Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The search for Voldermort’s horcruxes, artifacts which housed pieces of his soul and granted him immortality, continued as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) visited familiar places in J.K. Rowling’s glorious saga of witchcraft and wizardry. Directed by David Yates, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” was, for the most part, a satifying conclusion. What it did best was to capture a sense of nostalgia from the trio’s adventures in the past. For instance, when they visited the Chamber of Secrets to destroy a horcrux, while the place looked like the way it was from the second installment, we were reminded of the intense images when Harry battled the giant snake which had the ability to turn living beings into stone. Somehow, that rather important duel felt significantly small compared to the heart-pounding affront Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) led toward Hogwarts–once a safe haven now reduced to rubble. During the first hour, each scene was exciting. From the way Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) stood up against Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) to the manner in which certain key characters met their fates, I was engaged because these were characters we’ve followed for more than a decade. The special and visual effects looked breathtaking. I loved the scene when a majestic fire engulfed the Room of Requirement as our protagonists, Draco (Tom Felton), and his sidekicks scurried across towers of treasures and junk. But the effectiveness of the visuals weren’t limited to the intricate details in the room. It also worked for areas with not a lot of decoration. The prime example would be the scene in which Harry conversed with Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) at a train station. Pretty much everything was white and covered with mist. The barren look forced us to focus on the special bond between Harry and his mentor. It highlighted the fact that even though we’ll eventually, inevitably, lose people we love, nothing can take away what they’ve left us. But the film had its share of awkward moments which could be attributed to its rather short running time of just above two hours. For instance, when Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds), Dumbledore’s brother, appeared in the midst of battle to repel the Dementors using a Patronus charm, he greatly resembled the fallen wizard. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the emotional impact it should have had because we didn’t know a lot about Aberforth and his family. There was only one scene prior dedicated to Aberforth and his feelings toward his deceased brother. Another element that came out of nowhere involved Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), a prominent figure in the earlier films, not given much to do other than being held capture by the Death Eaters. Hagrid was the first magical person Harry met when he turned of age. Remember when he said, “You’re a wizard, Harry” and Harry looked at him in utter disbelief? We all do. Not showing Hagrid participate in the Battle of Hogwarts was a crucial miscalculation. Nevertheless, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” though not the best of the series, was still a success in its own right. It provided closure without being sentimental. Sometimes the art of holding back is magical, too.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is dead. Everybody is on the run including some Muggle families who are aware of the wizarding community. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in the most danger he’s ever faced because Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes), corporeal and has gathered the full support of the Death Eaters, is desperate to get his hands on The Boy Who Lived and kill him–the act he failed to accomplish seventeen years ago. We see not an inch of Hogwarts because it has been taken over by those who follow the Dark Lord. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) make difficult sacrifices to try to protect their best friend. The trio go into hiding in various woods and landscapes to try to figure out the location of seven Horcruxes, Voldermort’s shattered soul, and how to destroy it. Failure to do so means losing the war and Voldermort gets to rule both the wizarding and Muggle worlds. We know Voldermort wants to perform his own holocaust because he and his followers believe that a less than a “pure-blood” heritage equates to inferiority and deserving of death.
Directed by David Yates, the first half of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is full of dread and sadness but is arguably one of the more compelling additions to the series. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, more adult than ever both in physicality and acting abilities, were successfully able to deliver the emotional range necessary to make not only the happenings in a magical community believable but also completely engrossing. Out of the three, I paid particular attention to Watson because there has been rumors that she might want to stop acting after the series. I think it would be unfortunate if she decides to give it up because I believe she has the potential to be as great as the likes of Natalie Portman and Jodie Foster. In this film, she was able to fluidly summon the softness and vulnerability (Portman’s forte) in the quieter scenes and unrelenting toughness and bravery (Foster’s forte) amidst the chaos of flying curses and deafening explosions. Yates had a difficult task ahead of him because of the extended “camping” scenes. To be perfectly honest, when I read J.K. Rowling’s novel of the same name, I do not remember much other than the frustration of reading through well over two hundred pages of the “camping” scenes. While I did realize its importance not just in terms of rising action but also a key ingredient in terms of further character development and almost procedural-like analysis of how to finally defeat Voldermort, I could not help but feel disappointment toward the book’s first half. I was afraid I was going to feel the same toward the film, especially when it was announced that it was going to be divided in two.
