Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Will (James Franco) was a brilliant scientist on the brink of discovering the cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. The ALZ-112 drug, which boosted brain function, worked on apes, but it needed to be tested on humans before commercialization. When one of the apes broke out of its cage and destroyed everything in its path, the investors expressed disapproval in using humans as test subjects. As a result, Will’s boss (David Oyelowo) ordered all of the experimental apes’ extermination and single-handedly shut down Will’s research. However, Will, despite his initial reluctance, took home a baby ape from the lab and raised it like a child. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, was an exciting cautionary tale about ethics, or lack thereof, in terms of scientific advancements and humans’ relationship with our direct descendants. The first half was strong and unexpected. For a movie about an uprising of apes, I didn’t think it would focus on personal issues. It worked because it defined Will as more than a scientist. He was a father to Caesar (Andy Serkis), the young ape he hook home, and a son to his father (John Lithgow) who was inflicted with dementia. Later, when Caesar led his army of apes, strangely, I saw Will in his eyes, the strength, courage and determination within, a look similar in the way Will expressed concern toward his father when a specific symptom surfaced, a suggestion that his condition had turned for the worse. Unfortunately, the latter half wasn’t as strong. While it was necessary that Caesar eventually got to be with his own kind and began to care more about them than people, it got redundant. The workers in the wildlife rescue center, like John (Brian Cox) and Dodge (Tom Felton), were cruel and abusive. They pushed, kicked, and tasered the animals while deriving pleasure from it. Showing us the same act over and over again was counterproductive. I would rather have watched more scenes of the way Caesar dealt with abandonment. When the material turned inwards, whether it be Will or Caesar, what was at stake came into focus. The action scenes, like the chaos in the Golden Gate Bridge, was nicely handled by the director. There wasn’t much gore and no limb was torn apart, but the fear was palpable. The way the San Franciscans ran from one end of the bridge toward the other looked like they were running from Godzilla instead of a bunch of apes. However, there was one strand that felt out of place, almost underwritten. One of the scientists (Tyler Labine) was exposed to a chemical agent, a gaseous form of ALZ-112, which led to his death. That part of the story needed about two more scenes to explain its significance. Those who watched Franklin J. Schaffner’s “Planet of the Apes” could probably grasp at its implications but those who had not could end up confused. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” used special and visual effects to enhance the story and deliver good-looking action sequences, evidence that the two needn’t and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive to pull off a solid popcorn entertainment.
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 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.