strange_complex: (Snape sneer)
'Kay, so.... like three days ago I wrote up a post about the books, films and TV which I had read or seen in 2010, noted that I had yet to review seven of them, and resolved to spend January writing those reviews up "while doing my utmost to avoid accruing any more". Only then I realised that, actually, I was going to have to break that rule for the new Harry Potter film, because if I didn't get on and see it now, then I would miss my chance to catch it in the cinema. I've managed to see all of them on the big screen so far, and I don't want to break that now when we're so near to the end of the franchise!

So yesterday afternoon I skived off work a little early, popped into Next and Marks & Spencers to spend my Christmas vouchers, and then settled down in the cinema with a lovely big bucket of popcorn and the tinkle, swoop and build of the familiar theme music. I think I was probably only just in time, too, as there were all of about twenty people in there with me.

My expectations weren't that high. I found many of the performances in the last film passionless, although I liked some of them - particularly Jim Broadbent and Tom Felton. But while this film still wasn't a patch on Prisoner of Azkaban, I was pleasantly impressed.

Of the performances, Tom Felton remains strong, and I was also quite taken with Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. For a lot of the time I managed to forget that she was Helena Bonham-Carter, and to believe entirely in her as the character of Bellatrix - something which I find I can almost never do with H B-C, no matter what type of character she is playing. And of course Alan Rickman was as marvellous as we've come to expect. There wasn't all that much of Snape in this film (there never seems to be enough!), but what there was was fantastic. His materialisation at the Malfoy Manor and masterful sweeping stride straight through the wrought-iron gate certainly made me sit up in my seat. :-)

Most impressive of all for me this time, though, was Emma Watson as Hermione. Given that she actively annoyed me in Order of the Phoenix, this is quite a turnaround. She seems to have really grown into herself in the role, to have dropped the rather over-mannered pauses and dramatic intakes of breath, and generally acquired a sense of quiet confidence and control which really captured my attention throughout the entire film. Hermione does a lot to drive this story, of course, while Ron and Harry flounder around rather like wet blankets - and I felt that Emma Watson carried this really well. Suddenly I wonder whether she won't be the one who can boast of the best post-Harry Potter career in a decade or two's time, rather than either of the boys.

I liked the visual design, too. I was struck from the very beginning by how most of the 'good' characters appeared ground-down and glamour-less, with red-rimmed, dark-shadowed eyes to convey what they have already suffered and what they know lies ahead. And I loved the way that this also extended to giving us a nervous, unshaven Lucius Malfoy - so very different now that he has fallen from the Dark Lord's favour to the arrogant, cock-sure figure of the earlier films. And David Yates' muted colour palettes seemed to work much better here than in the previous film, creating a convincingly sombre mood to suit the dark events of the story, and the autumn and winter timescale of the action.

When reading the book I was rather disappointed by JKR's decision to set most of the action outside Hogwarts, and indeed wanted to hear more about what had been going on there while the trio were busy hiding in tents. But watching the film, I found that I didn't miss Hogwarts at all. The settings of desolate forests, mountain tops and beaches worked much better for the sort of story which was being told here - mainly one of Harry, Ron and Hermione working out their personal issues with each other and learning to manage without the guidance of the adults who have so far protected them all their lives. In fact, this felt like the most genuinely emotive and grown up film in the franchise to date - which obviously isn't to say it is suddenly a cinematic masterpiece which transcends its origins in rather pedestrian children's literature, but does help to make it feel as though the franchise itself has grown and matured a little over the past decade of film production.

The pacing did still feel wrong, though, just as it did in the book. There is just no reasonable explanation for why it is that Harry, Ron and Hermione set out to find the horcruxes - but then end up spending months at a time hanging round in tents, not even discussing where the remaining horcruxes might be, let alone looking for them in any likely places. And when I got home, I was surprised to note that this film had covered approximately 2/3 of the book, leaving much less than half for the final instalment. I can see how that might work - there is still quite a lot of backstory about Dumbledore and Snape which can be lingered over, as well as scenes such as the final battle at Hogwarts, the Kings Cross scene and the epilogue which can all be made into epic set-pieces. But I might have preferred the first half to be just a little shorter, all the same.

