Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows”: A Movie Review

Last week, Tim Burton’s newest film Dark Shadows was released and opened to a modest $30 million domestic at the box office. But it is Burton after all, and the perfect opportunity to welcome another guest post by William Buhagiar, a connoisseur on all things Burton. Of course, William went to see it the first chance he got. Here’s his very favorable review:

When I first reached the age in which I was capable of reading the opening credits of the films I loved, I noticed a recurring component in a significant handful of the movies I watched obsessively: each one, prior to the revealing of the film’s title, featured the words: “A Film by Tim Burton.” My six (or maybe seven?) year-old curiosity inspired me to wonder who this guy was and why his name seemed to pop up in the majority of the movies I would play, rewind and play again. I’ve always been a passionate film buff, and as long as I have been, I’ve been a wildly outspoken, consummate Tim Burton fan: obsessively, repeatedly, studiously seeing his films, defending his work to infuriatingly-cynical skeptics, spending all but my limbs on ludicrous amounts of Burton-related merchandise and movie tickets – but also, much to everyone’s great shock, admitting that occasionally, Tim Burton doesn’t always make a great film. Despite the fact that he is undoubtedly my favorite filmmaker, I’m not delusional – he is not perfect, nor is he the best.

Mars Attacks! (1996) and Planet of the Apes (2001) are prime examples of Burton features that woefully missed the mark. His 2010 adaptation/re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland was also a brutal, sobering deflation of my arguably unreachable expectations; a breathtaking movie to look at, but ultimately a flavorless, generic Disney casualty that felt less like a movie and more like a product.  To prevent myself from experiencing the same bitter disappointment Alice in Wonderland slapped me across the face with, I put as much effort as possible into limiting my expectations for Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the 1960’s-70’s gothic afternoon soap opera chock full of vampires, witches, werewolves and poltergeists – a show that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were devoted fans of during its original 5-year run on ABC. Admittedly, I was rather anxious about Dark Shadows, (Burton and Depp’s now 8th collaboration) and much of my apprehension came from concern that the supernatural vampire genre has been exhausted in pop culture recently, and the source material was, to put it as kindly as possible, a tad ridiculous. I was terrified of another disappointment.

Alas, I can say with a blessed elation, when the end credits began to roll after Dark Shadows, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Any and all previous cynicism vanished, and I found the movie to be enormously entertaining, and an instant classic, featuring everything I seek in Burton/Depp collaborations. Many non-believers mistake their excessive collaborations for overblown repetition, an argument that frankly, I’ll never understand. Sure, I’ll admit that their films are often bizarre, dark in tone, and feature a lonely, isolated and eccentric protagonist. However, if you properly examine each of the individual characters and stories they’ve created for two decades now, they’re all wildly original and unique.

Dark Shadows opens with a wonderful prologue narrated by Barnabas Collins, whose parents brought him from Liverpool to America in 1760 and established a fishing business in Maine and built their home, Collinwood Manor. (The production design is superb and all of the set pieces are magnificent.) When Barnabas breaks the heart of the Collins family servant, the witch Angelique, she places a curse upon the family and turns Barnabas into a vampire and with the help of an angry, god-fearing mob, buries him alive.

Two-hundred years later, in 1972, Barnabas is freed from his tomb by a construction crew and violently drains each of them, courteously taking a moment to apologize to one of them: “I am terribly sorry, but you cannot imagine how thirsty I am…” The following sequence is hilarious – Barnabas wanders about the town of Collinsport, Maine in a state of intense confusion, trying to make sense of gas stations, pay-phones, cars and paved roads, among many other puzzling fixtures of the 70’s. When Barnabas returns to Collinwood, he finds his beloved mansion in a state of disrepair and the family business run into the ground. The mansion is now home to his distant descendants: Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, (The stunning Michelle Pfeiffer, reuniting with Burton for the first time since their genius creation of the greatest Catwoman portrayal ever), Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn (Chloe-Grace Moretz), her brother, Roger, (Johnny Lee Miller) and his son, David (Gulliver McGrath).  It wouldn’t be a complete Burton movie without the always-glorious presence of the goddess that is Helena Bonham Carter, playing Dr. Julia Hoffman, the Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, a pill-popping alcoholic.

The real stand-out performance here is Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard, the witch who cursed Barnabas and is now running her own seafood business in Collinsport, consequently responsible for the collapse of the Collins family business. She is an extremely compelling villain and her performance is explosive and her motivation intriguing – she chillingly purrs to Barnabas, “If I can’t have you, I’ll destroy you.” There is real menace and fury in her eyes, and we, the audience, believe every furious word.

Burton recruited Bruno Delbonnel as cinematographer, whose previous work includes Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a stunningly-photographed film for which he deservedly received an Oscar nomination. In Dark Shadows, Burton and Delbonnel aimed to shoot the film in a style reminiscent of 1970’s films (horror films, specifically) for the sake of authenticity and atmosphere. Delbonnel’s work here is equally as stunning as in “Harry Potter,” and the cinematography will most likely earn him another Oscar nomination. I’m never surprised whenever a Tim Burton movie is visually pleasing (they always are), but the achievement in photography here is particularly impressive – especially when taking into consideration the accomplishment of the 70’s feeling.

Dark Shadows has moments of wild, over-the-top camp and many of the dialogue-driven scenes are over-acted to perfection. If the film wasn’t tongue-in-cheek, self-aware or took itself seriously, the camp and the soap opera tone would ultimately render the movie a failure. The film isn’t meant to do anything but provide entertainment, and it truly is a piece of good old blockbuster escapism; and I was delighted during the film to perceive it as precisely what I seek in Tim Burton’s films: you will never see another movie like this anywhere else. His greatest movies are always the most unique – Frankenstein-like men with scissors for hands, a barber singing beautiful melodies while viciously slitting open his customer’s throats, an eccentric, cross-dressing filmmaker, and now, an out-of-place 18th century vampire struggling to re-adjust to his new surroundings. Burton and Depp’s critics can say whatever they like, because regardless of their excessive cynicism, after twenty-two years of collaborating, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp continue to inspire.    — William Buhagiar

William’s Rating:

The Hunger Games – “a beautiful rarity in cinema”

Well, better late than never, right? As of this post, this film has already grossed over $460 million worldwide. Shockingly enough, I have yet to see it. I will make sure to do so in the next week or two. I can’t see these huge blockbusters in the first week or two…the crowds are too ridiculous for me and I prefer a quieter theater atmosphere. But enough about my own idiosyncrasies — our guest columnist William Buhagiar (see his past posts on the Harry Potter series) made sure to see it and was kind enough to submit his personal commentary. Here it is:

When it comes to the precarious topic of book-to-film adaptations, the opinions amongst fans of the source material are essentially unanimous: the book is always substantially better. When it comes to The Hunger Games, a shockingly violent, disturbing trilogy of books geared towards young adults, none of the fans (including myself) anticipated the first cinematic installment of Suzanne Collins wildly popular series to parallel the quality of the source material.

Shockingly enough, director Gary Ross has masterfully crafted a film that not only does the novel an extraordinary degree of justice, but has (arguably) improved upon the book. Directly prior to the dimming of the lights in the theater, I was apprehensive that perhaps my expectations were too high and my feelings toward the film would be lukewarm at best. But mercifully, I found the movie to be not only satisfying, but equally as suspenseful, riveting, intense and moving as the novel.

The Hunger Games is set during an unspecified time in a dystopian future – North America has been nearly annihilated by an implied nuclear war and is now the nation of Panem, a country comprised of twelve impoverished “districts” and a wealthy, lavish metropolis city simply referred to as “The Capitol.” The government is a totalitarian regime under the control of the cruel dictator President Snow, (a brilliant Donald Sutherland) and each of the twelve outlying districts are essentially servants of the Capitol, and labor tirelessly to provide the city with various resources – and District 12, the primary focus of the story, is a grim, poverty-stricken colony of starving coal miners. Established as both a punishment for a past rebellion against their government and a reminder of the absolute control the Capitol holds over the districts, Panem stages an annual event: The Hunger Games.

