31 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Franchise That Made A Lot Of Money

When I first watched Harry Potter I was eleven years old. That means that I've been watching Harry Potter movies for a longer period of time than I've been driving, ejaculating, and drinking for (not always at the same time, either. And that’s drinking alcohol, for the crude reader). For the last decade, I have grown up watching the moaning specky twonk and now finally it's all over. Since the fourth film, they seemed to stop being self contained movies and started to become more and more episodic. Going to see the latest Harry Potter film was more like going to watch the next episode of a really expensive television show than anything else. Sort of like Grange Hill on crack. If you haven't seen The Order of The Phoenix, then don't bother going to see The Half Blood Prince because it won't mean a bloody thing to you.

With this in mind, there is therefore a lot of pressure on the final instalment; The Deathly Hallows Part 2, or to give it its full title; Harry Potter and the Last Chance To Get Some Money Out Of You: Part 2. We've been waiting since 2001 to see this conclusion, and sat through what may as well be an 18 hour or so movie. If this ending is shite, then I think we might have riots on our hands. I'm not investing that much of my life into something only to find out that it was all a dream or that Voldemort is actually Harry's gay lover and this has all been about a particularly magical hissy fit.

Thankfully though, we don't need to get our shoulder pads and pitchforks out just yet as it just so happens that this last film is fucking good- and in a British kind of way.

Starting at the beginning, the first two Harry Potter films were shit. They're basically the same movie, the kids can't act and they're well too long. The first two stuck too closely to the books and so dragged on much longer than they should have. They kind of feel like The Goonies set in a castle and they have absolutely no sense of style. The direction is pretty lazy with a kind of “just point the camera at what’s going on” feel to it and John Williams’ score sounds like it has been jizzed straight out of a big ball sack of his musical clich├ęs. Watching them, it can only be concluded that Chris Columbus either has no identifiable directorial style or he has failed to imprint it onto either of these films.

Having said that though, the first two did do several things right which laid the ground work for future films to improve upon. The sets and locations are iconic with everything from Hagrids hut to the Gryffindor common room being as recognisable now as Frankenstein’s castle or the Death Star... but it's the cast that really stand out. Whoever decided to fill out every adult role with an iconic British actor was a genius. When every great actor shows up, I like to think of it as a big fuck you to America. It's as though we're showing them that we have people like Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter and all they get is Adam Sandler and a washed up De Niro.

When it comes to Harry, Ron and Hermione, what I think happened was something I call ‘Ken Barlow Syndrome’. Ken has been playing that character for almost 400 years, which means that the actor has been ‘Ken’ for about as long as he has been whoever he is in real life. He's at a point now where being Ken is not a job but a depressing state of life. The three Potter actors weren't great when they started but seems as they've spent entirely half their lives being them, they've kind of grown into them quite well. By the end of the last film they aren't playing those characters well, they're living them beautifully.

Thankfully, by film three, Columbus saw sense and fucked off leaving a director’s fold-out-chair to fill. Instead of hiring somebody similar to him though, the producers replaced him with a man who is in every way the exact opposite. Alfonso Curran who has style, imagination, credibility and respect, was a perfect choice to take over the reigns of that style-less dullard. Having at this point seen all Potter films, it can now be officially confirmed that Curran can claim to have directed the best Harry Potter film in the series with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban.

Beyond the better story with a much tighter narrative, this film really changed the direction of the franchise by grounding itself in our world. Unlike the first two, this movie was not set within a movie land but rather ours giving it a much more gritty, recognisable and impressive setting. By feeling a little more documentary-like, the magic simply felt more magical as it now had our mundane world of businesses, busses and cafes to contrast with. It also made the whole thing more relatable by emphasising that perhaps where we live too might be in danger, and that these children fighting actual evil genuinely were putting themselves into mortal jeopardy.

This film is also where the Harry Potter style really came into effect… If you were to get rid of all of the humans and just focus on the sets and character designs, you’d not think this was a kid’s film. It would look like the most expensive, coolest, gothic Hammer horror movie ever made. In my humble opinion, the moment that the Dementors left the Hogwarts Express until the introduction of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore is not only the greatest sequence in the Harry Potter franchise but also one of the greatest in film history. A bold claim this may be, but if you compare it to shite like the montage in Rocky where missing link, human/ape Stallone manages to run up some stairs and then pisses his pants with joy, then I'm sure you'll agree.

Unfortunately though, Curran couldn't stay long and so left straight away to selfishly make another masterpiece with his next film Children of Men. For the fourth film, he was replaced with Mike Newall who'd made his name with the overrated vomit inducing classic Four weddings and Funeral and the forgotten mafia classic Donnie Brasco. To his entry in the franchise, he brought a more boarding school like feel to the mood around Hogwarts. We heard the kids, for some reason, listening to the very real but very shit Ordinary Boys and we saw them dicking about in their rooms making animal noises. Basically rather than worrying about dying, we saw them being normal, fun-loving school kids.

