Harry Potter: a brief review…

11/12/2001

As Cartman said so eloquently, “Yes I’ve seen the Terrence and Philip movie – who wants to touch me? I said who wants to fucking touch me?!” The good news first – there is very little bad news at all. It’s an honourable, faithful and entertaining translation that only falls down in a few areas, and not enough for it to spoil what is essentially one of the best children’s films I’ve ever seen. Make no mistake – this is a film for kids, but nonetheless it’s a slice of tremendously good fun that I’d defy anyone not to enjoy a bit.

You couldn’t get a much more faithful adaptation than this. Almost every scene from the book appears to be in the film – which may explain its 2 1/2 hour running time. Whether or not you can effectively fit every sub-plot of the book into two and a half hours must remain a resounding ‘maybe’ – because some scenes (particularly the earliest ones) seem to have been trimmed to within an inch of their lives. But nonetheless they are almost all there – which means there is time to explore Diagon Alley, go to the zoo with the Dursleys, travel on the Hogwart’s Express, see the Great Hall’s roof sparkling like the night sky, go into the Dark Forest, visit Hagrid’s cabin and take part in a Quidditch match. And there’s also time to give even the less important characters a bit of a personality – from the man at the wand shop, to Neville Longbottom.

The adults are all actors of a distinguished British calibre – and as such seldom disappoint. Particularly impressive are Hagrid and Professor Snapes – Alan Rickman re-establishing himself in my eyes as the most astonishingly cool creature in creation. The children are more wooden – but perhaps you’d expect that – they are (ater all) really quite young. Ron is a comic genius – the boy’s timing is astonishing – but Hermione’s played at a slightly more hysterical level than one might like, and Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry can border on the plank-like. But by the end of the film you’ve bought into the whole thing so heavily that you barely notice, let alone care.

The films one failing might be it’s special effects. Harry’s new world is such a spectacle of the impossible that barely a scene goes by without some kind of CGI work having to be put together. And sometimes the strain (and cost) of maintaining such a level of wonder shows. An early scene in which an animal turns into a human has clearly been done on the cheap, and the Quidditch match alternates between extraordinarily expensive and not entirely convincing CGI players and old-fashioned (fairly obvious) misdirection. Look out for a clunker of a crash, where the broomstick-flyer falls a good few feet completely behind a fabric curtain. And one might quibble about the unnaturally even ground in the Dark Forest, or the Centaur that escaped from Shrek.

Again, there’s so much to like about the film that you can forgive it it’s minor failings – and I personally could quite cheerfully have watched yet another twenty minutes or so without getting bored. Close your eyes and jump in – you’re unlikely to be disappointed.