Once a year, each of the twelve district’s children between the ages of twelve and eighteen attend the Reaping, a ceremony during which two teenagers are selected by lottery to compete in the Games – a nightmarish fight to the death staged in an outdoor arena that is televised across the country and is mandatory viewing for each of Panem’s citizens. To the subjugated districts, it’s a terrifying reminder of the government’s power – to the Capitol, it’s the final word in entertainment.

When Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister, Prim, is announced as District 12’s female “tribute” during the Reaping, Katniss desperately volunteers to take her place in one of the film’s most heart-wrenchingly moving scenes. Katniss and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark, are sent to the Capitol to be stylized, interviewed, and showcased for the sake of introducing Panem to this year’s competitors and to gain sponsors: wealthy citizens of the Capitol who could assist them during the Games by sending food, weapons or medicine that could ultimately decide their fate in the arena.

One of the film’s finest achievements is in the establishment of the futuristic country of Panem: the early scenes introduce the audience to the dismal, depressing squalor of District 12 and skillfully showcases the poverty and hunger that plagues it. Katniss, at sixteen years-old, is responsible for providing food for her mother and sister by hunting illegally in the woods surrounding her home. When Katniss arrives in the Capitol, the environment couldn’t be any more dramatically contrasted – the excess, outrageous fashion and ignorance of the Capitol citizens is palpable.

The brilliant talent that is Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar nominated for the indie flick Winter’s Bone) beat out several other actresses for the role of Katniss Everdeen, and rightfully so. Lawrence’s performance as the film’s bad-ass heroine is nothing short of extraordinary, and she carries the two-and-a-half hour feature masterfully, bringing to her character both the aggressive ferocity of a consummate survivor and the delicate vulnerability of a young woman thrust into overwhelming circumstances to spare the life of her beloved sister. She has a keen ability to make the audience experience her terror, desperation and grief just as she does throughout the film.

The supporting actors certainly deserve acknowledgement, as well. Josh Hutcherson, whose most notable role prior to The Hunger Games was in The Kids Are All Right,  plays Peeta Mellark: District 12’s charming, good-natured male tribute that harbors romantic affection towards Katniss. I found Hutcherson’s performance to be pleasantly surprising – his character could easily have been bland and forgettable, but mercifully this character became endearing and very enjoyable to watch. Woody Harrelson is Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta’s alcoholic mentor and the only living District 12 tribute who has survived a past Hunger Games. His performance is certainly satisfactory, and though the treatment for his character came across as slightly watered-down, the pros regarding Haymitch undoubtedly outweighed the cons. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie Trinket, the irritatingly sprightly Capitol citizen assigned to escort Katniss and Peeta through their pre-Games interviews and training. Banks, in outrageous clothing, wigs and make-up, (typical fashion for the Capitol residents) provides well-needed levity beautifully. Her moments of comic relief were a necessary (albeit brief) departure from the often overwhelmingly grim atmosphere of the movie. Lenny Kravitz, an unexpected choice, plays Katniss’s compassionate stylist, Cinna, whose performance isn’t necessarily inadequate; but with very little screen time, it is ultimately the most forgettable. Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci, is absolutely perfect as the oily, eccentric commentator of the Games.

Much of my apprehension regarding the film was the PG-13 rating, which inevitably indicated a substantial sacrifice in adapting the source material. Collins’ novel was brutally merciless in its portrayal of child-on-child violence and the descriptions of slaughter are truly shocking. Naturally, I doubted that the film would be able to properly convey the degree of intensity I felt during passages of the book. However, yet another of the film’s finest accomplishments was avoiding any explicit bloodshed with astoundingly clever editing and cinematography yet managing to establish just how horrific the Hunger Games are. None of the violence is ever glorified or gratuitous, and though the gore is significantly toned-down to avoid the R-rating, the suspense, intensity and terror are all there, which essentially renders the carnage unnecessary.

What I found to be the most incredible aspect of the adaptation is the level of quality the filmmakers have achieved. Blockbuster action films, more often than not, are mediocre at best – writing and acting are constantly secondary priorities whilst box-office earnings are ultimately a studio’s main concern. In the case of this film, however, Gary Ross’s pursuit was not towards earning as much money in ticket sales as possible, but simply making the finest film he could. The Hunger Games is a beautiful rarity in cinema: a large-scale, big-budget popcorn movie that delivers not just violence and explosions, but an expertly-paced, terrifically entertaining story that is beyond satisfying. I and the millions of other fans of the trilogy will now be forced to patiently wait for the sequel, Catching Fire, which has been given a perfect set-up at the conclusion of The Hunger Games. I was desperately hopeful that Gary Ross would return to direct the remaining two films – in my personal opinion, franchises should always stick with one director for the sake of atmospheric consistency, and his work on the first film is superb. Unfortunately, Lions Gate has officially announced that they have just begun a hunt for a new director. I can only hope their choice is respectable, and their new candidate is prepared to fill some very big shoes.

Remembering Amy Winehouse: by William Buhagiar

I can still remember, quite vividly, the first time I heard “Rehab” playing on the radio. For an hour or so after, I refused to allow it to vacate my memory. It stuck with me. Amidst all the generic, repetitive and ultra-manufactured pop music that tried so desperately to project nauseatingly boring bubble-gum perfection, here was a singer that so honestly, brutally, and beautifully sang of her flaws. It was a clever, catchy, wise-ass melody that was undoubtedly the most distinct tune I’ve ever heard on mainstream radio. Aside from being impressed with the lyrics, I can remember thinking: “My God, whose voice is that?”

For the following month or so, “Rehab” stayed amongst the Top 40 radio songs and I found myself constantly singing the chorus without noticing just how frequently I was doing it. Eventually I managed to catch the music video for “You Know I’m No Good,” and glimpsed the harbor for that divine, magnificent voice for the very first time. A comically enormous black beehive, frail arms covered in ink, long fingernails clicking along the rim of a glass of iced whiskey – it was Amy Winehouse, and anything but what I imagined her to be. Immediately, my level of intrigue skyrocketed. If “Rehab” ignited in me an insatiable level of curiosity, it was nothing compared to the effect “You Know I’m No Good” had. I was now familiar with only two songs from this sultry songstress, the first being a defiant anthem of her refusal to quit drinking get help and enter rehabilitation, and the second being a wildly unfiltered confession of her infidelity.

Soon she was on the cover of Rolling Stone and Spin, among others, accompanied by the subtitles “The Diva & Her Demons” and “The Dangerous New Queen of Soul,” respectively. And even though at the time I was only a fan of two songs of hers, I was nonetheless thrilled when she won five Grammy awards after her performance on February 10th, 2008 – at least somebody unique was getting praised for it.

A few months later, I was advised by a friend to listen to her first album, Frank, released in England in 2004. After hearing one song from the record, “You Sent Me Flying,” I needed no further convincing. The song was yet another brazenly honest re-telling of an incident that occurred during a crumbling relationship, with the lyrics: “And although my pride’s not easily disturbed, you sent me flying when you kicked me to the curb.” Immediately, I rushed home and hungrily downloaded every available Amy Winehouse song I could get my hands on, and instantly became passionately obsessed. Her gritty and modern lyrics were paired with classical, old-fashioned jazz instrumentals, essentially creating a musical dichotomy. The music sounded as if it was created decades earlier, but the songs would begin with “He left no time to regret, kept his dick wet with his same old, safe bet…” and “What kind of fuckery is this?” It was without a doubt the most unique ensemble of songs I had ever discovered, and I fell deeply in love with this no-bullshit, bad-ass British diva with the voice of an angel and the mouth of a truck driver who refused to make excuses for herself.

