Saturday, 2 June 2012

Harry Potter, Wizard ~

The Harry Potter films must be among the most popular in existence right now, but I have only watched them recently.  For the benefit of others like myself who have avoided them this long I offer this brief overview:

When we are first introduced to young Harry in the first movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", he is a young boy living in dire circumstances: his parents died when he was a baby and he lives with relatives who barely tolerate him, and indeed take every opportunity to persecute him.  He is a pleasantly ordinary looking boy, but unexpected and sometimes alarming things happen around him, so some of their annoyance is understandable!  It is impossible to be surprised when he learns he has magical powers.  Just how magical his powers are, or what his peril is, for that matter, unfolds throughout the movies.  He gets 'rescued' from his awful relations and carried off to Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches set in remote and stunningly beautiful countryside.  

There he makes friends with classmates who are just as unlikely as he is: red-haired Ron Weasley, who takes fright so easily and tends to trail behind, and fair haired Hermione Granger, who is extremely bright and seems to know most things - out of books anyway, and has a knack for logic.  She often manages to gets them out of trouble.  They make a good foil for each other, sharing good times and bad, arguing and experimenting as children do, and we follow their progress through their years at the school, one movie at a time.  And of course they actually do grow up during the sequence of the films.  The first movie has a good deal of quirky humour in it, rather in the nature of all the best pantomimes.  Content becomes more sombre as the children get older. 

Throughout the movies the danger to Harry increases, forcing the trio into a series of adventures in which they have to solve riddles and overcome human as well as magical obstacles which seem likely to overpower them at any moment.  Fortunately they have powerful allies, but even with these things are often not what they seem.  The story-lines are complex and the action fast-paced.  There is a lot more to these movies than wizards, wands, and troublesome children! 

I came to watch these movies reluctantly: quite against my natural inclination I was persuaded to watch the beginning of the first movie before going off to do something else which was important at the time.  Then, some weeks later, having wondered whatever did happen next, I made the effort to sit down and watch the whole thing.  It was a short step from there to watching the next one and the next one, until I had watched all eight! 

On the whole I strongly resist anything that is wildly popular, being suspicious of what might be merely a fad.  Well, I have to set that aside for this lot and say I agree with the masses: this is thoroughly entertaining stuff!  

It is violent though, and becomes more so as the series progresses.  For this reason I would not recommend it for children even though they are the intended audience - unless I was sure that the children in question were capable of managing that sort of content.  If I'd seen them when I was a child I would have been scared rigid and subject to nightmares for long afterwards.  

Now that I'm middle aged I'm rather less easily bowled over but still found them very full-on, compelling though - very, and with thought-provoking content.  Author J. K. Rowling is a clever thinker and writer!  

The three young people who play the main characters, Harry Potter, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Ron Weasley, by Rupert Grint, and Hermione Granger, by Emma Watson, all give wholehearted performances which add a lively chemistry to the trio.  The other youthful characters, such as Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy and Luna Lovegood also contribute memorably.  

Of the adults Professors McGonagall and Snape, wonderfully played by Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman were favourites; along with quirky characters such as Mrs Weasley, Ron's mother, played by Julie Walters; Hagrid, played by Robbie Coltraine; and Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody, played by Brendon Gleeson, to name a few.  And one must give an honourable mention of grandfatherly arch-wizard, Professor Dumbledore, played by Michael Gambon!

Admirable as all these are, I award the bouquet for the most compelling and memorable character portrayal to Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape.  For me his was the most interesting character of the whole series.  He immediately took my attention when he first came into the story and held it throughout the series, so that I was not surprised at the strange part he played in the final unfolding of the drama at the end of the last movie.  I didn't guess what that was however.  One senses in Snape loneliness, deep suffering, and many secrets, all firmly held in with an outer severity in which he suffers neither fools nor disobedience - impressive! 

With less opportunity for character development is the alarming portrayal of the ferocious and deathly Lord Voldemort, by Ralph Fiennes.  This characterisation makes it hard to remember him as the softly spoken and quietly glamorous young senator in a favourite movie, "Maid in Manhattan" in which he played opposite Jennifer Lopez

Curiously, the last movie, which is the darkest and most violent of the lot, is the one that I found the most satisfying.  I thought it had the most integrity as a story, and represents a very skilful drawing together of a lot of different threads.

Even if you're not that excited by the notion of watching films featuring children wrestling with magic, the series is worth watching for the spectacular locations, astonishing sets, and skilful costume design and make-up artistry.  The special effects are something else again.  In one of the less spectacular but nonetheless seamless pieces of photographic magic I'm still puzzling as to how the giant Hagrid, could have been played by an actor who is six foot and one inch tall. (He adds "... in all directions, unfortunately!")  He says only that he had to be shot from below.  Well, I don't think it can have been quite as simple as all that, because...

Hmm, lots to see in all that.  I will be watching them again and I'm sure I'll pick up lots more detail next time around!

Reviews, story lines and more trailers can be found via the links below.

The series, with links to the IMDb site, is:

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