Thursday, 6 December 2012

Harry Potter, a reassessment begins

It was only until viewing all the Harry Potter films back to back over five days that I have come to appreciate the  genius of this work and to understand how the author mapped out the end as well as the beginning before writing and why she was so right to insist that the films closely followed her concept and I believe closely followed the books which I admit I have not yet read. Although I am acquiring the first and the last for Christmas. I will therefore restrict this writing to the films but add a postscript after reading these two books, the first a comparatively slim volume and the second massive and was made into two films.

Having written these opening comments I find that I must revise because when writing about the first film in series I realised that one consequence of having watch all eight films back to back is that experiences in one film may have become associated with another and finding that the Wikipedia film notes have not helped I have also examined those on the books and also a site which provides the most comprehensive description and analysis of any series encountered todate called Wiki, Wikia, However I am still none the wiser on one aspect where my recollection appears to differ from what is recorded

The other addition to my opening comments is that I appear not to have recorded or been able to abstract from the full writings, my previous accounts of the all the Potter films and my viewings in the cinema and on TV. This is worth mentioning because I suspect it reflects my previous lack of appreciation for the work which I intend to now remedy

My impression is that these are films written for young a adults rather than children although they are about children growing up through their secondary years into the sixth form of life before entering university and a 12 certificate is appropriate with a strong warning about parental guidance because of the violence and scary physical manifestations of evil and wrong doing.

For the generation that commenced to read the books when aged 9-14, even to 16 year olds, they will have provided a valuable tutorial in how to balance the normal requirements of growing up, being controlled by adults and teachers, having to fit in to their perception of you and the world, with seeking to explore the world, oneself and others and all the hurts, disappointments, frustrations and rivalries as well as loves and joyous moments of togetherness, achievement and love. I suspect that to be of value to most 9 to 12 year old today the books and the films should be read and watched over their journey through adolescence into young adulthood rather than as I have done back to back, or at least re read as they grow up if having been introduced to the first they have read or seen the rest.

I begin with the basic story of Harry Potter( Daniel Radcliffe), its stellar cast and the concept. It is also important to emphasise that while the focus is Harry Potter and his destiny, from the moment as a baby when he survives the assassination of his parents, his two friends, Hermione Granger (Emily Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) together with his family are crucial to his survival and to the story concept overall.

Following the failed attempt to kill baby Harry along with his parents by Lord Voldemort,  the evil one and outsider throughout most of his life ( played by Ralph Fiennes in five films, Harry is placed with his mother’s sister and her husband (played by Richard Griffiths) and their obnoxious son where he is raised in ignorance that he is of magical pure blood, that is, both parents posses magical powers and were regarded as a trained wizard and witch. He remains unaware of his background and potential powers until summoned to attend the school on reaching the age of 11 years. His uncle and aunt and their son possessed no magical powers and are regarded as Muggles.

Muggle is a concept, now in the Oxford English Dictionary, devised by Rowling, to describe anyone with no magical powers and who has no direct knowledge of a world of Wizards and Witches and other creatures some traditional such as Ghosts Goblins and Gargoyles and many others invented by Rowling, some animal and others less tangible. The emphasis on Pure Bloods, Half Bloods and Muggle bloods is crucial to the work as Pure Bloods tend to look down on all others and at Hogwarts tended to congregate in one of the Houses, Slitherin where the son Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton)of the chief racist in the film Lucious Malfoy Voldemort’s unscrupulous associate(Jason Issacs) is Harry’s great rival and enemy,

Significantly Lord Voldemort himself, like Harry’s closest friend, Hermione Granger were born two Muggles and regarded by  the main pure Bloods in the work as inferior in the same way that Whites still regard non Whites in many parts of the world still and illegitimacy was  generally regarded in the UK until after the 1960’s whereas the difference between  being a Muggle and having magical powers is more akin to the tribalism of religious beliefs, Catholic, Muslim and Protestant.

Even after Harry escapes from the home of his uncle and Aunt he continues to be criminally abused by his relatives and this treatment has a profound affect on his future, and also affects his subsequent behaviour towards them which brings some satisfaction to the film watcher in what becomes a dark and dark story as the work progresses.

To Harry. Hogwarts is therefore not just a place of wonder and excitement as he learns about his powers but becomes a home, a family and a refuge. In addition to Hermione Harry also establishes a close friendship with Ron Weasley and the series is as  much  about this trio as Harry himself and Ron’s parents, older brothers and younger sister are all to have important roles. Ron’s mother is played by Julie Walters.

While throughout Harry is affected by what happened to his parents and in various ways they come alive to him  in ways denied during his childhood, it is the head of the school Albus Dumbledore, played by Richard Harris in two films (until his death, and then by Michael Gabon) who quickly becomes a father figure, although Dumbledore has the knowledge about Harry’s destiny which he keeps from him because of its horrendous and tragic implications. There is a parallel between the role of Dumbledore and Harry and Gandalf and Froddo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.

There are three other characters, all members of the Hogwarts staff who have  crucial and ongoing roles in the story. The most significant is Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) a senior master who becomes head of the school after the death of Dumbledore and who Harry comes to fear and distrust from his early encounters, especially when he appears to be picked on during the Potions classes which Snape provides the new entrants. Hermoine appears immediately knowledgeable and skillful.

Robbie Coltrane plays an even bigger physical role than his normal self  as  Rubeus Hagrid and acts as a close adult friend whose cottage like home outside the school where his main role is that of gamekeeper is also a refuge for Harry and his two close friends. Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall plays the more formal and at times disciplinarian head of Griffindore House and appears the respect unofficial deputy at the school.

While each of the first six films has a self contained story they are all important parts of the whole leading to the vary dark and at items challenging experiences for young viewers of the last two films based on the huge final book written by J K Rowling. Understandably  we first see Harry making new friends and finding out about his potential powers as well as finding himself quickly involved in a great adventure, at times dangerous. He also learns that almost everyone knows of him because he is the only being who survived an attack from Lord Voldemort and everyone wants to see the scar on his forehead created in the attack on him as a baby and which appears to have established a connection with Harry which brings visions of the future as well as of the past to him. Each adventure provide insight and understanding of the whole although much of what happens does not become clear until the final two films and unlike many series where there is an overall story, the ending does answer everything in ways which most others of the genre do not.

Why did Lord Voldemort attempt to kill Harry so soon after he was born and why does he concentrate as much on finding Harry and trying to kill him now as gaining the personal strength and forces to control the world? This is the major mystery of the series in the same way that  Dark One in Lord of the Rings wants control of the Ring.

A significant number of well known British Actors appear in the films in character roles which add to the strength of each production and in addition to Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths I have noted that Helena Bonham Carter(4 films) plays as the crazed criminal  Witch  Bellatrix Lestrange; Robert Hardy (4) as the Minister of Magic Corelius Fudge; Gary Oldman (4) as Sirius Black of the Order of the Phoenix; Emma Thompson (3) as Sybil Trelawney teacher; John Hurt (3) as Mr Ollivander;  Brendan Gleeson (3) as Alastor Moody (Teacher); Imelda Staunton(2) as Dolores Uxbridge Temporary school teacher and head); Miranda Richardson (2)  as Rita Skeeta; Francis Le Tour (2) as Olympe Maxime;  John Cleese (2) as the ghost Nearly Headless Nick; Leslie Phillips (2) as the Sorting Hat; Tobby Jones (2) as Dobby; Jim Broadbent (2) as Horace Slughorne; Miriam Margoles (1) as Pomona Sprout;  David Tennant(1) as Barty Crouch; Bill Nighy (1) as Rufus Scrimgeour; Eric Sykes(1) as Frank Bryce; Rik Mayle as Peves(1); Julie Christie (1) as Madam Rosmerta; Lenny Henry (1) as the Shrunken Head; Zoe Wannamker(1) as Rolanda Hooch; Kenneth Branagh(1) as Gilderoy Lockhar; Dawn French as the Fat Lady (1); Jim McManus (1) as Ableforth Dumbledore  and Carina Hinds (1) in the same role.  There are  others who play key roles as adults and children who I will mention during the review. I now come to the first film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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