It began to irritate me that this remarkable talent was ferociously overshadowed by her well-publicized battles with drugs and alcohol, and every time I Googled her (which was a mandatory, daily ritual) I would always seem to be reading the most unflattering material. Because of how devoted I was to her music, it really was very easy for me to overlook it, and I convinced myself that it was simply tabloid fodder; that she would soon come out on top and promptly announce the release of a third album or impending tour dates. Whenever I would bring her up in conversation, I would constantly have to sift through the dismissals of her being a casualty of addiction to get to the reasons why I adored her: her music. Unfortunately, I still have to do this.

My adoration remained steadfast, and I hunted feverishly for more of her music. I scaled the most obscure corners of the internet and found underground, unreleased original songs, b-sides, covers and studio sessions – anything to hear more of that voice I came to worship. Her unreleased material was equally as satisfying as her albums. I found myself falling in love with not just her music, but the jazz, soul and R&B genre as a whole; in fact, many artists I regularly listen to now are the product of my interest in Amy Winehouse. I memorized her entire discography – each of her songs, an eloquent expression of her turmoil, all of them blazingly honest, and I couldn’t help but be captivated by the painful and undeniably beautiful humanity presented in all of her gorgeous melodies. Some of them were witty and very funny, such as “Addicted,” a jazzy tune all about her annoyance at a friend’s man smoking all of her weed; others were downtrodden and defeated, such as “Back to Black,” in which her grief is so severe she croons she “died a hundred times.” The Los Angeles Times very accurately labeled her “The Beautiful Voice of Despair.” Amy Winehouse had on me that bold, profound effect musicians have on every person who connects with their music, the connection that inspires the listener to think: “I get it.” I cannot think of a higher compliment to pay an artist, especially the artist who so magnetically utilized the word “fuckery.” Two years ago, in July of 2009, I decided to make my fanatical love for Amy Winehouse a permanent fixture, getting a caricature-like portrait of her tattooed on my left arm.

One week ago, while at work, I received 22 text messages and 8 missed calls within fifteen minutes – each either informing me of her death or curious as to how I was coping with it. I’m well aware of how perfectly ridiculous it seems to be bereaved to this level of extremity over somebody I’ve never met before, but I cannot stress how genuine it is. I remember the televised grief of Michael Jackson’s fans after his passing and my complete lack of empathy towards them, certain that I was incapable of mourning a stranger to that degree. The loss of Amy Winehouse is my first acquaintance with the death of a beloved artist; I will never see her in concert, and I will never get the chance to meet her and show her that her work profoundly impacted me so much that the only reasonable way of expressing it was permanently inking her into my arm. She joins Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison in “The 27 Club,” as she, like all of them, passed away at the age of 27. The only positive factor I can seem to apply to this is that she will always be remembered as a musical legend, as she deserves to be.

Amy Winehouse, to me, was never first and foremost an addict, an alcoholic, or the self-destructive nut-job the tabloids so frequently illustrated her as. She was a breathtaking talent, a musical genius, the most unique artist in years – a girl from the suburbs of London gifted with a voice that was blissful beyond comprehension. Unfortunately, she had her demons – but it was her demons that made her Amy Winehouse, and it was her demons that she embedded into her songs and so aptly translated into musical beauty.

It’s been reported that a dozen or so new and unreleased material has been discovered since her passing, one of which will be used for the next “James Bond” film. I pray that I will be hearing these new tracks soon, as I have been patiently waiting for new Amy Winehouse songs for years. Many fellow musicians and celebrities have also expressed their sadness over the loss of such an incredible talent; some, such as Adele and Lady Gaga, thanking her and crediting her with being a musical pioneer, paving the way and making it easier for the more unconventional artist to establish a career. Her groundbreaking, phenomenal second album, Back to Black, is now #1 on iTunes and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since her tragic passing. I can only hope that now her music will be properly appreciated and her struggles with drugs and alcohol no longer the dominant aspect of her persona.

Of course, I never did get the privilege of meeting her, but judging by the copious amounts of interviews and footage I have seen, she was a charming, witty and hilarious woman. Backstage after one of her performances, a reporter asked her: “What did you think of your performance this evening?” to which she quickly replied, “It was a piece of shit. You look fit, though.” and walked away. During another interview, when asked if she considered herself a sex symbol, she instantly replied, “Only to gays.” Amy made no excuses for herself, never once tried to fit the mold of a proper pop artist, and always maintained a no-bullshit philosophy I cannot help but deeply admire and respect.

Since her death, naturally I’ve been replaying her songs constantly. If possible, my devotion to the soulful jazz singer has only increased. I’ll no longer enter her name in the Google search bar, hoping for news of an album release or tour dates. My worst fears regarding Amy Winehouse have been realized and she passed away at much too young an age. Now, my only hope for her is that wherever she is, she is still singing, and she is still maintaining that charismatic sense of making no excuses and tolerating no bullshit…or, as she so eloquently sang it: fuckery.

~~ by contributing writer, William Buhagiar

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”: Movie Review

The long wait is over. Harry Potter fans can now rejoice with the long-anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 today and in theaters everywhere (though I’m sure many already went to the midnight screening last night). The film, directed by David Yates,  follows our infamous trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron in their quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and is slated to be the final installment in the mega-franchise. But — is it worth the wait? The hype? The hoopla? Does this last film live up to all of the lofty expectations and do justice to J.K. Rowling‘s book? Well, lucky for us, The Lantern has Potter extraordinaire William Buhagiar to give us the scoop and tell us what we might be in store for. Mr. Buhagiar does possess a Ph.D in Rowling Studies from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry and is an all-around film nerd. Here is his film review. — P.E.

It is arguably very melodramatic to begin this review by examining the brutal reality that nothing, not even anything as exquisite as the Harry Potter series, lasts forever. For the past twelve (out of twenty years of my life), I’ve always had a Harry Potter-something to look forward to, a reason to assemble amongst fellow nerds in bookstores and movie theaters in the middle of the night, waiting to resume by page or screen the epic tale of the Boy Who Lived. Now, after over a decade, I’ve stepped off the Hogwarts Express for good. Is it fair or is it absurd to view this as the most prominent rite of passage I have yet experienced? Outrageous as it may seem, never before have I felt so distant from childhood. My childhood was Harry Potter, and Harry Potter is now over. It is absolutely the most exhausted I’ve ever felt.

Deathly Hallows: Part II doesn’t ease the audience into the narrative – if you haven’t seen Part I, the film makes it very clear that you do not belong here. The Order of the Phoenix is at its weakest, Harry has just buried the heroic house-elf Dobby, and the despicable Dark Lord Voldemort has violated Albus Dumbledore’s tomb to steal the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows and the most powerful magical instrument ever created…and so it begins.

Within minutes, the trio (each of whom reach their acting peak — they’re all superb) are raiding Gringott’s Wizarding Bank, flying over London atop a monstrous dragon, and quickly realize the shit has hit the fan when Voldemort discovers their secret mission to undo him – this, among other things, ultimately leads back to Hogwart’s, where the good guys will make their final stand against the bad guys. The Battle of Hogwarts, which should’ve been an insanely climactic cinematic spectacle, was generally a brief, disappointing series of flashes of magical combat. The handful of notable deaths we found devastating in the book are examined all-too-briefly here, and the novel’s profound examination of the consequences of war, the need to keep fighting and the triumph of good over evil feel tossed aside at times.

