First, a bit about trailers, since they come before the film, it seems only right that they come before the review as well. Lord of the Rings. Awesome. Will be the best fantastic film of the last 10 years, maybe longer. I'm convinced. With Peter Jackson's track record and the cast of that film, it should just about cause Hollywood to implode in envy, and I predict it'll take Harry Potter's first weekend record take and blow past it like a Ferrari passing a Pinto. Star Wars Episode II: The one with the dorky subtitle. Darth Vader springs from a whiny, hormonal adolescent. BAH. Fortunately, the parts of the film that don't revolve around "Annie" and the Queen look to be quite extraordinary. So... perhaps. We'll just have to see on that one. Right. Ready? On, then, with the main review.
Let me say right up front that I have not read any of the Harry Potter novels, so I cannot speak as to their validity or their faithfulness. What I can speak about is the film as a film, and in that sense, what I saw was an extraordinarily well done fantasy film, with a good solid story, likeable characters, and enough knowledge of the expectations of the audience to throw a few surprises in even for the adults who, while technically old enough, have no children to bring them to such a film.
I was impressed. From the beginning, this film had an almost mischievous sense of its own seriousness, and it handled the mundane as if it were spectacular, and the extraordinary as if it were commonplace. This story is one that any child, with or without natural parents, could identify with. It speaks to loss, to isolation within a group, and to an innate need to seek ones own place in the world, and hopefully find acceptance and friendship along the way.
I was stunned. The cast was simply amazing. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and a personal favorite of mine, Robbie Coltrane (whom I have enjoyed even back as far as Nuns on the Run) were all splendid. And my hat's off to the movie's heir-villainous-apparent, another favorite of mine, Alan Rickman. His cold, insolent demeanor was so solidly in place that I loathed him at first sight. And I was supposed to. Plus, surprise cameos by John Hurt and John Cleese came as additional pleasant surprises.
The younger actors, however, were all totally believable. One of the things I find common in child actors is a sense of recitation, a sense of over-rehearsal... something that immediately tells me that they are actors portraying a role, and not the characters. That realization usually snaps me unhappily out of my willing suspension of disbelief, and thus, I tend to avoid films with child actors as stars like the plague. But, my best friend told me that this movie was worth my time, so I took a chance and I'm glad I did.
Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), all did a phenomenal job in their roles. The only complaint I had was one that would, I think, lie in the Director's hands rather than the actors, and that was that the character of Ron did, at times, suffer from a repetition of facial expressions too many times, but then again, that might have been deliberate to help establish a continuity of character, I don't know. But regardless, for being children, these three did a splendid job of portraying their characters and helping me, the audience member, remain immersed in the world of Hogwart's School.
Now, let's talk technical for a moment or two, you and I, shall we? Chris Columbus, welcome to the Hollywood "A" list. After this film's opening, and after the superb job he did of it as a film, he has joined the ranks of directors like Spielberg, Howard, Lucas and Cameron who can pretty much dictate what they will do next. I wouldn't want to be his mailman, what with all the scripts he'll be receiving. The cinematography was superb, the special effect were... well... special, and the costumes and makeup were remarkably well done. The CGI looked like CGI, but... it looked better than some I've seen in the last year or two. They're getting better and better at seamlessly blending computerized images and real images together. But the true delight of the film is the John Williams score. I've always loved John Williams, from the first time I saw (or rather, heard) Star Wars, but this is one of the finest scores I've heard come from him. I heard elements to this score that I would have more expected to hear in Elmer Bernstein or Danny Elfman scores, and I was actually surprised to see it was a Williams score, but pleasantly so.
So please, let me tell you to go see this film, especially if you haven't read the books. I will be reading them in the next few weeks, but let me tell you, the movie, AS a movie, if you like fantasy films, is wonderful and well worth your time. At close to a two-and-a-half-hour running time, it is money well spent for an evening's entertainment. My wife commented, as we left the theatre, that she hadn't really been all that keen on seeing the film, more going along with me just to go, but she enjoyed it thoroughly, as did I.
I give this film a bloody fabulous A. I don't envy Chris Columbus attempting to keep this level of filmmaking for the second film, but if anyone can... see this on the big screen. You owe it to yourself, both for the images and the music through those 70mm speakers.