Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Best and Worst in Harry Potter Movie History

I can't believe it.

We've come to the end of the Harry Potter journey. And while the world watches the final film in amazement, I have compiled a list of the 5 best and 3 worst moments of Harry Potter Movie History. Now this list is not just about what scenes or movies were good or bad, I'm going to get a bit technical and talk about directing, music and casting. This is the last new Potter film, but Daniel Radcliffe said it best at the London premiere, "each and every person... who will see this film and who have followed these films for the last ten years will carry this story with them through the rest of their lives." Very poignant Mr. Potter.

The Best Moments (in no particular order)

1. The casting of Alan Rickman as Severus Snape

 Alan Rickman's Famous Snape Stare

        This piece of genius apparently came from the brilliant mind of J.K. Rowling herself. The author had always imagined Alan Rickman playing the Potions Master from the start. The casting directors had a different idea at the beginning; they actually asked fellow British thespian Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction, The Incredible Hulk, Fox's show Lie to Me) to play the complicated man Dumbledore trusted to the end. Good thing he decided to do The Planet of the Apes because we now Alan Rickman and the iconic Severus Snape are synonymous. Like Ian McKellan in the Lord of the Rings triology, Rickman is the Harry Potter franchise's best bet for awards recognition. (Don't believe me? Ask movie reviewer Richard Roeper: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 Review) Rickman's heartbreaking performance in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II was magnificent and worthy of great recognition.

2. The Women of Harry Potter

Above: Helena Bonham Carter as Belatrix Lestrange, Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy
Below: Julie Walters as Molly Weasley and Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall

        It's hard to argue that the women of Harry Potter are brilliant from the villains (Belatrix Lestrange and Dolores Umbridge) to the maternal figures (Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley). In fact, the women overpower their male counterparts at times. One of my favorite villains of the whole series would have to be Helena Bonham Carter as Belatrix Lestrange for her absolutely psychotic and pitch-perfect portrayal of the woman with a terrible obsession with Lord Voldemort. While I adore the performance by Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, the balance of his silent delivery of evil and Carter's frenetic portrayal makes Voldemort's name more frightening than Voldemort by himself. And Julie Walters is wonderful as the kind, overly generous and fiercely protective Weasley mother.

3. The Music of John Williams and Alexandre Desplat
        Some of the most iconic moments of Harry Potter movie history are made all the more epic because of the beautifully composed music by John Williams and Alexandre Desplat. The insanely talented John Williams was responsible for giving us the first two Harry Potter film scores including the famous "Hedwig's Theme" that is used now in each of the subsequent Potter films. There were other composers in charge of films 4-6 who did a great job staying true to Williams' music, but Alexandre Desplat took over the reigns for the last two movies and brought a new spin to the wonderful sounds we all grew up hearing. While Williams created both innocent and dramatic pieces that set the atmosphere for each of the first three films, Desplat had to tackle the dark and dangerous imagery from the last two films (or the 7th book). We all know these themes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: 


But here are some of the more dark pieces- The "Obliviate" music from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and the "Severus and Lily" theme from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban- OR the changing of directors from Christopher Columbus to Alfonso Cuarón

        Christopher Columbus had the tough task of taking a beloved book and making a faithful adaptation. But luckily for him, as long as he got the main plot points correct and stayed as loyal to the imagery of the book, it would be easy for him to succeed in getting butts in theater seats- and he did just that. And while there's nothing necessarily wrong with the first two movies, there's nothing amazing about them either. When Cuarón came aboard, however, everything seemed like it would change. Before Harry Potter, Cuarón was known for films like A Little Princess and the Spanish film Y Tu Mamá También which features some nudity and sex scenes. While some were worried how much Cuarón would change the tone of Potter, the finished product became the most critically and universally popular Harry Potter film. (before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 which holds a whopping 97% "fresh rating" on Rotten Tomatoes for general critics and 100% "fresh rating" for top critics). Just look at the difference between the first Potter film and Cuarón's Azkaban:

5. Amazing landscapes in the Harry Potter franchise

        There's not much I need to say here. Art directors are involved in set design/decoration/construction, location scouting, and other art department duties. So instead of talking about how great the sets and locations are in these two films, I'll just post a bunch of pictures and have you all see for yourselves the brilliant work done by art directors Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan. It's important to note that these sets are made even more wonderful with the help of visual effects so I'd like to give some appreciation to effects all-stars Roger Guyett who worked on the first and third films and Tim Burke (and his team) who worked on every film except the first:

The Worst Moments (in no particular order)

1. The adaptation from book to film for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
        Now I don't know how many people would actually disagree with this pick. To say that necessary information from Half-Blood Prince was left out would be an grave understatement. Starting from Rufus Scrimgeour being cut out from the film to removing scenes about Tom Riddle all the way to the removing the small battle on Hogwarts between Dumbledore's Army and the Death Eaters, too many scenes were shortened or sacrificed so that the romances in the book could be more dominant. Sure, all of the books had to cut important scenes, but Half-Blood Prince cuts were the hardest because those scenes could've helped set up essential facts in the final two films. In the end, Half-Blood Prince was too focused on teenage hormones. And burning down the Burrow? That was inexcusable.

I will give the cast and crew one compliment: the scenes featuring Draco were shot quite well and Tom Felton shined playing the "villainous" boy who has more of a conscience than he can admit to himself.

2. The awkward relationship between Harry and Ginny

        As much as it pains me to say this, I didn't really believe that Harry and Ginny could fall in love from the movies. This might be due to Bonnie Wright's slightly less capable acting skills or it might just be that her character is stripped of a lot of its development due to time constraints. Even while reading the books, I found it a bit strange but Ginny's character was much more fully developed which made it a bit easier for Harry to find her attractive. In the films, there aren't very many scenes that show Ginny even likes Harry until the last few books. Plus the scenes in Half-Blood Prince (as I've mentioned before) don't show any chemistry between the pair. The only time I really enjoyed their relationship was in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2; they have two moments together that are short and sweet.

See? Awkward...

3. The cutting of integral scenes throughout the Harry Potter franchise
        As I've discussed in the Half-Blood Prince criticism, there have been several scenes from all of the films that have been cut due to time constraints. While overall screenwriter Steve Kloves (and Michael Goldenberg for Order of the Phoenix) has done a great job keeping the integrity of the books intact, there has been too much sacrifice of fun or essential moments. Here are my picks for worst cuts:

              a. The Quidditch World Cup game in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (only because it would have extremely fun to watch- they should have put this in and shortened the first task scene instead. That scene with the dragon was excruciatingly long)

              b. The House-Elf Liberation Front scenes with Hermione- would have been great for Hermione's character development

              c. Hermione finding out that Rita Skeeter is an Animagus- she turns into a beetle

              d. Ron's quidditch moments in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix- would have been great for Ron's character development

              e. The scene at St. Mungo's Hospital where you meet Neville's parents and find out their story (the parents' backstory is told by Neville after a Dumbledore's Army meeting later in the film)

              f. The small Hogwarts battle scene after Dumbledore is killed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

               g. The death of Peter Petigrew in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 and 2- this was disappointing because the audience doesn't get to see justice for Harry parents and we don't see Peter Petigrew paying Harry back for not killing him in Prisoner of Azkaban.

               h. The absence of Dumbledore's backstory in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2- I can't really explain this without giving away too many spoilers for people who haven't read the book, but Dumbledore was not always the generous, loving and good person that Harry remembered. It's important to see that because then you know why his brother, Aberforth, dislikes him. And it's important to not that Dumbledore seems more human when he learn his mistakes.

               i. The absence of Fred, Lupin and Tonks' death scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2- In fact, the entire second wave of the battle at Hogwarts is cut down. While it was sad to see the three beloved characters dead, it was hard to see just their bodies and not get a sense of how they died.

I have loved spending my years with Harry and the gang; it's incredibly sad to see it end. For those of us who grew up with the books and related to each of these characters, the Harry Potter franchise will forever be a reminder of our greatest childhood moments... where we met our three very best friends.

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