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Book Review – Harry Potter: The Character Vault

Harry Potter: The Character Vault

Written by Jody Revenson
Published by Titan Books
RRP £24.99

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, there is no such thing as enough information about the world of Harry Potter. This book is made with love and care for fans of JK Rowling’s creation, and it is a treasure trove of beautiful photographs, concept art and lovely details from behind the scenes that infuse appreciation for the amount of hard work that went into the making of the films. You need to have this handsome book on your shelves if you are into Harry Potter (which includes me, as can be evidenced by the Harry Potter tag on this blog).

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Notes On A Film: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2

Not a review: these are the thoughts of a fan [see all my posts on Harry Potter] after he has seen the film (in 2D, of course, because I avoid money-grabbing 3D films that were filmed in 2D), and it assumes a detailed knowledge of both the books and films. You have been warned

This discussion of is belated but there is a reason. I couldn’t write about the final film in the Harry Potter series because I was so emotionally bereft after viewing it. The film was great, a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the series, and it made me cry in all the right places, but I was left with that strange feeling of loss that it was all over and I won’t have new Potter films to anticipate. It had to come to an end – all good stories need to end, otherwise there’s no point – and I don’t need the comfort blanket of the continuing adventures of Harry Potter (although I would like a JK Rowling-written encyclopaedia that covers all the stuff that happened to the cast and the world afterwards), but I felt sad that I’d seen the last one at the same time as having enjoyed the film.

The film hit all the high points of the book and was exciting and moving, but it was odd that the first part of the Deathly Hallows was so long and leisurely in its telling of the story whereas the second part seemed to be rushed in comparison (apparently, it’s the shortest of the eight films). The book had to be condensed, even in two parts, but the concentrating of narrative beats seemed more acute in the second film. It was all about the climax, moving the characters towards the finale – gone is any of the background information about Albus Dumbledore and why he did what he did; the section about the Ravenclaw diadem Horcrux is condensed considerably, changing the subterfuge angle from the book in to a charging-in approach, and drastically reducing and altering the involvements of ghosts in the deduction of diadem’s location (although I did enjoy Kelly MacDonald as The Grey Lady); any sections that involved people talking about what’s going on (planning in the cottage, talking to Aberforth, accessing Hogwarts via the Room of Requirement) are reduced to the shortest time possible, in order to get to the action (and they omit the postscript in the headmaster’s office; I would have liked to see the way Harry repaired his wand and removed the Elder Wand from the book, instead of the film’s version) – but strangely, Yates has extended and expanded the actual final battle to something more dramatic and ‘cinematic’, although not necessarily better. The book contained the finale in the Great Hall, so that everyone was witness to the face-off between Harry and Voldemort; the film prefers the open landscape of the ravaged quad and has Harry and Voldemort jumping off the top of the clock tower and flying around fighting each other (I think Yates made a lot of tiny errors in this section due to the power going to his head: in a short interview, he talked about this flying scene being a eureka moment, but it seems rather silly; he also requested the dialogue that was seen in the trailer but excised in the final film (‘Why do you live?’ ‘Because I’ve got something to live for’) because he realised that the reason why screenwriter Steve Kloves didn’t write it in the first place was because it was rubbish and that Voldemort wouldn’t be a chatty type in a fight; he also has Harry and Voldemort fighting for longer than in the book which doesn’t make any sense because it just provides more moments where it’s obvious that Voldemort could easily kill Harry but doesn’t because it says so in the plot.

These are quibbles, however, of a fan and of someone who has read the book. As Kloves put it, we kept the emotional core of what was happening, and they did a great job of putting the book on film. There were a lot of things I enjoyed in the film. Seeing Snape in charge of a Hogwarts where the students have been beaten into submission was powerful, the action scenes were exciting (I knew what was happening and even I had the enjoyable thrill of tension as I watched the film); it was great to see Professor McGonagall taking charge and leading the defence of Hogwarts. The explanatory quiet scenes were included and were powerful: the Pensieve scenes of Snape’s memories was beautifully done (Rickman’s face might have looked a little computer-enhanced in one scene, but the scene where he holds Lilly Potter’s body was devastating) and seeing Dumbledore again in the King’s Cross scene (tears were in my eyes when he says to Harry, ‘You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man.’) was nicely done. The scene with the Resurrection Stone had the tears really flowing, which is a perfect indicator that they had got the tone completely right; after that, I was an emotional wreck and even felt a lump in my throat at the moment when Harry, Ron and Hermione see each other for the first time after Voldemort’s death and communicate so much with just facial expressions. To be fair, I had a lump in my throat when McGonagall said it was good to see him to Harry, so I don’t know if I can be completely impartial.