However, the film achieves something of a phenomenon in one of the series’ central characters, Professor Severus Snape, whose storyline ultimately lifts the quality of the movie tenfold and who becomes the primary focus of the film for a good stretch of about seven minutes. This was not only the finest chapter of the book series, but will ultimately go down as the finest sequence in the adaptations. There are many movies I will discuss and casually claim I have cried during (when in fact I just found them sad), but I promise I do not even mildly exaggerate when I say that I was sobbing, harder than I ever have before in a movie, during the scenes that properly explain the complicated, brilliant and ultimately tragic character that is Professor Severus Snape. Alan Rickman, who for eight films showed us a cold, sneering Potions Master with a disposition for sadism, annihilates the image he’s so artfully sustained for the past decade and brings something new to him – his vulnerability, desperation and grief stirred me into a frenzy and I couldn’t help but openly sob during Snape’s finest hour. God bless Alan Rickman.

I’ve always had a rocky relationship with the Harry Potter films; this is no secret; some I’ve come to appreciate and some I’ve come to absolutely despise. In the case of Deathly Hallows: Part II, my initial response is generally mixed. Something felt anti-climactic; many important events overlooked, but when the film got it right, it was nearly perfect. We can’t expect the films to be anything quite as extraordinary as the novels, I suppose, and they must always be viewed as separate entities. What I will always remember fondly will be the books, and the films will always be there to provide some quick entertainment. There will be no more Harry Potter releases, all is said and done, and there will be no more speculation over it. Despite my many grievances, it’s been fun watching J.K. Rowling’s world translated to the big screen, though sometimes infuriating for ten years. Mischief managed.

William’s Rating

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Final Cast Breakdown

Well, this is it…the final posting of our in-depth look at the tremendous ensemble cast of the Harry Potter series. This also marks the end of The Lantern’s special “Harry Potter Retrospective” which has been tackled quite impressively (if I may say so) by William Buhagiar, film buff and self-proclaimed Potter nerd. I hope all of you Harry Potter fans will read these articles and, of course, share your own opinions on how the films honored (or dishonored) Rowling’s books. Of course, the final film is set for release on July 15th — and once again, I would like to remind you that Buhagiar’s movie review will be posted here that weekend. I am still hoping to be caught up by then (as I have just recently started watching the films). Thank you for reading — and thank you, William…for an amazingly thorough job! — P.E.

Bellatrix Lestrange

Played by: Helena Bonham Carter
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A

I find Bellatrix Lestrange to be one of the most fascinating characters Jo Rowling created, as she is the only witch in the series who is almost as obscenely evil as her beloved master, the Dark Lord. Rowling sums her up accurately in the seventh book as “a witch with prodigious skill and no conscience,” when she ravenously takes down four men with a stroke of her wand. She is, to put it mildly, an absolute lunatic; a bloodthirsty sadist and a woman who commits horrifying crimes, such as the torture and permanent incapacitation of Neville Longbottom’s parents, Frank and Alice. After the first downfall of Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix, ever the fanatic servant, set out to find her master and suspected the Longbottoms knew of his whereabouts. She tortured them so brutally and severely that they lost their minds permanently, and remained at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries for the rest of their lives – forgetting that they even had a son together. Bellatrix is one of the very few Death Eaters that are among Voldemort’s ranks purely out of devotion to his cause, and throughout the series built a reprehensible body count, torturing and killing many characters that we had grown to love.

Although I had never seen her in a film prior to this series, when Helen McCrory was cast as Bellatrix prior to the release of Order of the Phoenix, I was thrilled, simply because she resembled Rowling’s description of Bellatrix so well. She dropped out soon after due to pregnancy and for a few weeks I waited patiently to see who would replace her. Despite the fact that she is a repugnant character, she certainly ranks among my favorites. When Helena Bonham Carter, my absolute favorite actress, accepted the part, I was beside myself with excitement. Although I knew her role in Order of the Phoenix would be minimal, I couldn’t wait to see her portrayal of the psychotic Death Eater.

The movie was a disgrace, but her performance was spectacular. It was wild, explosive and very unpredictable. In Half-Blood Prince, she was given a significant amount of additional screen time, and totally topped her Phoenix appearance. She very artfully tore through the castle, blasting away windows in the Great Hall, setting Hagrid’s cabin ablaze and savagely screaming as she released the Dark Mark into the sky. I thought it impossible for her to deliver anything new in Deathly Hallows: Part I but alas, I was quite mistaken. In the fifth and sixth movies, she was insane in an almost comical way – her anarchy and cackling lacked any real menace, but in the seventh, she introduced us to a completely different side of Bellatrix that we had not yet seen in the films, and added a new (and very disturbing) layer to the character’s insanity.

Overall, I find Helena Bonham Carter to be the most enjoyable part of the movies, and this might be a biased opinion. Her performance as Bellatrix Lestrange is wickedly intoxicating, and it is truly impossible to take your eyes off her while she is on screen. Her role in Deathly Hallows: Part II will be her most prominent out of any of the movies, and I am beyond amped to see what she comes up with next.

Draco Malfoy

Played by: Tom Felton
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: C+

Tom Felton is probably the best of the younger actors in the series. He seems to have a very good understanding of the character and always aces the scenes he is in. In Half-Blood Prince, his role is more prominent than in any of the other installments, and his performance was admirably parallel to the behavior of the book’s Draco Malfoy.

Sadly, Draco’s treatment in the films is watered-down and disappointing. Jo Rowling’s Draco Malfoy cannot only be irritating, but also vile and cruel at times. Whenever Malfoy was on the page, readers were infuriated by his bigotry, his cruelty and his constant tormenting of Harry, Ron and Hermione. In the films, however, Draco is nothing more than an irksome bully, occasionally inconveniencing our heroes with a snide remark and providing comic relief whenever his cowardice is showcased.

Draco’s storyline in the seventh film, though very rarely on screen, is properly established, as his family is now being degraded and humiliated by Lord Voldemort. This will ultimately serve the viewers in Deathly Hallows: Part II with (hopefully) one of the most satisfying character arcs in the series, as Draco’s newfound reluctance to take part in the Dark Lord’s new regime is a fantastic route for the misguided youngster to take.

Remus Lupin

Played by: David Thewlis
Performance: B
Screen Treatment: C-

Lupin, though a frequent and bold presence in the books, is sadly nothing to rave about in the films. He is given much leg room in Prisoner of Azkaban, during the many Patronus charm lessons he gives Harry, and his general role in that particular entry was the most prominent out of the seven. After the third film, however, he is pretty much nowhere to be found, popping up in the occasional scene maybe to provide a little exposition, remind us he’s a werewolf, and that’s about it.

Thewlis’s performance as Harry’s third year Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in Azkaban was certainly adequate, and though he didn’t resemble the Lupin I pictured, that does not give me license to complain about the casting choice; if the filmmakers were to satisfy every fan’s mental image of the characters, then the films would obviously be impossible to make.

As previously stated, Lupin’s presence in the books is certainly more frequent, which is frustrating considering he is the subject of major events that unfold in Deathly Hallows: Part II, and in the previous film he has barely any screen time. I’m hoping that the filmmakers will find a method of compensating for Lupin’s very heavily-sacrificed prominence in the films by somehow inserting a Lupin-related something in the beginning of the finale. This will most likely not be the case, as there’s already so much back-tracking and revisiting that must be done in order for the audience to have a vague comprehension of the main plot alone – therefore I assume that poor Lupin’s story will be left unattended to.

The Trio (Harry, Ron & Hermione)

Played by: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson
Performance: B, A- and A
Screen Treatment: A (for all)

Now that they have played the parts in each of the eight films, it’s difficult for us to picture any other actors playing the parts of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Each of the three beat out thousands of others for the parts and were all plucked from obscurity to play the central heroes of the Harry Potter series.

I feel there is not much to be said for each of them. They have played their parts to the best of their abilities, and very little was sacrificed to bring them to the screen. Hermione (Watson) was a dream come true for the screenwriters, as she was constantly utilized to explain every bit of exposition required for the stories. Rupert Grint served us well as the permanent source of comic relief, and whenever the films aimed to get the audience giggling, Ron was always there with a goofy remark. Daniel Radcliffe was, at times, a bit dry in his portrayal of the Boy Who Lived, but his dramatic improvement was heavily evident as the films progressed, and his last performance in film seven was his best yet.

