20 November 2002

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Slight Let-Downs

I don't want to say that I was disappointed in the new HP film. It's good, it's just -- well it's a lot easier to criticise this one than the last one.

I enjoyed large sections of the film, but it didn't feel anywhere near as cohesive as the first one. Heather and I also felt that sequences with lots of special effects got way more play than character-building or storyline-advancing scenes, all for the sake of the visuals. Clocking in at three hours, you'd think they'd have found a way to balance this better.

Another observation: although it's only been a year since the first movie, it's been about two years since the first movie was shot, and man have those kids grown. It completely strains credibility to think of anyone but Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) as 12 years old. I was much amused by Ron's voice-cracking scenes (scattered across the film) versus the non-cracking scenes, which reminded me how long it takes to shoot one of these things. In a recent interview the boy was a complete frog when speaking. Eddie Izzard covered this phenomena so well in his Dress To Kill video.

As a non-lover of CGI effects, I was dismayed at the sheer amount of them. They really dominate the film, which is a shame. By contrast, the scenes of the train passing north to Hogwart's, and the flyovers of the castle/school itself, are far more breathtaking.

Even though the film is three hours (the new definition of "epic" in Hollywood), a huge amount of the book is cut out. In some cases, a smart move ... in most cases, not. I suppose it's compliment to say that a 180-minute film seems rushed, but it also feels rather jumpy, which is bad editing rearing its head. Good editing is invisible.

I wish I could say that Richard Harris is wonderful here, in his final performance, but he's really only wonderful in one short scene at about the 2-hour mark. The rest of time he's just there, and sounding much worse than in the previous film. I'm really sorry he's gone, but if they are looking to recast I now firmly believe my initial instinct was right: Tom Baker (best remembered as Doctor Who #4) would be the logical choice for the role in the future films. It's amazing how few actors of that calibre/generation are left.

I could go on, and perhaps I will when I get a second viewing in, but until then, here's a final thought: Chris Columbus has proven that he's a master at getting really good performances out of child actors. Best in the business.

But he has to go.

This film just did not have focus, and apart from the wonderful leads (all of whom could have long careers if they work hard to overcome typecasting -- they are all wonderfully talented), the major flaw is that Columbus fell back into his bad habit -- the trap of being very "Hollywood" and using SFX "magic" instead of relying on the magic of the book the way the first one did. Time for some fresh blood.

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