I was surprised that I was actually perfectly happy with the final product. Sitting through an hour of seeing the characters in the woods felt less like pulling teeth than reading through hundreds of pages about it. The power of omitting unnecessary details became integral because it was done in a smart way. It was balanced with pace that aimed to proactively move the story forward while giving us small rewards along the way that ranged from the expected (events in the novel such as Harry and Hermione’s showdown with the slithery Nagini) to the unexpected (events not in the novel such as the scene when Harry tried to cheer up Hermione during the darkest time in their friendship). Instead of feeling rushed like Yates’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” this film, judging only from the book’s first half, felt complete. Admittedly, those who have not read the book might end up getting somewhat confused. Since I do not remember much from the novel, I can relate to an extent because I wanted to know more about R.A.B., Bathilda Bagshot, and a handful of individuals Voldermort wanted to question about the Deathly Hallows. For example, during the most critical time, the name R.A.B. first came about in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” so, naturally, we would expect a relatively in-depth explanation about who that person was and why that person was key in the story arc. Instead, R.A.B. was mentioned in approximately two or three scenes and we never heard of it again.
Nevertheless, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is a wonderful addition to the franchise. It successfully breaks out of the formula regarding the characters going to Hogwarts, having a plethora of laughs, Quidditch and adventures, and saving the day just when they were about to fail. The three best friends being in isolation was interesting because we got to see them perform what they learned in Hogwarts over the years. When certain artifacts and familiar faces appeared (tell me the goblin imprisoned in the Malfoy mansion was not the same goblin that Harry met in the Gringotts Wizarding Bank in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), I could not help but feel nostalgic because the journey is almost at an end. At the same time, I cannot help but feel happy and excited because I have a feeling that the best has yet to come.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
It’s strange because “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” written J.K. Rowling, was the book that I thought was the weakest out of the whole series, but it turned out that the film adaptation, directed by David Yates, was arguably one of the best. I liked that it started off not with the Dursleys but with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) all grown up and hitting on a girl even though his methods and reactions were still quite awkward. The parallel between the teenagers’ raging hormones and the destruction that the Death Eaters were willing to inflict for the sake of causing chaos was immediately established. That template provided great pacing and an exciting mix of comedy and magical wonder.
In this installment, love (and lust) was in the air. Harry was becoming more attracted to Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and vice-versa, Hermione (Emma Watson) could not keep his eyes off Ron (Rupert Grint) but frustrated with the fact that Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) was all over him as if she was in heat. And Hermione won a new admirer named Cormac McLaggen (Freddie Stroma) but she thought he was creepy and way too eager to please despite his athletic abilities and charming outer appearance. Such scenes that dealt with the intricacies of the politics of friendship and awkward sentences with double entendres were genuinely funny without trying; it was all very real even though it was set in a wizarding world. The scenes involving Harry and Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and their quest to sort through memories in order to find Voldermort’s weakness were nothing short of revealing and sometimes downright chilling. The flashback scenes were outstanding, particularly the dreamy look of it. I felt like I was watching something I was not supposed to see and that enhanced the film’s mystique. Lastly, the bit about Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his mission was both fascinating and horrifying. I was glad to see Draco to be featured on this one a lot more than any of the previous installments because, even though I love to hate him, he always increased the drama whenever he was around. It was also quite excellent to see many familiar faces such as Snape (Alan Rickman), McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith), the Weasley twins (Oliver Phelps and James Phelps), Molly Weasley, (Julie Walters), Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and others we met from previous installments used in an efficient and ultimately effective way. These three fronts were juggled quite effectively, which was a surprise because Yates’ direction in the fifth movie felt rushed. On this one, in the beginning all three did not feel as connected but by the last thirty minutes, they were traveling the same path and it felt like it reached an entirely new level that the series has never gone before.
As for the negatives, I honestly did not have much of a problem with it. Aside from the film leaving out some crucial battles scenes, such as when the Death Eaters were leaving Hogwarts after they finished their mission, I thought everything else was well-done. Even the alterations for the convenience of the plot did not bother me (even though I read the books). I’ve read some fan reviews and I believe they made an all-too-common mistake of expecting the picture to be exactly like the book. Following the book exactly is not what I look for in the movies’ interpretations. While it is completely understandable to be disappointed (such as my disappointment–and yes, even sadness and anger–toward the fifth movie having failed to show the Brain Room in the Ministry of Magic), it is unfair to expect everything to be included and unaltered. When extracting from a primary source, inconsistencies are almost always present. It is even more unfair to give movie an “F” or a “D” rating because the film is “disloyal” toward the novel. I don’t think the filmmakers are being disloyal at all. On the contrary, in every frame, I felt like they wanted to give the us something beyond imagination while at the same time they wanted to give us something different compared to the its predecessors.