I must admit, I’m glad that the three actors were featured in each film. I’ve had my issues with their performances at times, but considering their age, I’d say they did an adequate job and certainly improved gradually with each movie. If there were ever any problems with the characters, it was more in the writing and less a product of the actors. Ron’s goofy sidekick quirks were sometimes misplaced and inappropriate, Hermione seemed less a character at times and more a secret weapon for the writers to get information across, and Daniel Radcliffe, given the daunting task of carrying all seven films, was an occasional bore.

To execute each role to absolute perfection for eight films would undoubtedly be impossible, and these three have done their best to respect their characters. They’ve brought Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to life over the course of a solid decade, and like I said, suggesting anyone else for the roles would not only be difficult, but impossible.

Other Supporting Cast Members:

Molly Weasley (Julie Walters)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A+

Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson)

Performance: A-
Screen Treatment: B-

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson)

Performance: A
Screen Treatment: B-

Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A

Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A-

Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent)

Performance: C
Screen Treatment: C-

Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch)

Performance: A-
Screen Treatment: C+

Fred & George Weasley (James & Oliver Phelps)

Performances: B
Screen Treatment: C+

Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis)

Performance: B+
Screen Treatment: C-

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Cast Breakdown (part II of III)

Here, contributing writer William Buhagiar continues in his no-holds-barred analysis of the impressive cast of the “Harry Potter” film series. Yesterday, we had Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, and the late Richard Harris. In this 2nd part, Buhagiar looks at four additional characters — and the actors who play them. Our special “Harry Potter Retrospective” will end with the next post, in Part III of the Cast Breakdown. With the final film due out in just a matter of weeks, I remain very excited to read what Buhagiar has to say about it, here on The Lantern. — P.E.

Professor Minerva McGonagall

Played by: Maggie Smith
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A+

Dame Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts and Head of Gryffindor House, is undoubtedly the most perfect casting decision made throughout the series. It seems as if the part was written specially for her – a woman who is very stern, intimidating and disciplinary, but also very warm, likeable and compassionate.

Whenever I read the books, I always have very separate images in my head of the characters than those of the actors who play them. However, in the case of Professor McGonagall, Maggie Smith is always playing the bespectacled Transfiguration professor, as she is unquestionably the most remarkable choice for the role.

What I find most exciting is that the best of Professor McGonagall is still yet to come, as some of her finest moments will take place in Deathly Hallows: Part II, when she begins to organize the final battle against the Death Eaters and sets up the defenses around the boundaries of the castle. According to the MuggleNet staff (who were very privileged in seeing a test screening of the impending finale in Chicago), McGonagall has a very respectable number of applause-worthy moments – rightfully so, I say, as she is certainly amongst the best and the most heroic of characters in the ‘Potter’ universe.

Lucius Malfoy

Played by: Jason Isaacs
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: A

This is another casting decision and performance that I admit, I have no complaints about. I always thought of Jason Isaacs as a great actor, and he is usually seen playing villainous characters, so it seems a no-brainer to cast him as the aristocratic and despicably prejudiced Death Eater Lucius Malfoy?

Much like Ralph Fiennes, Isaacs is phenomenal at playing detestably evil characters. In Chamber of Secrets, Lucius Malfoy (father to Draco, Harry’s school rival) is at the epicenter of the dangerous events unfolding within the school, thus making him the essential antagonist of the second film. This may seem outrageous and perhaps a bit blasphemous, but I am very curious as to the idea of Isaacs and Fiennes switching roles, and watching the former assume the role of the Dark Lord. There is nothing disappointing or underwhelming in his performance as Malfoy, it is simply a matter of curiosity, as I think he would have played Voldemort beautifully.

The filmmakers properly conveyed the “rationing” of the villains; what I mean by this is that rather vile characters (like Malfoy), who seem horrible, are the prime antagonists in the earlier installments. Once Lord Voldemort returns, however, these characters that we felt were horrific and villainous now seem absolutely wholesome by comparison – this technique has actually been complimented by Isaacs himself, praising Jo Rowling’s ingenious style of creating a sort-of “pyramid of villainy.”

In Deathly Hallows: Part I we begin to see the tip of the iceberg concerning Lucius’s fall from grace in Voldemort’s circle. Having once been one of You-Know-Who’s most trusted servants, Lucius Malfoy, who is present in the opening scene of the film, could not appear more different than when we are first introduced to him in Chamber of Secrets. Not only is his general appearance substantially less flattering: his hair is greasy and unkempt, his eyes sunken and shadowy, etc, but there is also no sign of the familiar, sneering arrogance he carried that he so obviously passed onto his son. The storyline of the Malfoys is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, considering the Malfoy family’s intent was once to gain as much power as possible within Voldemort’s circle; as Voldemort’s power begins to peak, however, and the Dark Lord begins to display outward contempt for them, humiliating and degrading Lucius whenever possible, their motivation dramatically changes from a loyalty to Voldemort’s establishment of his new regime into a desperate struggle to remain together, and to ultimately survive the war.

Dolores Umbridge

Played by: Imelda Staunton
Performance: B-
Screen Treatment: C

Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic and High Inquisitor of Hogwarts School will never fail to introduce herself without that very lengthy title before her. She is a downright awful, infuriatingly menacing character — one I wish I could personally slap in the face. She projects a false image of girlish sweetness, and hides a savagely sadistic disposition to abuse her power and torment students.

Casting Imelda Staunton, though a fine actress, was the first red flag that the character would not be translated to the screen properly. Why was this decision a red flag? Not just because Staunton looks nothing like the enormously fat, toad-like woman described in the book, but because she is also simply too likeable. Everything about Umbridge is meant to infuriate us, as she represents such an enormous problem Harry has to overcome: the Ministry’s refusal to believe Voldemort has returned and their very public attempts to defame Harry and Dumbledore as much as possible. Umbridge is the ultimate embodiment of a flawed institution, and though she is present mostly in Order of the Phoenix, she certainly leaves her mark in Deathly Hallows: Part I, as the newly-appointed Head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, overseeing the trials of the Muggle-borns and imprisoning them for “theft of magic by force.”

Perhaps, being that Umbridge plays her most prominent role in Order of the Phoenix, which was absolutely the biggest a-hole train wreck of a ‘Potter’ movie; her screen treatment is woefully incompetent. Rather than being the shocking, cruel, wretched and infuriating witch Jo Rowling so aptly created, the movie Umbridge is merely an inconvenience.

Sirius Black

Played by: Gary Oldman
Performance: B-
Screen Treatment: D

Sirius Black is such a fantastic character, and Gary Oldman is an equally fantastic actor – it’s truly a shame that Sirius Black (on screen) is such a hollow, insignificant character, one that lacks any of the endearingly flawed qualities of Rowling’s creation. We’re first introduced to Sirius in Prisoner of Azkaban, and throughout most of the novel/movie, we are under the impression that he was a traitor to James and Lily Potter by selling their whereabouts to Lord Voldemort, and that he is now after Harry. Eventually, his innocence is revealed and he re-assumes his role of godfather to Harry.

Sirius Black was a very exciting character to read, as he was very unpredictable, hot-headed and always entertaining. The only member of his family for generations to rebel against the insanely strict “pure-bloods-only” mentality and placed in Gryffindor House, Sirius was the best friend of James Potter and a beloved father figure to Harry.

In the movies, I find it tremendously difficult to really sympathize with Sirius. There is not much to his character, and nowhere in the films are there moments where Sirius surprises us or is as radically hot-tempered as his literary counterpart. Jo Rowling wrote Sirius Black as such a vividly human and multi-dimensional character that was never dull and whom I always enjoyed reading. In the films, however, Sirius just seems to be one of many in the series of characters improperly staged.

