his soul are stored in Horcruxes, little dark-magic objects that can only be destroyed with toys like goblin swords, or basilisk fangs.  Annnd they have to destroy these before they can even THINK about killing the big V with no idea where they are or what they are.  Dumbledore’s left behind a few clues for the teens to start on their quest… but that’s hardly enough to get ’em rolling.  So they spend a lot of time wandering around in forests and on cliff-sides pondering their options.  Don’t worry, they only understand a little bit more than the audience does.  Meanwhile, Harry catches wind that Voldy is searching for the Deathly Hallows, objects of power that date back to an old legend turned kids story.  This is well explained in the film with an excellent, artistic animated scene.

I went and saw this at midnight when it was first released a year ago.  Due to some slight confusion about assigned seating, I abandoned my post in the very front row to watch it on the stairs towards the top.  Paying no heed to the parents’ disapproving looks to the fire hazard I had made myself, it was worth the stiff back.  I saw it with three other friends, two of whom were hardly fond of the slower-paced take on the epic series.  Like, I get it… but I don’t get it.  Maybe it’s just because it follows the book so well.  And, granted, the first half of the book isn’t as exciting as the second half either.  So maybe that’s the only reason I liked it so much (it’s true, you don’t even want to try and watch this if you don’t know your HP trivia).  But even with the “boring” bits, I feel like it’s hardly fair to say it’s a bad movie for that.  I know the book back to front, and this captured the, well, boredom and claustrophobia – and I think that’s awesome!  It’s moody, gritty, and emotional.  So no, I don’t want to have the “boring” argument with you.

Whether it was luck or pure intuition, how fortunate was the Harry Potter series to have three kid actors grow into competent and attractive adults?  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and especially Emma Watson could not be better as the fearsome threesome.  It’s too bad that Bonnie Wright as Ginny couldn’t amount to as much.  Their emotional maturity is especially noticeable during the restless, unsuccessful hunts in the wilderness.  With only one Horcrux found and no way to destroy it, their spirits are low and their tempers are high.  Ron Weasley, a character that is never as fully developed in the books as Harry and Hermione are, has his moments of frustration, but more moments of growth.  This, coupled with Half Blood Prince, is Grint’s best performance.

Watson got her character ages ago, and Radcliffe’s been there for a couple movies too.

The endless journey is important bonding time for the kid-heroes.  Harry and Hermione, obviously, grow closer (and I, for one, adored the dancing scene).  Their relationship is so tender, only tapping into romanticism.  Through the thick and thin of Ron’s jealousy issues, they grow to be so united.  With every other actor giving nothing more than cameo appearances, it was important to get that element right.

David Yates, who has had charge of the last two HP films, has the feel of these books down.  You can tell that he actually read them.  There stand Harry and Hermione at the foot of his parent’s graves on Christmas Day.  The snow is falling in time to the tears that trickle down Harry’s face.  The tender moment doesn’t last long though, before Hermione notices the creepy, cloaked woman spying on them.  The following scene at Godric’s Hollow is so eery, and so deliciously spooky.  Few words are spoken, the music speaks for itself.  Once things started getting down and dirty and snakes were jumping out of cloaks, I think I literally bit my tongue through.  Just like I did when I read that passage in the book.  That’s what I call a good adaptation.

Also, the scenery is consistently breathtaking.  Apparating is kinda like insta-hiking.  You get to the best part first.  It’s unfortunate that the kids can hardly appreciate the beauty surrounding them, their thoughts are with their loved ones who could, like, die.  Understandable.

When things pick up, they pick up.  The beginning chase and the concluding escape from Malfoy Manor are both exhilarating and visually stunning.  These wizard duels are getting faster paced and much more swordsman-like.  As for other characters… that Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) is still a mean B, huh?  Dobby (Toby Jones – sadly absent from every other movie except Chamber of Secrets) gets to be hero one last time with some seriously hard-nosed toughness, as well as heart-wrenching loyalty and goodness.  Malfoy’s (Tom Felton) two seconds are forgettable.  Alan Rickman had regrettably little to do, but that will be amended in the last installment.  Ray Fiennes was excellent as always, he too with limited screen time.

I could have used a bit more Dumbledore-history, but that’s expendable information (though interesting).  What matters to me is the feel of the film, and that perfectly imitated JK Rowling’s creation. 7/10

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

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Hogwarts, year two.  Just when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) thinks he’s getting into the swing of things, everything just gets weirder.  To start off, he has a difficult time arriving at school.  A homely little elf (excuse me, house elf) named Dobby (Toby Jones) shows up in his bedroom to warn Harry of the apparent harm and possible death that awaits him at Hogwarts.  He insists that Harry is too valuable to risk and tries to stop him from going – landing him into some serious trouble with his Aunt and Uncle (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw).  Not to worry, BFF Ron (Rupert Grint) comes to break him out of the cage that is Number 4 Privet Drive.  Buttt even with his wizard pals Harry has problems catching the train.  The moment they do make it to school they’re branded with a near death sentence for being seen by Muggles in their flying car.  Oh, and a rogue tree breaks Ron’s wand.