Needless to say, I say “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” was a success and a great addition to the empire. It proved to be a nice transition for the war that was to unfold in the two-parter “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” And, hopefully (though unlikely), those who need to have everything exactly the same between the novel and the film will be satisfied. Or at least realize that a few alterations and leaving out certain details do not necessarily make a bad film. Having seen all six movies in order in a span of one week, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” just might be the crowning achievement.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Directed by David Yates, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” was essentially the calm before the storm. Despite a dead boy and Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) claims that Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) had returned, the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet, the newspaper the ministry controlled, insisted that it was all a lie. Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) had instructed Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to act as Hogwarts’ Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, evil dressed in pink, who ignored the fine line between punishment and torture. Meanwhile, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) made an effort to avoid Harry for certain reasons, but our protagonist could not help but take it personally. The fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s highly successful series was my favorite because it was all about the preparation for the upcoming war that the first four books built upon. It was so rich in detail about corruption of power, the role of the media, and finding one’s place in the world. The first mistake the filmmakers made was condensing the longest book to just about over two hours, making it the shortest film. The book had an excellent reason to be the longest. As a result, the movie felt very rushed, particularly the very important scene when Harry and his friends (Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, and Matthew Lewis) had an exciting, but ultimately tragic, showdown against the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries. It should have taken its time because it was at the point where the main character finally learned of his probable fate if he was to finally defeat Voldermort. I loved the book because it showed Harry as not only an emerging leader but, above all, a great teacher and a friend, too. I was not convinced that Yates paid enough attention to the importance of developing Harry as a strong person on his own but who was able to perform at his best when he had the full support of his friends. Character development is all about subtlety. Subtlety is not achieved with quickly edited scenes that do not add up to anything substantial. Lastly, I was greatly disappointed that the movie only had about two scenes of Snape (Alan Rickman) training Harry to control of his mind, the art of Occlumency, against Voldermort. It would have been fantastic if the script spent more time exploring their very complicated relationship. I found it strange that the film spent so little time with the subject of Occlumency because a big part of the fifth installment was Harry’s struggle against Voldermort taking over his mind and body. I was left with the impression that Yates did not understand what the book really about. I will not even get started with the lack of scenes involving the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams and the stresses the students had to deal with. Sadly, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is perhaps the weakest entry in the series when it should have been the best because the elements for greatness were provided by the original material.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Before returning to Hogwarts for his fourth year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was haunted by nightmares involving Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally gain his strength. Meanwhile, Hogwarts hosted the Triwizard Tournament in which a champion was chosen from from each wizarding school: Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) from Durmstrang Institute, and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But this year was a unique case because the Goblet of Fire had also chosen Harry, only a fourth year, to participate. I find “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” directed by Mike Newell, one of the most fast-paced installments in the series. I highly enjoy it every time I watch it because I love the way competitions unfold. I was happy that the filmmakers took a gamble and actually showed the competition as very dangerous and intimidating. Up until this film, we did not get to see much blood and dark magic. There was a breath of fresh air in the story because we finally had a chance to see negative tension between Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson). Both involved jealousy–the former jealousy involving celebrity (or lack thereof) and the latter jealousy involving a budding romantic relationship. On the other hand, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) caught the attention of our protagonist. Much of the humor came from the awkward interactions between the teenagers, the things that went wrong when hormones took charge, and sarcastic remarks. Since the film painted the teenagers as always on edge, there was real tension as they struggled to find their identities. Furthermore, the addition of students from other wizarding schools made the magical universe that much bigger and the issue of camaraderie despite language and cultural barriers was a touching common theme. Given that “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is my second favorite book of the series, I had very high expectations from the film. I am aware that a lot of hardcore fans did not enjoy it as much as I did because it left out important details (or got it wrong altogether) and that the screenwriters failed to remain loyal to the book in terms of character development. While I do agree to some extent, if I had not read the book, I still would have enjoyed the movie because the adventures were so thrilling. There were some truly scary moments (the third task in the tournament), very curious mystery (the addition of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody played with great fun by Brendan Gleeson), and there were a plethora of laugh-out-loud comedy (pick any scene that had to do with the Yule Ball). My only minute criticism was that the male actors should have gotten much-needed haircuts.