NEXT!!! The Final Posting in Magic Lantern’s “Harry Potter Retrospective” Looks at the Following Actors:

Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange)
Tom Felton
(Draco Malfoy)

David Thewlis (Remus Lupin) and
the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, & Rupert Grint

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: A Breakdown of the All-Star Cast

As the ‘Harry Potter‘ series will be closing permanently in July, looking back and examining the massive ensemble is truly mind-blowing, as it seems each of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished thespians were willing to play a role in the films. I assigned the actors letter grades – but the grading is not based solely on their performances; I have also taken into account the character’s general screen treatment, which is mainly a product of the writer and director. Since there are so many to examine and critique, this is the 1st of 3 postings on the ‘British Acting Elite.’ — W.B.

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Played by: Richard Harris (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets) and Michael Gambon
Performance:
B + (Harris); B (Gambon)

Screen Treatment: D-

Dumbledore is undoubtedly one of my absolute favorite characters. He is the supreme paragon of wisdom, goodness and a brilliant mentor to Harry. Despite his benign, gentle and always calm nature, he is also one bad-ass wizard. I mean, come on, he’s the only wizard that Voldemort is deathly afraid of.

Harris’s performance as Dumbledore was adequate, I suppose, but I also think his old age and his suffering from Hodgkin’s disease at the time may have prevented him from delivering the best performance he could have.

Michael Gambon was cast for Prisoner of Azkaban and the rest of the films after Harris’s passing. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from fans is that they find his performances unbearable. But I believe it is Dumbledore’s screen treatment that is to blame. The Dumbledore in the movies is a short-tempered, angry and vulnerable man, essentially the antithesis of Rowling’s beloved headmaster. To those who complain, I say: don’t blame the actor, blame the filmmakers.

Lord Voldemort

Played by: Ralph Fiennes
Performance: B+
Screen Treatment: C

Just as Dumbledore is the epitome of goodness, Lord Voldemort is the champion of all things horrid and evil. He is a raging psychopath, devoid of compassion and mercy, and I believe he is undoubtedly the most horrifying literary villain ever created. Genocidal, deformed and terribly prejudiced, Lord Voldemort has unsurprisingly been the product of many of my nightmares, and I am certain I’m not the only one.

Though Ralph Fiennes is a brilliant actor (one of my personal favorites, actually), I find myself constantly underwhelmed by his performance as Voldemort. Fiennes does seem to have a reasonable comprehension of the Dark Lord – describing him as “…absolute evil. He’s very much the Devil.” I believe Fiennes was most likely offered the role more for his past portrayals of despicable characters (such as Amon Goeth, the appalling Nazi pig from Schindler’s List), and a knack for embracing unadulterated evil, than for a potential aptitude to embody He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Lord Voldemort’s screen treatment, to me, is also sadly inaccurate. For example, in the Goblet of Fire film, during the Little Hangleton graveyard scene (directly after the Dark Lord’s rebirth), Fiennes runs amongst the headstones like a madman, darting furiously about, barking at Harry and the Death Eaters like an ill-tempered drill sergeant. This is not the behavior of the terrifying Dark wizard that so aptly gave me chills on the page, but a substantially less frightening character, which is arguably only parallel to the novel’s description of Voldemort by simply being hairless, pale, and famously sporting those snake-like slits for nostrils. The Dark Lord who so effectively frightened me was subtly terrifying – very sparingly raising his voice, and keeping his servants terrified with softly-spoken statements that very subtly expressed his malice:

He put back his terrible face and sniffed, his slit-like nostrils widening.
“I smell guilt,” he whispered. “There is a stench of guilt upon the air.”
A shiver ran through the circle, as though each member of it desperately longed, but did not dare, to step away from him.

This Rowling passage I find to be one of the hundreds of examples throughout the series of Voldemort inspiring fear and apprehension – and not just among his enemies, but also his servants. Sadly, the Dark Lord was translated to the screen unsatisfactorily, despite being portrayed by a fantastic actor.

Professor Severus Snape

Played by: Alan Rickman
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: B-

”Well, Mr. Potter…our…new…celebrity…”

Severus Snape is undoubtedly my favorite character in the series – and despite the fact that Alan Rickman is about twenty-five years older than Snape is supposed to be, I wouldn’t dream of ever complaining about something as trivial as an age difference, for Rickman’s performance is, to put it mildly, golden. The audience hangs onto his every very drawn-out syllable, and even though viewers are very familiar with Rickman’s portrayal of the bitter, miserable Potions Master after having seen it multiple times (as he appears in every single movie) he still manages to surprise us, impress us and do a marvelous job of entertaining us.

Severus Snape is by far the most complex, fascinating and multi-layered character Jo Rowling created – and during the years prior to the release of the final two books, whilst discussing Snape she would constantly advise her readers to “keep an eye on him,” which, as those of us who have read and finished the series know, was a very significant statement. Snape ignited ferocious debates amongst ‘Potter’ fans and was certainly the most closely-speculated, baffling and enigmatic of all the characters in the ‘Potter’ universe.

What I also find very interesting is that Alan Rickman was the only person equipped with the knowledge (besides, of course, Queen Rowling) of the crucial answers exposed in one of the very last chapters in the series, “The Prince’s Tale” (My favorite chapter in the entire saga). Rickman would utilize this knowledge and apply it (very successfully) to his performances in each movie – knowledge that would ultimately assist him in understanding where Snape’s ferocious animosity towards Harry came from, and also why Snape constantly risks his life in order to protect the Boy Who Lived.

I have yet to meet a fan who has been disappointed, under-whelmed or dissatisfied with Rickman’s ingenious portrayal of Professor Snape. Of course, his screen treatment is naturally disappointing – which is not any fault of Rickman’s. The filmmakers barely laid any groundwork for the enormous revelation that is to take place in Deathly Hallows: Part II regarding Snape, but we can only hope that somehow they’ve realized this, and that they find a method of closing the brilliant tale of Severus Snape, my absolute favorite character, in a way that honors his story.

Rubeus Hagrid

Played by:  Robbie Coltrane
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: B-

It’s impossible to bring up Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Ground at Hogwarts, without fondly exclaiming and elaborating on just how lovable the half-giant is. Robbie Coltrane was another brilliant casting decision, and Hagrid is one of the very few characters brought to the screen that I have never complained about.

As predicted, Hagrid’s backstory regarding Rita Skeeter’s exposure of his giant ancestry and the hatred and bigotry he faced afterwards was deleted. Although predictable, it was still an unfortunate loss of a fantastic storyline regarding the beloved, magical beast-loving half-giant.

Coltrane always seems to be reading lines taken directly out of the book, as Hagrid’s very distinct style of speaking that Rowling created was projected with a fine accuracy by the actor. Subtle details that collectively contribute to Hagrid’s character are often on display throughout the films much to my delight, such as the birthday cake spelled: “Happee Birthdae Harry,” his horrible brown suit and orange polka-dotted tie saved for formal occasions and constant signs of his reckless affection for dangerous magical creatures.

Hagrid’s presence in the films gradually dwindles in the latter installments of the series (as they did in the books), but the audience remains just as fond of him as ever, and devout fans of the books (including myself) were beside themselves with relief as we watched Hagrid survive the final battle; a survival, that I must admit, I feared unlikely. Ultimately, Hagrid’s cinematic treatment was one of the most satisfying and accurate, and could not have been played by a more appropriate (or large enough) actor.

