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Article ID: 8491
Age Group: Adult
Posted: June 5th. 2004
Witch Cinema 19
by Peg Aloi
Grown Up Magic
A strange thing happened between the second and third Harry Potter films. Harry, Ron and Hermione grew up.
Of course, those who have been reading the books all along knew this was coming. But for those fans (and there are many) who are mainly following the story through the films, this is bound to be something of a surprise.
There have been some other changes, too. Richard Harris passed away, and has been replaced by Michael Gambon playing the role of Dumbledore, the wizard teacher and mentor. Although I think Michael Gambon is an extremely gifted actor (check out the BBS television series The Singing Detective or the film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover), and though I had no preconceived notion of automatically disliking his portrayal of Dumbledore simply because I loved Richard Harris in thepart, I have to say I thought Gambon's performance lacked some of the warmth and humor that Harris provided...
There is also a new director at the helm: Alfonso Cuar—n. This Mexican filmmaker captivated the international cinema scene with his award-winning film Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), a sexually-charged and funny film about teen angst. He also directed A Little Princess (1995). Admittedly, the 42-year old director was an odd choice for Harry Potter, after the tame, family-friendly stylings of director Chris Colmbus (who, admittedly, showed a huge improvement from The Sorcerer's Stone to The Chamber of Secrets: the second film showed more sensitivity tot he original text, and had much better special effects than the first).
No, Cuar—n doesn't start this one with a group grope like Y Tu Mama Tambien. But the opening scene does have a subtle sexual undertone that sets the stage for further metaphors that author J. K. Rowling already set in place in her books. The film begins with Harry Potter (Daniel radcliffe, growing nicely into this role) his bed, at night, the covers over his head, with a faint light visible. He is reading from a book of spells and practicing with his, ahem, wand. He repeats the spell and finds the light on the wand growing brighter. He is interrupted not once, but twice, by his Uncle Vernon (the wonderful Richard Griffiths, who, like Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia, are both world-class actors we see far too little of in this film). After the second interruption, Harry is more determined, and the spell succeeds, as Harry's wand, er, explodes with light. I don't know about you, but I find this a delicious visual metaphor for adolescent magical development: a boy growing into his power, hiding forbidden texts beneath his bedclothes at night, listening in case anyone should enter the room so he can pretend to be sleeping... practicing again and again until he gets it right, satisfied with the results.
Harry misbehaves when his Aunt Marge comes to dinner, punishing her "bad blood" comments about his parents by blowing her up with hot air until she sails above the neighborhood. Fed up, Harry leaves his house and catches a magical triple-decker bus (great effects here!) for erstwhile wizards that brings him to Hogwarts. Fearing he will be punished for using magic at home, Harry gets a mild reprimand from Dumbledore, and finds out an escaped prisoner may be out to get him: Sirius Black (the great Gary Oldman, who I am very excited to see more of in the next film), a reputed killer and madman who, Harry believes, betrayed his parents, delivering them to Valdemort. He is also Harry's godfather. The film from then on focuses on efforts to prevent Sirius Black from getting to Harry, fearing he will kill him, but of course things are never what they seem.
With Hogwarts back in session, we see a delightful change in this film's production design: same school, different costumes. The members of the Houses of Gryffindor, Slytherin and the rest are no longer wearing black and grey school uniforms, but their own casual clothes. As a result, we are reminded that these children do not live in some timeless world of antiquities, but in the here and now. I loved the bold new color structure of the film: lots of bright reds, blues and oranges. Seeing Hermione (Emma Watson) in jeans and a pink sweatshirt reminds us she is just a teenage girl, regardless of her advanced knowledge of spells. Ron Weasley (is it just me, or is Rupert Grint the most adorable thing on two legs?) also wears some great clothes, including a very neo-hippie crocheted hat in one scene. There are many more exterior scenes in this film, looking far more realistic than they ever have before. The on-location shooting in Scotland and England lends dramatic natural beauty to the film, and gave me a sense of the more pagan elements of magic that imbue the lessons learned by the young witches and wizards. In the previous two films, so much took place indoors, and the exterior scenes were often lit and designed to look fantastical.
One character we see often in these natural settings is Harry's new teacher and friend, Professor Lupin, played by the excellent David Thewlis. The cast in this film is absolutely first-rate, with several new faces added to old favorites like Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, and Alan Rickman as Snape. Sadly, Maggie Smith only has a line or two in the beginning and then isn't seen again. There's Dawn French as the Fat Lady in the portrait (who, naturally, sings), Emma Thompson as the hilarious divination teacher, Sybil Trelawney, Julie Christie has a nice cameo as Madame Rosmerta, and the amazing Timothy Spall as, well, you'll see. Lupin is an intriguing character. Friendly, helpful, but firm when he needs to be, he gets Harry to trust him. They are often shown alone amid the pastoral surroundings of the forest, or in front of huge mountain or valley vistas. But Lupin hides the fact that he is a werewolf. His name has a curious double meaning as well: wolf, and the lovely English summer flower, the lupine. This speaks to the character's dual nature: for it is clear that lycanthropy doubles here as homosexuality. The character's liking for the woods underscores his connection to the world of animals but also the woodland god Pan: god of lust and sex. When Lupin decides in the end he must leave Hogwarts, he tells Harry that parents of students who found out about his secret may not want him teaching their children... he also says he has grown used to this. Hmmmm. Okay, it's not Fellini, but I enjoyed the film's attempts to address adult themes without being too heavy-handed.
I don't want to give too much more of the plot away, other than to say the scenes where Harry and Hermione cheat time to try and save some lives are beautifully done. Cuar—n not only has a gift for visual beauty in composing shots, but the flow of the story works surprisingly well here, given the sometimes confusing amount of exposition in the script. And did I mention the special effects? Much less Hollywood-y than the first two films. The only Quidditch match takes place amid storm clouds, which looks dreamy and spooky. The Dementors are creepy as all get-out. And the Marauder's Map is just so cool - be sure to watch all the end credits for some neat effects imitating the map's powers. Finally, the hippogriff Buckbeak is so realistic you'll want to adopt him as a pet. Watching him soar in the sky above Hogwarts is heart-stopping.
Another first for this film: it's available in IMAX! I saw a sneak preview at the New England Aquarium's IMAX theatre in Boston and, well, that's about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. So if you have an IMAX theatre near you, I recommend it for this visually-sumptuous, magical film.
Until next time,
Media Coordinator - The Witches' Voice
Monday, June 7th.. 2004
Email: [Staff Email]
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