Sunday, June 13, 2004

Picture of Alfonso Cuarón
Three cheers for Alfonso Cuarón! The new Harry Potter movie is excellent!

Many people made a big deal of the fact that the director of Y Tu Mamá También was doing a kid's film, and I'm sure it struck some as strange that a Mexican director was helming such a British franchise, but if you were familiar with his earlier career, it all made perfect sense. His adaptation of children's lit classic A Little Princess was, along with Agnieszka Holland's version of Secret Garden, one of the best films made for general audiences in the 90s. So, as when Peter Jackson was announced to direct The Lord of the Rings, I had a good feeling about Cuarón taking over the Harry Potter series simply because of his resume. It also seemed that a director so adept at telling stories which accent the sensual aspects of puberty could help shepherd the Harry Potter characters into their adolesence. This turned out to be so: consider the opening scene with Harry peeping at something forbidden at night under his covers, and the way Hermione touches Ron and Harry, subtly establishing a romantic triangle.

I refused to see the first two films at all (though of course I've seen numerous scenes in stores and on tv) because Columbus is a hack, and I'd heard that his J.K. Rowling adaptations have no life. No big surprise. But HP & The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the five novels, and what with a real filmmaker taking over, I was tempted to see it. The fantastic preview convinced me. Still, I went in skeptically, thinking there was no way the magic of Rowling's world could be translated to the big screen. Cuarón won me over. Fully. He brought out some strong performances from the kids, especially Emma Watson as Hermione and Rupert Grint as Ron, and along with writer Steve Kloves pared the story down to its bare essentials. Best of all, the film is a treat to look at. I couldn't get over the care taken with textures, for example the paintings in Hogwarts, and the Marauders' Map. I would have done some things differently (interior shots of Hogwarts make it look too small and bright; the Dursleys aren't nasty enough, the map's backstory needed more emphasis, etc.), but I'm so pleased with how well the most important elements of the story came out. I figured the film would hinge on how the Dementors looked, and they're quite effective. It would have been easy just to present them as your generic hooded death figures, or to have recycled the ring wraiths from LOTR, but the Dementors have their own, terrifying presence. Their "kiss" is effectively creepy. Oldman and Thewlis are great in key roles, and Emma Thompson provides some dotty fun.

I was thrilled that such care was taklen with the time-travel sequence, in my opinion the best stint of writing in the whole series so far. Aside from its riveting action, I esp. prize its emotional layering--Harry going in with hopes of living with his uncle, and even of meeting his own (deceased) father, only to have an unexpected epiphany and to emerge with only limited victories (the garden variety of adult life). In a fun, subtle way, the filmmakers also demonstrate that Dumbledore, the wise wizard figure, is somehow aware of the time-bending shenanigans--is, in fact, one step ahead of everyone else, without benefit of being in two places at once. Not a bad metaphor for a great director, actually. It's too bad Cuarón won't be helming book 4, but, who knows? Books 5, 6, and 7 still lie ahead...



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