Finally, [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau was right to say that the visual highlight of the film was the animation that accompanies Xenophilus Lovegood's telling of the Tale of the Three Brothers. And a thought occurred to me which never did when I read the book - how clever of JKR to insert within her own story something which appears at first to be a simple tale from a children's book, but is then proven to be 'true' by the existence of the elder wand and the invisibility cloak. What a lovely way of enhancing the pretence that her own story, too, may be based on real events! And how even cleverer to then follow up by producing a real-life hand-written collectible edition of that very story-book, which is, as Amazon say, "an artifact pulled straight out of a novel". Surely, then, Harry Potter too must really exist, just out of sight down a mysterious alley-way?

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strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
I queued for The Book last night, as planned, and all was good - despite both the rain and Waterstone's bizarre attempts to turn the world's simplest and most effective system for ensuring that everyone is served in a fair order (viz., The Queue) into a confused mess by super-imposing a numbered ticketing system onto it without offering any clear explanation of how this was supposed to work. Enjoyed immensely turning to the back and skimming hastily through relevant-looking pages right there in the shop to establish the major plot points, sproingled rather randomly and over-tiredly at [livejournal.com profile] nalsa and his lady for a while, and finally got home with it about 1:30ish (yes, Waterstone's were inefficient as well - I heartily wish I'd pre-ordered at WHSmith instead). I ploughed on with The Half-Blood Prince for a while, which I'd been reading all day in an attempt to get back up to speed, but I was pretty near the end of it anyway, and after an hour or so I couldn't resist the pull of the new one any longer. So I retired to bed with it around 3ish, intending to just read a chapter or two and then go to sleep, but didn't actually put it down until 5:30 and the end of chapter 7. Well, I couldn't stop reading while they were all still... No. I promised you no spoilers, didn't I?

Since then, though, I've only got as far as chapter 12, due to sleeping until 1 and then attending a lovely party at [livejournal.com profile] miss_dark's all afternoon. So I've accepted that I'm not going to finish it with the speed of the last one - but that's OK. Like I said, I know what happens, so I can read other people's posts about it quite merrily. And anyway, why should I rush it? It's the last one, after all. I want to enjoy it at my own snail-like pace.

Besides, it would clearly be a very bad idea to stay up all night tonight trying to finish it, as I realised on Friday that I've been ill for a few days, and my parents are coming up to Leeds again tomorrow to help with house stuff, so I need to be well-rested and compos mentis before they do. I'm not quite sure what was wrong with me, but I'm guessing it was basically down to performing an incredibly intensive mental task followed by an incredibly intensive physical task, not giving myself enough time to recover, and probably also eating something a bit dodgy. I think I'm on the mend now, but tired, what with that and the reading-till-dawn thing, so I don't want to push my luck.

Happily, I was in good health and spirits this afternoon to enjoy [livejournal.com profile] miss_dark's 'Three Years With [livejournal.com profile] dedbutdrmng' party, though, which was a jolly good thing as it was ace! [livejournal.com profile] miss_dark's flat turned out to be a splendid palace, whose walls were lined with shoes, and she had done an excellent job of filling it full of splendid people for the afternoon. I didn't get to chat to everyone there, but I enjoyed the company of familiar faces, and met some fab new people - including the marvellously history-geeky [livejournal.com profile] vonheath, whom I think I shall dash off and friend once I've finished writing this. There were also small children with bubbles, three nearly-identical cats and a cracking anecdote about a bracelet which [livejournal.com profile] miss_dark had bought for [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan. So an excellent way to spend the afternoon, and I only hope my house-warming goes as well!

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