17 August 2012

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favourite books of the brilliant series by JK Rowling. However, I didn't see the film when it first came out in 2004.  I'm not a fan of cinema, and I'm easily scared. The thought of seeing dementors on the big screen was enough to put me off entirely.

However we picked up the DVD cheaply a couple of years ago, and decided to collect the whole series. We watched 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' in April, and 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' just a few weeks ago. A teenage friend pointed out that on-screen dementors could not possibly more scary than those of the imagination, and I decided she was probably right.

So, in a free evening, we sat down to watch 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'.  The story starts with Harry getting into trouble, yet again, at his awful relatives' home. He becomes angry when they make rude remarks about his parents, and ends up walking out of the house dragging his school trunk. He's picked up by the 'Night Bus' and taken - after a somewhat hair-raising ride - to Diagon Alley, where he is reunited with his friends... and also warned about an escaped and dangerous convict, Sirius Black.

Three main teenage cast are superb in this film. I was particularly impressed with Rupert Grint as Ron, but all three really do carry this story forward, with excellent on-screen chemistry as they begin to mature in their roles.

Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine) has a bigger role in this film, and is great too. He plays the gentle giant to perfection, and I can't now think of Hagrid as being anyone else. Snape (Alan Rickman) is spookily nasty too.

Professor Lupin, a new teacher in this book, was a bit of a surprise at first.  David Thewlis is excellent in the role, but does not look or behave at all how I had imagined him. Still, I liked him very much by the end. Professor Trelawney, is played in an over-the-top way by Emma Thompson; I got the impression from the books that JK Rowling didn't like her or her subject much, and she's done well, suitably over-dramatic and unbelievable.

The special effects are excellent, smooth and highly professional. The hippogriff seemed particularly realistic, and the various flights and other effects were very well done. The dementors were suitably unpleasant, but thankfully not quite the nightmares I had imagined. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black was exactly how I expected him to be, at first, even if the later scenes were a little too fast and didn't quite work.

My only problem with the casting was Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic. I spent most of his scenes trying to remember who on earth he was, and only later realised that he is, of course, Siegfried Farnon from the 'All Creatures Great and Small' series. He not only looked like him, but behaved like him.

This film was certainly worth watching, and I enjoyed it as part of the series.

However, this was a much more visual film than either of the first two. There seemed to be huge swathes of the book left out; it's probably a good thing that I haven't read it for several years, as I'm not currently familiar with all the details of the book, so was able to watch the film in its own merit.

But it was disturbing that there was so little dialogue, and that the film felt very short.  Despite this there were rather tediously over-long visual scenes of (for instance) Harry flying on the hippogriff, or Quidditch games, which added nothing to the storyline.

Some critics have said that this film was 'darker' than the first two; perhaps it is, but then so is the book. I didn't have a problem with that. But I would have preferred more action and speech and considerably less of the visual side. Had I not been aware of the overall plot, I'm not sure I would have followed it.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

01 August 2012

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson)

I did see the first two Harry Potter films at the cinema when they came out at the start of the century. But it's only more recently that we've collected most of them on DVD, and plan to watch them in order. We saw 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' back in April, but have only just got around to watching the second in the series, 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'.

I have, of course have read the 'Chamber of Secrets' book several times, though not for a while. So while I remembered the overall plot, I was a bit hazy about some of the details when we sat down to watch the DVD.

As with the first film, the story starts with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) at home with his appalling relatives who still treat him like dirt. He's looking forward to his second year at Hogwarts, although feeling rather neglected by his friends. Then he receives an unexpected visitor: Dobby the house-elf, who is superbly represented in the film, much as I had imagined him from the book.

Dobby has no self-esteem whatsoever and keeps punishing himself loudly for every minor infraction. However he is a huge fan of Harry's, and wants to keep him away from school because, he says, it will be very dangerous. So he causes all manner of trouble trying to ensure that Harry is either prevented from going, or - later on - sent home.

The main plot revolves around the 'Chamber of Secrets' which is a hidden part of Hogwarts School. It had been closed for many years but has apparently been re-opened, although nobody knows who was the culprit. Harry becomes increasingly worried because he can hear strange voices that nobody else can hear, and discovers that his gift of speaking to snakes is not a respected talent in the wizarding world.

There are plenty of other subplots, lots of excitement and tension, and a highly dramatic climax. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) remain as Harry's most important allies, and it's good to see their characters developing in this film. There's a nice speech by Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris) towards the end, including a very important line about the reason why he is in Gryffindor house.

It's hard to be fully objective about a film series which is so well-known and which has been so surrounded by hype. But, trying to look at it fairly with the benefit of hindsight, it was hard to find anything wrong with this film. There's an excellent cast who play their parts well, great direction, and some light humour to temper the drama.

We even remembered to watch the few seconds of 'extra' at the end of the credits, and liked being able to 'fast forward' through them, which of course was not possible at the cinema.

Definitely recommended, other than to small children who might find it over-scary.

While this can still be found as a single DVD, new or second-hand, enthusiasts wanting more than one of the Harry Potter books might do better to buy the Harry Potter Collection - 1-6. which contains all but the last two in the series.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews