“We have both light and dark. The part we choose to act on… that’s who we really are.”
Director David Yates helms this two hour and 20 minute film based on the fifth book of the highly popular series by J.K. Rowling. After a shaky beginning, filmmakers mix in several familiar characters as power struggles at Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic surface. Fans of the book will surely find issues, both pleasant and offensive, with the various additions, omissions, and embellishments in this installment.
The whimsical world of magic and clever quips (e.g. “you have the emotional range of a teaspoon”) still exist, but Harry’s battle with the big “V” puts the story in a progressively realistic state. Oscar winning cinematographer Slawomire Idziak (Black Hawk Down) helps set the tone with great visuals blending the grand sets and colorful special effects. Nicholas Hooper contributes a nice musical score, but John Williams’ original themes still have the most impact. This fantasy film has plenty of heart-pounding action sequences involving various powers and creatures (centaurs, death eaters, etc.), which all function well within the plot.
Daniel Radcliffe again stars as Harry Potter, a caring young man pursuing a unique lifestyle that he never knew existed. Harry never has the easy route (or the clearest), which makes him an engaging character. Besides his related family tragedies, audiences can easily treasure Harry’s humble character as he struggles with fear, confidence, and friendships. When hearing his accomplishments proclaimed Harry says, "It sounds great, but most of it was just luck and I had help.”
Most of Harry’s help comes from Rupert Grint and Emma Watson respectively starring as Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. Grint may look ordinary but the realism and resolve he puts into Ron translates well on screen. Watson emits charm and appealing personality in every scene. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Contact) does an excellent job adapting the book to the screen while the newspaper headline cut scenes help summarize a lot of information quickly to keep audience updated.
Harry gets even more help from Luna Lovegood, played by newcomer Evanna Lynch who beat out more than 15,000 other girls for the coveted role. Yes, Harry still endures mistreatment from his Aunt and Uncle Dursley, played by Fiona Shaw (The Avengers, My Left Foot) and Richard Griffiths (Sleepy Hollow, Naked Gun 2½) plus his bratty and now bulky cousin Dudley.
The entire school stirs after Harry’s controversial encounter and the aftermath of the last installment where he faced the ultimate antagonist whose name begins with “V”. This public scrutiny eventually arrives at Hogwarts and its headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, again played by seasoned actor Michael Gambon (Gosford Park). Dumbledore gets support from his Hogwarts faculty including Rubeus Hagrid, well played by Robbie Coltrane (Goldeneye) and Minerva McGonagall, professor and deputy headmistress at Hogwarts School for Wizardy, played by Maggie Smith (Hook).
Alan Rickman (DieHard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) returns as Professor Severus Snape and Imelda Staunton adds to the faculty as Dolores Umbridge who has an authority power trip. Tom Felton again plays Draco Malfoy, a jealous antagonist closer to Harry’s age who challenges Harry and his notoriety in the academic world of Harry’s Hogwarts adversary.
Malfoy’s father, played by Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) also factors in prominently, along with a new character named Bellatrix Lestrange, played by Helena Bonham Carter. Last, but certainly not least, “the one that begins with V”, played in full form by Ralph Fiennes (Red Dragon, The English Patient).
Overall, this film produces a steady flood of emotion as the audience closely journeys along with the characters, creating a solid film experience. Recommended and rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. The next installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is slated for release on November 21, 2008 and will also be directed by Yates.