WARNING! Longer than I intended!
We saw the midnight premiere last night and had a lot of fun, but I can’t decide yet if I actually liked it or not. It had pretty high quality production values and the acting was superb throughout, which is all definitely good, but there were a few things that I just didn’t quite agree with.
- I continue to be amazed at how perfectly they are able to match the characters’ on-screen representations to the images I’ve created in my mind. Every time a new character is shown on-screen they look exactly the way I imagined them. Cedric, Mad Eye, Voldemort, Fleur (Ahhh, lovely, lovely Fleur) etc. And they filled their parts wonderfully. Even more than LoTR this series has been, to me, like the books come to life.
- I have to mention how much I adore the score. It didn't change much, but I still get chills when hearing it, and the films have all succeeded greatly in using the music to enhance the scene without becoming overpowering or annoying. John William’s is truly a master of leit motif, and his Potter themes are some of his best, which is saying a lot.
- The first task was incredible and, I feel, even surpassed the book’s version. The dragon was fantastically rendered, and the same is true of all the CG shots, such as the merpeople, Voldemort’s rebirth, etc. George Lucas should hook up with these FX artists, because this is what CG effects should bring to a film. I never had to drown in suspension of disbelief in order to “buy” the effects; they fit like perfectly matched puzzle pieces.
- The tone of the movie also matched the book’s tone quite well, which I appreciated. The filmmaker’s could have easily toned it down and kept it aimed at kids, but they had the cajones to keep it true to the story and preserve the spirit of Rowling’s tale. The wizard world is now at the brink of war, and this chapter in the saga is where that dramatic transition begins. The innocence of “Sorcerer’s Stone” is gone, and as Harry told Hermione, things are all about to change. If this film hadn’t been as dark as it is, then the following films would either be thrown completely off by having to be lightened accordingly, or they would be made appropriately “dark” to match their respective books and the change between this film and them would be clunky and jarring.
- Some of the most dramatic moments blew me away. Cedric’s death unfolded exactly as I think it should have. Watching Harry tearfully throw himself protectively across Cedric’s body, and then listening to the wails of despair coming from Cedric’s Dad just tore my heart out. I never expected a Potter film to bring tears, but this one made me misty a few times.
- A huge, HUGE thumbs up to the extended screen time given to some previously neglected characters; the twins especially. They’re so much fun, and just fill the screen to overflowing whenever they appear. I loved every frame they were in. Neville was also a scene stealing gem. “I just got in! Me!” I actually let out a heartfelt cheer for him. Neville is such an endearing character, and it was fun to see him on-screen radiating that same lovableness which he has in the books.
- The little comedic moments were so well timed that it felt like those cool summer breezes that come along on a really hot day and make you stop, smile and bask in the moment. Whether it was the ferreting of Malfoy, McGonagall’s dry quips, or anything the twins said or did, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and not once rolled my eyes or groaned. No cheese = all good.
- Above all I have to bemoan the horrible casting of Dumbledore. Michael Gambon may be a fine actor, but this part is nowhere near the right one for him. I of course don’t expect anyone to step into Richard Harris’ shoes, but someone at least close would be appreciated. Harris was able to capture the essence of Dumbledore; the awesome power flowing just beneath the surface, obvious yet not overshadowing the serene calm of the kindly, sometimes goofy, old man. Gambon, however, fails in this completely, and his stomping, brooding and shouting is completely out of character for Dumbledore. When he dove into Harry, nearly strangling him, after the Goblet spit out his name I rolled my eyes nearly out of my head. Absent entirely was the fatherly concern and love fueled worry that Dumbledore exhibited in the books. Instead he just look like an old geezer throwing a fit. Lame... I remember a scene in the “Chamber of Secrets” where Dumbledore shouted “Silence!” over the heads of the students. There was such commanding authority in his voice that even the viewer sat up straighter. They tried the same trick a few times in this film and it was just grating and irritating. It reminded me of a substitute teacher trying to bring a class to order. Totally lame and ignore-able. Dumbledore is such an important character that it’s sad to see him acted so poorly. I have to wonder if “Half Blood Prince,” when it’s filmed, is going to impact anyone at all.
- I understand that running time is a huge concern, but at 157 minutes this was not a long film by today’s standards. So much had to be cut from the book that even another fifteen minutes would have been greatly appreciated by those of us who love the books so much. As it is we lost characters like Winky, Bagman, Mrs. Weasley, the Dursleys, Percy and Peeves; plot points such as Riddle’s past and the death of his parents, the gravity of the trials, and the tragedy of Neville’s parents; and things like the Blast Ended Skrewts and the Sphinxes, among others. If anything, the huge success of films like the extended LoTR editions show that audiences, if the story is compelling and beloved, will watch for hours and still want more. If the Potter saga isn’t compelling and beloved, I don’t know what is. Hopefully they’ll open up “Order of the Phoenix” enough to really give us what we want. It will be a huge success of they do.
- Following on that, I felt uncomfortably rushed. I understood the need to get going, but the way it was executed made me feel like I was watching the movie on fast forward. Ten minutes in and were over half way through the story? What the...? Perhaps the problem was in editing. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that the same film could have been put together in the same length without feeling like a ride on a bullet train. The way it was, I pitied anyone who hadn’t read the book. They really had no time to get their bearings or work things out and just had to hang on for the ride.In fact, Steph was getting annoyed because the lady next to her kept asking, “Now who’s that? Why is he upset? Who are they? Why are they doing that?” It was painfully obvious how lost she was because she hadn’t read the book.
- The maze. Sucked. They totally blew it. Instead of a dynamic, Sphinx and giant spider filled labyrinth of doom, we got a windy hedgerow filled back yard growing with Evil Dead vines. Lame.
- Sirius’ face in the fire was really lamely done too. I was a bit surprised, as the effects had been otherwise exemplary. It’s too bad that our only glimpse of Harry’s godfather was as a glowing pile of Kingsford’s charcoal briquettes.
- This really can’t be helped any more than they did, but the aging of the kids kept jarring me back into reality. Someone on-screen mentioned that Harry was fourteen, and an audience member piped up, “Nuh uh! He’s twenty three!” to uproarious laughter. I’ll just have to deal, I know, but it’s still a factor.
- Ron. I love Ron! Why did they relegate him to mainly the role of “funny sidekick?” A couple of plot driving moments aside, Ron basically sat there going, “Bloody hell! Blimey! Bloody great! Piss off! Huh..?” I just didn’t feel that the screenwriters did Ron justice. Hermione was allowed to grow and mature (and boy did she!) Why not Ron?
Those are the biggest points I can think of right now. I’ll probably (hopefully) enjoy it more the second time around, in IMAX! One thing’s for sure though. I cannot wait for the next film!