NEXT!!! Featured in Part 2 of Our Cast Breakdown Feature:

The Oscar-winning Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall)
Imelda Staunton
(Dolores Umbridge)

Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) and
Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy)

Links to The Lantern’s “Harry Potter Retrospective” by Rowling Geek William Buhagiar:

Click Here to see Part I (an introduction to the film series)
Click Here to see Part II (a look at the first two films)
Click Here to see Part III (a look at films 3 and 4)
Click Here to see Part IV (a look at films 5 & 6)
Click Here to see Part V (a look at Deathly Hallows I)

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’ (Part 5): A Look at “Deathly Hallows”

This is the last mini-review in the ‘Harry Potter Retrospective,’ as contributing author William Buhagiar takes a personal & discerning look at last year’s Deathly Hallows: Part I. Of course the final installment of the mega-franchise is set to release in a few weeks (July 15th) – a bittersweet event for fans of the books and films, I am sure. I would bet my rent money that Mr. Buhagiar will be there to see it at the scheduled midnight screening — or any time on its first day of release — and he’s graciously committed to writing a full review for Magic Lantern that very weekend. In reading his very positive commentary on Part I, I can only hope that he is not severely let down with Part II as I fear that a squad of firemen may have to spend a few hours trying to talk him off a 10-story ledge. This special Retrospective will wrap up with Buhagiar’s astute analysis on many of the actors who have appeared in the Harry Potter films. A special “Thank You” to him for dedicating himself and writing such a thorough Series. Kudos to you William!!! — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2010
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

I cannot stress enough how anxious I was entering the IMAX theater at midnight to see this film. Never before had I been as tense about a movie, silently hoping with the desperation of a true nerd that once the lights came up at the end, I would not be tempted to blow up the theater. Deathly Hallows: Part I is undoubtedly my favorite of the books, and I don’t believe I would have been able to tolerate a treatment of the material that did not do it justice.

When the film ended and the credits began to roll, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Of course, it is not the book, but it is by far the finest of the films yet. Audiences unfamiliar with the original material were also satisfied – the only complaint I have yet to hear is that, at times, the film is a bit slow. (This is not at all an issue with readers; of course, we eat up every miniscule detail they include.)

Very few events are cut, and those that did not make it into the film are essentially trivial, not nearly as vital to the story’s progression. This, the seventh installment, finally embraced the tone of the books properly; the film is very dark and violent, with a constant sense of danger and fear throughout. As this is the first of the movies that does not take place at Hogwarts, the three principles are (for the most part) alone, and the supporting adult characters have very little screen time. I believe that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint give their finest performances yet in this installment, and they did an admirable job of carrying the movie.

One scene in the film did infuriate me, however, and I’m sure if you’ve seen the film and read the book you know precisely what I’m referring to. There is a moment when Harry and Hermione are alone in the tent. The atmosphere is grim and Hermione is listening to a radio, looking morose. Harry, in an attempt to cheer her up, silently invites her to dance – and they very revoltingly do just that. I’m willing to overlook this, as this was the only maddening part of the film.

The Tale of the Three Brothers,” a sequence which I believed would be extremely difficult to adapt and explains the legend of the Deathly Hallows, was so ingeniously staged that I must admit, was even better than what I had envisioned in my head during the reading of the book, using a unique blend of computer animation and shadow puppetry. The destruction of the locket in the Forest of Dean, following the appearance of the mysterious silver doe, was another masterfully staged scene that far surpassed my expectations.

As in the book, the events that take place in Deathly Hallows: Part I are the most intense and severe. The film opens with a statement by Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (played by Bill Nighy): “These are dark times…” The Dursleys pack up and leave Privet Drive to go into hiding, Hermione “obliviates” her parents to protect them from the Death Eaters, performing a spell that makes them forget their daughter and leave the country – and the tearful Hermione watches sadly as she disappears from the photographs on the walls. After this brief opening montage, we arrive at the home of the Malfoys, which Lord Voldemort has decided to use as his headquarters. He sits at the head of a long, ornate table, and is holding a meeting with his Death Eaters, and the scene explores the situation of the war: the Dark Lord has infiltrated the Ministry, he is getting stronger by the minute, but there is one last barrier he has yet to overcome: Harry Potter is still alive, and Voldemort himself must be the one to kill him. Throughout the scene, a bruised, bloody and tortured woman is suspended above the table; a Hogwarts professor passionately teaches students that Muggle-borns, witches and wizards with no magical relatives, are equal to “pure-bloods.” Lord Voldemort, obsessed with blood purity, begins his reign of terror (essentially genocide) in eliminating any witch or wizard born to Muggles. This very disturbing scene ends with the Dark Lord murdering the professor, and feeding her to his snake, ultimately setting the stage for the rest of the film.

Like the book, the film is suspenseful, dark and even harrowing at times. The heroes are truly pushed to the limit as the circumstances in the war against Voldemort reach astonishingly desperate levels. Nowhere is safe for Harry, Ron and Hermione, there is a Death Eater attack around every corner, and the body count far surpasses any of the previous entries. Voldemort is no longer featured solely in the climax, giving Ralph Fiennes a generous amount of screen time, and he appears much more often, sans-nose, than he has before. Helena Bonham-Carter boldly leaves her mark on the audience and provides a very different side to Bellatrix Lestrange than what we had seen in the previous films (in “Order of the Phoenix and “Half-Blood Prince,” despite being murderous and destructive, her insanity was entertaining in a more harmless, almost laughably crazy way). In Deathly Hallows: Part I, however, the diabolical witch’s sadism is brutal, disturbing and chillingly cruel – especially during a scene towards the climax, which she targets Hermione and mercilessly tortures her, and carves the unforgivable prejudiced term for Muggle-borns, “Mudblood,” into her skin.

As the film comes to an end, and we mourn the death of a beloved, heroic character, not only are we grieving for the tragedy, but also for the fact that we must patiently wait for the subsequent chapter of the story. After my first viewing of the movie in November, Part II was a frustratingly-tedious eight months away, and now it is less than one. As much as I cannot wait to see the final showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, and watch the phenomenally gargantuan, epic battle between good and evil that will ensue (though I am bound to shed a few tears, as we lose so many beloved characters here), there is also the inevitable consequence of the series coming to a close that I’ll have to face. I sincerely hope that Part II is as satisfying as this film was, but considering the major events that are to take place towards the climax, I have my doubts, and fear that these scenes, some of which are my favorite of the entire series, will be radically under whelming. Hey, you never know, maybe my current cynicism will all be in vain, and Part II will pleasantly surprise me. I will simply expect the worst, but hope for the best.

Here’s a trailer for Deathly Hallows: Part II

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part 4): Films 5 & 6

It’s Back!!! — Part 4 of Magic Lantern’sHarry Potter Retrospective” by contributing author William Buhagiar. Here, Buhagiar looks at Films 5 and 6 in the series — and doesn’t hold his tongue in the process. Clearly, he has major issues with these two particular films, and tells us why. Do you agree? Are these films as poorly executed as he says – or is William being too harsh on them? As someone who has not seen these two (just yet), I would love to read your thoughts & feedback. Our next Part will feature William’s review of the 7th film, followed by a commentary on select actors from the all-star cast. — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Michael Goldenberg
Released:               2007
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

This is not just my book-devoted, frenzied biased speaking – “Order of the Phoenix” is simply not a good film. And as far as an adaptation of a novel goes, it is the most gruesome two hours I’ve had the grave misfortune of wasting. (Note: I do in fact own the DVD, because years after my first nightmarish viewing I decided to revisit it and give it another shot.)  This was the ‘Potter’ movie I was the least excited to see, as I had known prior to seeing it that the 860-page book had been trimmed massacred to a mere two hours, making it the shortest out of any of the ‘Potter’ films. Does this make sense to you? I think not. I was also far too distracted by the fact that the final book, Deathly Hallows,” was to be released the same week.

Unlike the previous movie, “Order of the Phoenix” had a very sloppy, disjointed script and strayed far from the crucial points of the story that created a brilliant climax – a climax that essentially never even takes place in the film. Considering this installment was not written for the screen by Steve Kloves, who had penned each of the previous scripts (and the ones that followed), the movie suffers the serious consequence of being written by an extraordinarily incapable writer.