Another thing: if you’ve read the book, you realise that the whole story is told from Harry’s perspective – events that occur to other people when he’s not there have to be recounted to him in some way. So we saw Fred’s death in the book (which is played differently in the film) but don’t see Remus and Tonks die. When the film made the change of following Ron and Hermione into the Chamber of Secrets to see Hermione destroy the cup Horcrux (and the Ron–Hermione kiss), I hoped they would give Remus and Tonks their moment but it was not to be. I also thought we’d get more of the other characters in wizard duels in Hogwarts, but most characters only got brief bits (we did get Molly Weasley killing Bellatrix, which was pretty cool), which seemed odd because there could have been so much more spectacle to add to the more cinematic climax they were creating but didn’t. I’m so difficult to please.

What am I trying to say about the film? I thought it was a good film, a good conclusion to the series of films, with the story intact (more or less), everyone doing a good job on screen (although most of the adults barely get more than a few lines or scenes; it’s entirely about Harry) and behind it, it wasn’t perfect but it made me cry and I look forward to all the deleted scenes on the DVD.

Rating: DAVE

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

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Notes On A Film: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1

I am back and I have seen the first part of final Harry Potter film, so I’m going to ramble on about it in a completely biased fashion because I’m a fan of the whole Harry Potter thing (see my collection of Harry Potter-labelled posts for all my previous Harry Potter-related nonsense).

It’s strange to discuss a film which is only half a film; I remember hearing stupid people complaining about the end of The Lord Of The Rings because it obviously hadn’t ended, but at least that was a narrative arc of sorts. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a film without an end, waiting to finish. I’d rather have the whole thing in one sitting, but as I said: I’m a fan.

As a fan, I know the story quite well, so I spent a lot of time noticing which bits were missing. However, Steve Kloves did a great job on the script streamlining a big book into an entertaining narrative without losing the important points. The book had lots of internal stuff about the characters, as well as big chunks of exposition and excerpts from obituaries and biographies, which aren’t going to work on film, and lots of non-plot conversations which weren’t needed. Despite its long running time, the movie barely wastes much of it.

For those who don’t know, the basic plot sees Voldemort in charge of the Ministry of Magic and out to kill Harry; Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, is on a mission to discover the missing horcruxes that contain portions of Voldemort’s soul so that they can finally defeat him, as well as the discovery of the Deathly Hallows. This means that the middle third of the movie is the wizarding road trip, as our trio travel around the country to avoid their pursuers while trying to uncover clues to help them on their quest.

The first and third sections have the exciting stuff. After the funny ‘seven Harry Potters’, when Harry is being relocated from 4 Privet Drive, there is the Death Eater attack in a thunderstorm; there’s the escape to Shaftesbury Avenue after the wedding and another attack by two Death Eaters; there is the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic to acquire a horcrux. In the third section, there is the really creepy sequence with Bathilda Bagshot, the destruction of the horcrux, the capture by snatchers and the escape from Malfoy manor, all exciting and really well-done sequences. In between, the film is much slower as our three leads are the only characters on screen; however, I didn’t mind this because I wanted to spend time with these characters and see how the story moved along.

As mentioned, there was a lot of little thing eliminated for the sake of a smoother progression. No need for the pre-wedding planning, or the extra visit from Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy doing a Welsh accent for some reason), or the settling in to 12 Grimauld Place and getting Kreacher on their side or the long planning of the expedition to the Ministry of Magic. Nor was there time for Lupin’s attempt to join the trio on their quest due to his feelings of anguish at having a baby with Tonks (which almost gets mentioned), or setting up the fake Ron to explain why he wasn’t at Hogwarts. They don’t bother with the separate locations when leaving Privet Drive (so no Ted Tonks or portkeys), going instead straight to The Burrows; Bill Weasley already has his werewolf scars, which were gained in the Death Eater attack. There’s no explanation of the trace on saying ‘Voldemort’ out loud, or why our trio stop saying it; there’s no need for the overhearing the group on the run (consisting of Ted Tonks, Griphook and Dean) for another perspective to how things are; the capture by the snatchers happens by accident instead of saying Voldemort’s name, and Voldemort isn’t called back from visiting Grindelwald when Bellatrix Lestrange has our trio in Malfoy Manor. All of this stuff is not needed for the telling of this section of the story. It’s not necessary and not missed, and is only noticed by its absence for people who know the source material. It doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the movie.