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The first scene showed Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) playing with his wand under the covers. I loved the double entendre and from that moment on, I knew that director Alfonso Cuarón would inject something special in an already magical and beloved series. There must have been an added pressure for Cuarón and the crew because J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is arguably most fans’ favorite book out of the seven published. On the way to Hogwarts, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) encountered a dementor, prison guards from Azakaban that were on the hunt for a criminal who had a reputation for being one of Voldemort’s most loyal followers. Rumors went around that the criminal in question was responsible for the deaths of Harry’s parents and that he wanted to kill Harry next. Although the third novel was not my favorite due to Voldemort’s absence, I was surprised by the film because it introduced three new characters in fun and memorable ways: Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), the dangerous criminal who escaped Azkaban, Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), the new Defense of the Dark Arts professor (which, we all know up to this point, there is something quite off about them), and Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), the neurotic but amusing Divination professor. The movie also had another challenge by having Michael Gambon fill in the shoes for Albus Dumbledore because Richard Harris passed away. Despite that hurdle, it was ultimately a good change because Gambon’s interpretation of the character involved Dumbledore being a bit tougher and more prone to sarcastic remarks. Gambon should be given credit because he could have as easily played a nice, old wizard without any sort of edge. This film was a vast improvement from the second installment. While its predecessor tried too hard to be darker and only came to focus toward the middle portion, the storytelling here felt more natural and the direction felt more confident. It was actually a turning point for the series because it was when the actors finally felt comfortable in their roles and it sets up the tone for the upcoming movies. Furthermore, there was not a scene that I thought was wasted. I was not left confused because it included enough (admittedly, not all) key details from J.K. Rowling’s book. Since the material tackled some time travel, a less capable director could have delivered a less than satisfactory result. There were some changes from the novel but I welcomed such changes because I accepted that the film was Cuarón’s vision. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” did not have the magical golden glow that the previous two movies possessed but it was the most accomplished.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) had not received any letters from his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) all summer and it was beginning to get to him until a house-elf showed up at the Dursleys to warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and stir a bit of trouble. In this installment, bad luck seemed to infect like the plague. Platform Nine and Three Quarters had been disabled so Ron and Harry failed to catch the train to Hogwarts, they were almost killed by the Whomping Willow, and, most importantly, the students saw Harry as the main suspect for the recent dark happenings involving blood being written on walls and students ending up petrified like statues. What hindered this film from being great was the heavy first half that had little to do with the main mystery and the case of trying too hard to impress. It only picked up toward the middle when Harry finally stumbled over a diary that belonged to Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson), a student in Hogwarts 50 years ago. It was easy to notice that the first half tried to tell jokes but most were hit-and-miss (with the exception of Gilderoy Lockhart, played to perfection by Kenneth Branagh, one of the most laughably incompetent professors Hogwarts had the unfortunate luck to hire). Another element that did not work were some of the techniques typically employed in horror pictures. For instance, when Harry would hear voices that claimed to crave for blood, the camera would move from afar and rush toward the classic terrified facial expression. Such horror camera movements and angles were frustrating because they took away some of the magic and humor that the first half desperately needed. I felt as though the filmmakers forced the material to be darker than it should have been instead of letting the storylines fall naturally into place. However, the scenes were bearable sit through because the special and visual effects were much more impressive, particularly when Ron, Harry, and Hermione transformed after drinking the disgusting Polyjuice Potion. And who could forget their visit to Aragog, the giant spider? What I found most disappointing and frustrating was the camera cutting to certain individuals’ facial expressions when the characters would speak of the identity of the person committing the crimes. Perhaps it was because I read J.K. Rowling’s books, but I believe that if I hadn’t, it would have been entirely predictable. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” directed by Chris Columbus, was an awkward transition toward more impressive storylines and more confident direction. However, it was a necessary installment because of the importance of certain artifacts directly related to Voldemort’s endgame and some character development involving why Harry ultimately ended up in Gryffindor House instead of Slytherin.