The Goblet of Fire is a big book- probably the second most common cause of upper body strength in young boys, after chronic masturbation. It was therefore a necessary but great decision by the writer, to chop most of the non-Harry focused chapters out and leave them on the floor. By focusing only on Potter, we got a tight, North by North West like conspiracy thriller which concludes with the appearance of the big bad wolf we've heard so much about.

Kid’s movie or not, when Voldemort turns up, things get quite scary. What we see is not two equals doing battle, but rather a fully grown man tormenting and abusing a young boy. This is less like Luke versus Vader and more like Charles Manson versus Anne Frank. It also concludes with one of the more heartbreaking scenes in which Cedric “Sparkles In Sunlight” Diggory is murdered and then mourned by his less than chuffed father. Twishite aside, I have no issue with Robert Pattinson, and actually really like the arc that Cedric Diggory goes on. He starts off as a smug looking twat who thinks he's better looking than he is. He heavily implies he wants to fuck Harry in the sixth form bathroom and then finally turns out to be a fairly decent kind of guy- then he dies.

Again though, like Curran, Newall for whatever reason only stuck about for one movie. It was therefore at this point that David Yates took the reigns. At the time, this seemed like such a strange but genius move because back then, Yates was best known to the world as a television man who was probably most famous for directing the Paul Abbot scripted mini-series State of Play. And when I say famous, I mean that maybe his parents, neighbours and wife had heard of him. Maybe.

At this point, the Harry Potter films were becoming all the more interesting due to the succession of directors they were managing to get through. Each of them managed to do something new with their film whilst still playing within the continuity of what had gone before. Something happened with Yates however, and despite only being up to the fifth film, they decided to keep him. From The Order of the Pheonix until Deathly Hallows Part 2, Yates was the man with the plan, tasked with keeping each film fresh and original despite only being controlled by his one imagination. Thankfully though, it seems his imagination is quite extensive.

With each director focusing in on a different aspect, it seems that what Yates chose to concentrate on was character. Relationships, emotions and performances were what impressed in the last few films. Amazingly though, this wasn't at the expense of spectacle. Bank heists, ogres, and the attack of Hogwarts all take place, but the most memorable scenes are the quiet ones such as Harry and Hermione dancing alone in the woods together to Nick Cave, the flash back revelations of Snape's real motivations and Ginny being a ginger little prick-tease by pretending as though she's going to give Harry a blow-job and then only tying up his shoe laces.

By the time we get to the last film however, a few criticisms start to sneak up. There aren't too many and it is, to a small degree, nit picking, however the plot does tend to get a little complicated in terms of bullshit words that mean nothing except to confuse people. You could call them ‘horcruxes’, or you could just call them ‘macguffins’ and just get on with finding them. Personally, this didn't cause too much of a problem for me seems as I'd read the books which have more time to explain things, but I'd be interested to know if any non-readers struggled to keep up.

Also particularly in Deathly Hallows Part 2, the death count is pretty high. With so many characters and so much threat, it would be slightly stupid not to murder a few people to add a little sense of peril or loss. However it seems that a lot of these deaths are just skimmed over. One of the twins, Lupin, and Tonks are all revealed to be dead simply by us seeing them lying on the floor with their eyes closed. It's such a brief shot for what should be a pretty emotional moment that part of your brain goes into denial and just assumes that the useless bastards must have just developed narcolepsy and decided to have a quick snooze mid battle.

It was the same as well, when Gary Oldman died if you ask me. He stood in some smoke and we never saw him properly again. Snape’s moment was vaguely touching, I suppose, but not compared to Dobby’s. Dobby is basically what the child would look like if Yoda fucked a rat and it farted out some squalid form of life. Despite this though, he manages to be oddly quite cute. I think it's his Forrest Gump like simple-ness, and the fact that despite his Big Brother contestant level of intelligence, he has a good heart. So what happens to him? He gets a fucking knife thrown into him and has a nice old slow death on the beach in Harry’s arms. I mean, fucking Hell that's horrible. The Elephant Man wasn't even that sad, and that was a true story about some poor bastard who was so happy that people had finally been nice to him that he just lay down where he was and died. Never got up again…

Within eight movies though, it really is impressive, that the biggest criticisms are the ones aforementioned, and a series which is destined to go into the books as one of the most impressive, and important in film history. It was a series in which heart and imagination was clearly prioritised over special effects and a desire for money. At the beginning of all this, I mentioned that this was fucking good and in a British kind of way and I think, that is one of its greatest features.

The end of the franchise had a lot resting on it and so it was up to Yates not to fuck it up. It is in this end that its British-ness is once again revealed in just how quiet and underplayed the last five minutes are. It doesn't go out on an explosion or punch line but a brief look into the future. We see that all is well, and that like Harry before them, a new batch of Potter kids are about to embark on a journey to Hogwarts. It is sweet, reflective and in a way… perfect.

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