David Yates does a good job directing the film, making it darker and more moody, although he still lacks the ability to bring the magical touches I so admire from Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban. The three leads do a good job of bearing the majority of screen time, with Rupert Grint perhaps outshining Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson by the fact of having the slightly lighter role. The adults are barely in it by comparison, but the likes of Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter bringing nice moments to their relatively fleeting presences. The mood is suitably sombre, with only the occasional flash of humour to bring a smile (the Phelps twins get most of the laughs as Fred and George Weasley, with Grint getting some smiles as well). The biggest laugh was of embarrassment, with a bizarre sequence where Harry gets Hermione to dance with him to lighten the mood when they have been on their own for a while and feeling low; it’s starts off rather hideously badly with the squirming attempt at dancing, but they just about manage to save it by the end of the scene.

The most beautiful sequence is the animated telling of The Tale of The Three Brothers, which is done in a wonderful folklore/faux-puppetry style that is both appropriate and delightful. The rest of the CGI is pretty impressive – I particularly liked the patronuses, and Kreacher and Dobby were amazingly photo-realistic – and the film as a whole looks good. It makes me want to see the second half right now, to see how they visualise the remainder of the story, which means they must have done a good job. As an adult, I enjoyed it very much, even though some of the kids who had bunked off school to see the 10.30am showing didn’t enjoy the more languid pace of the middle section, chatting to themselves because they didn’t think much was happening, but everyone knows that kids don’t have much of an attention span … This isn’t really a review, because they would have to make a complete hash of things for me to dislike it, but if you are a fan then it is a very enjoyable film that makes you eager to see the second half; if you’re not a fan, you might not have as much fun.

Rating: DAVE

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

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The Harry Potter Factor

As I have said before, I really like the Harry Potter films – see the tag ‘Harry Potter‘ if you don’t believe me – and have subsequently watched them many times. The side effect of this is that, instead of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, all films I watch now can have a Harry Potter Factor based on how many actors in the film have also been in the Harry Potter movies. This is helped by the fact that the adult actors in the Harry Potter movies are generally very good and are in demand.

For example, I have just watched Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton (which will be discussed at some stage): it has a particularly high Harry Potter Factor of 6 – Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Alan Rickman (Prof. Snape), Timothy Spall (Wormtail), Frances de la Tour (Madame Maxine), Imelda Staunton (Prof. Umbridge), Paul Whitehouse (Sir Cadogan – he is seen in the paintings in the background in Prisoner of Azkaban).

I watched Green Zone the other night (also to be discussed eventually), which has a Harry Potter Factor of 2: Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy). I have seen The Book Of Eli, which has a Harry Potter Factor of 3: Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Michael Gambon (Prof. Dumbledore), and Frances de la Tour again. Going backwards, films can have retroactive Harry Potter Factors:

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has a Harry Potter Factor of 3 (Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall all together again in a Tim Burton film)
In Bruges has a Harry Potter Factor of 3 (Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes [Voldemort], Clémence Poésy [Fleur Delacour])
A Cock And Bull Story has a Harry Potter Factor of 3 (Mark Williams [Mr Weasley], Ian Hart [Prof. Quirrell], Shirley Henderson [Moaning Myrtle])
Love Actually has a Harry Potter Factor of 2 (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson [Prof. Trelawney])
Much Ado About Nothing has a Harry Potter Factor of 3 (Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Kenneth Brannagh [Prof. Lockhart])

I think you get the idea …

As the stats show, it does help if the film or cast is largely British; in fact, it comes as a bit of a shock (to me) when a film with a mostly British cast doesn’t have a high Harry Potter Factor. For example, I was watching Stardust on television the other night, which is developing into a very rewatchable film, when I realised that it only had a Harry Potter Factor of 1: Mark Williams. I had to go through the cast list on IMDb to check, but I was right. It just didn’t seem possible that such a low score could occur. Still, it must be possible to make films these days without actors who haven’t been in Harry Potter films, I guess; I just can’t imagine how they do it …

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