Turns out the little pillowcase-clad guy wasn’t so wrong.  Students (and cats) are winding up “petrified” by an unknown beast and threatening blood-written messages coat the corridors of Hogwarts announcing the re-opening of The Chamber of Secrets.  Harry teams up with his usual crew of Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson) to (singlehandedly) solve the ancient school mystery breaking a thousand more rules in the process.  But it gets kinda difficult when everyone starts putting the blame on the boy who lived cuz he can talk to snakes.  Or something.

It is a little bit difficult to leave out ANY comparisons.  The material is golden, the book perfectly executes a fantastic plot.  It’s hard for me to hate on the movie too much since they stick to the plot fairly well… it’s just not as well portrayed.  My primary complaint is actually the overload of cheese and kid stuff.  Like, last time I checked, the book did NOT end with a standing ovation and the entire great hall cheering for Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane).  It’s just unnecessary.  But, alas, it still manages to match the charm and appeal of the book and improve on the first movie – exploding into one of the greatest movie franchises ever (and the most internationally successful).

Our kids are the same as they were in Sorcerer’s Stone, just more cracking voices.  But they’re fine – and Harry has even improved.  We’ve got plenty of new characters too – even Henry V Kenneth Branagh himself as our leading buffoon, new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and hero extraordinaire Gilderoy Lockhart.  He is one of my favorite (favourite?) characters in the book and Branagh brilliantly brings him to life on screen.  “Fame is a fickle friend, Harry.  Celebrity is as celebrity does.  Remember that.”  You hate him so much that you love him.  He approaches the bridge between tolerable hilarity and excess annoyance but only flirts with crossing.  He’s the comic relief, though there’s really nothing too serious to “relieve” us from – the whole movie is as light as the first one.  Yet he still manages to lift our spirits and deliver some awesome one liners.

Another more slippery addition is Jason Isaacs as Draco’s papa Lucius Malfoy.  Whoever had the idea to give him long flowing white hair and a pre-pubescent clean-shaven look was a genius.  To see Lucius’ character deteriorate into the coward that he is in the latest Potter installments (facial hair included) gives this fresh opening an entirely new meaning.  He really was a wicked snake.

Sorcerer’s Stone was the introductory fairy tale.  Chamber of Secrets is the slightly darker exploration piece.  The entire 8-movie series is really just one big story.  This one starts to delve into the bigger picture where its predecessor only briefly introduced it.  We learn about the bigger-bad-guy Lord Voldemort’s past as a student at Hogwarts.  We begin to understand Harry’s connection to the Dark Lord is a little bit more than just his parents’ murder.  On top of that, we explore Harry’s dark side.  Would he have been better suited for Slytherin house?  Is he following the same path that young Tom Marvolo Riddle (Christian Coulson) did? Radcliffe does his character well, showing a conflicted, no longer wide-eyed boy facing more than his fair share of trials.

The magic too is deeper (even deeper than we know, yet).  Harry and Draco finally get their chance to officially duel it out with more than “Expelliarmus” in Lockhart’s Dueling club [a good Snape moment… there was a serious lack of Alan Rickman boss-ness], Petrified victims are healed by screeching mandrake plants as procured by Professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes), Hermione surpasses her own genius by creating the Polyjuice Potion turning Harry and Ron into Draco’s goonies, Crabbe and Goyle (Jamie Waylett, Josh Herdman), replicas.  Again, Rowling, I bow to your creativity.

The plot (grace of Lady Rowling) is a fast-paced, fun mystery.  The epic conclusion is so rewarding with every twist and turn underlying the suspense.  Even with its long running time, it still manages to briskly pass the audience by.  I don’t know, I guess I just dig that kinda mystery stuff – the kind where the big reveal leaves you smacking your head at your own poor observation and anxious to re-watch it with a new perspective.  That’s how it was the first time I read the book.

There’s a lot more action as well.  Murderous spiders and larger than life snakes aren’t exactly your typical domestic animals.  Overall, the special effects and stunts are great and Harry sure looks disgusting by the end.  I guess battling in a sewer does that to you…

This review is a very jumbled cornucopia of thoughts, and I apologize for the longevity.  The short of it is, Chamber of Secrets improves on the first one and leaves us even more tickled with magic.  The actors grow into their roles and there’s some great action/adventure/mystery/humor goin’ on.  Lastly, RIP Richard Harris.  “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.  It is our choices.”  You delivered one of Dumbledore’s best piece of wisdom better than Michael Gambon ever could.  No offense.  7/10