Visually, sets such as the Ministry of Magic, the Department of Mysteries, and the Room of Requirement were satisfying and accurate. Imelda Staunton, though she looks nothing like the fat, toad-faced Senior Undersecretary described in the book, delivered an adequate performance of Dolores Umbridge’s false sweetness. The film did not, however, accurately convey the cruelty and inhumanity of the appalling and power-crazed Professor Umbridge, who Rowling made us loathe.

There is one aspect of the film, and the following films, which always stays with me when I finish viewing them. Helena Bonham-Carter’s performance as the sadistic psychopath Bellatrix Lestrange is one of my absolute favorite parts of the movies. Bonham-Carter is my single favorite actress — I find her a wickedly intoxicating performer whom I cannot takes my eyes off whenever she is on screen. Her fearless performance soars, explosively, in each of her scenes – and unfortunately she is only given a few minutes of screen time in the film.

This is by far my least favorite of the movies, as it completely neglected such wildly crucial elements of the story that are key components in many following events. This was such an insanely important part of the story, and not only were the filmmakers robbing fans of beloved material, but also leaving audiences unfamiliar with the novels terribly confused.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:               2009
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

Why, why, why did the filmmakers take the story of “Half-Blood Prince,” one of the finest volumes of the series, and decide to make the movie a romantic comedy? Anyone who has seen the film knows I am not lying, nor am I exaggerating this sentiment. It was a Goddamn romantic comedy — a showcase of comical teenage relationships that was barely a footnote in the novel. And what are the consequences? Elements of the story which are actually relevant, that have no reason to be left out, are nowhere to be found. (I’m referring, fellow nerds, to the memories we see in the Pensieve, among other things.)

Also rather agonizing to stomach is the film’s reluctance to actually focus on the titular character (whose name I will not reveal…I think I’ve delivered enough spoilers so far). During the climax, when the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is revealed, I sensed a heavy feeling of “nobody gives a shit,” because this mystery was speculated on for about thirty seconds on screen.

Mercifully, this was nowhere near the caliber of the unforgivable “Order of the Phoenix” tragedy. Steve Kloves returned to write the script and in his original draft, each of the memories featured in the book (nerds know what I’m talking about) takes place. I don’t know whose decision it was to remove them in order to show the audience that wizards have hormones too, but I would love nothing more than to provide that person with a swift dropkick right in the teeth. Once again, I have no complaints about the visuals — the film is shot beautifully and each new set piece is as authentically Rowling-esque as ever. Helena Bonham Carter pops up to steal the show as Bellatrix Lestrange a few times, cackling madly, being chaotic and destructive, and setting nearly everything in her path aflame.

I suppose, considering this was their very last chance to be humorous and charming with the world of Harry Potter (as everything that follows is nothing but grim), they seized the opportunity and ran with it, leaving us not only furious, but also confused as to how exactly they intend to tie up loose ends in the final episode, when vital information contained in “Half-Blood Prince” was not just watered-down, but left out of the film entirely. No, the movies cannot be the books – but there’s no excuse for them to lose focus on what is important in the story.

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part 3): Films 3 & 4

OK, here is the third part of The Lantern’s 5-part “Harry Potter” series by contributing author William Buhagiar. Here, Buhagiar takes a look at the 3rd and 4th installments of the franchise — “Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Goblet of Fire” respectively. The 5th and 6th films will be included in Part 4, and the series will conclude with an insightful look at select cast members of the Harry Potter films. I think this is an exciting series, and I am certainly enjoying reading from the perspective of someone who absolutely loves (and knows) the books. As for myself, I am working on getting through the films — I have the third film at home ready to watch. So far, in my humble opinion, I adored the first film and thought it to be quite charming. The 2nd film (“Chamber of Secrets“), I thought was painfully slow and not nearly as good as its predecessor. I am however looking forward to seeing the newest film on the big screen in July — I will be all caught up by then. — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

Director:                  Alfonso Cuaron
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2004
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

Upon beginning “Prisoner of Azkaban,” audiences are, at this point, relatively familiar with the logistics of the Wizarding World. “Quidditch,” “Muggles,” and “Hogwarts” are all words casually utilized by characters and audiences are no longer puzzled when wands are directed, potions are brewed or broomsticks mounted.

Alfonso Cuaron, director of A Little Princess and Children of Men brought a noticeably distinct style to the world of “Harry Potter,” with richer visuals and a slightly darker overtone than Chris Columbus’s previous films.  Michael Gambon, after the passing of Richard Harris, was re-cast as the iconic Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, much to the outrage of fans.

The third novel was a fresh introduction to new layers of the story, and this adaptation called for many sacrifices, much to the dismay of loyal fans. In the novel, the story of Harry’s parents is a crucial element in the current plot – and unfortunately, much of it is ignored by the film; some of it blatantly disregarded. Thus began one of the boldest flaws of the ‘Potter’ films: vital information used to shape the story was ignored, leaving the films watered-down, shallow, and even confusing to audiences who haven’t read the book.

Azkaban” was also an introduction to another of Rowling’s spectacular, but terrifying, inventions: the Dementors, the guards of Azkaban, stationed at Hogwart’s to hunt for Sirius Black. Dementors create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and depression, and force human beings to mentally revisit their darkest and most horrific memories. In the case of Harry Potter, whenever a Dementor is near, the disturbing screams of his mother pleading for Voldemort’s mercy reverberate in his head. The Dementors in the film could have been disappointing, as I expected a more harmless adaptation of the soul-sucking, nightmarish creatures – but the film certainly exceeded expectations, delivering eerie, chilling hooded figures that made the audience silently breathe a sigh of relief when Harry, at last, performed his successful Patronus charm.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Director:                  Mike Newell
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2005
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

We all knew that 734 pages of story would have to face a serious compromise to be adapted into a two-and-a-half-hour movie. Hermione’s beloved Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare was to be deleted completely, we were told months in advance. Our initial outrage faded shortly, as we ultimately came to the conclusion that it wasn’t vital in the progression of the main plot — the plot concerning the many omens, steadily unfolding, that the Dark Lord was plotting his second rise to power.

Being the most pivotal and unpredictable of the novels yet to be adapted for the big screen, I was beside myself with excitement during the months prior to the release of this installment. Having been assigned the first PG-13 rating of the franchise, I was semi-confident that the filmmakers abandoned their desperation to maintain their appeal to younger audiences and embrace the more adult tone the books had evolved towards.

In “Goblet of Fire,” not only was I certain to see the staging of the Quidditch World Cup, the Yule Ball, the Triwizard Tournament and each of the riveting tasks involved – but personally, the most breathlessly-anticipated event: the rebirth of Lord Voldemort. Having Ralph Fiennes cast as the infamous “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” was probably the best piece of news regarding the adaptations I had received prior to any of the films’ releases, and at age fifteen, it was a joyful slap in the face that left me dizzy, and constantly imagining the look, the performance, and the first and most shockingly terrifying event yet to take place in the series.

Sadly, the finished product didn’t meet or satisfy my expectations (which were most likely impossible to meet, anyway). Having been familiar with a book so rich in detail, so mesmerizing in plot, and so brilliant in scope, I expected, I suppose, to receive the same awe-inspiring and arguably brutal slap in the face that the book, being so wildly unpredictable and so perfect in execution, had given me. The Goblet of Fire” was my first real introduction to Harry Potter book-to-film casualties that only, sadly, had just begun.

Brief note: the film does have a few strong points; I feel that the filmmakers were focused in delivering plot points that were vital to the proper progression of the main story arc. These events, of course, were heavily filtered, but hey, at least they were there.

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part II): The First Two Films

Welcome to Part II of the Magic Lantern’sHarry Potter Retrospective” written by contributing film geek, William Buhagiar. Part I gave us a personal look back on the mega-popular books being adapted into films. For the next few installments, Buhagiar provides us with insightful mini-reviews of each movie. Here, he takes a look at the first two films. Following the critiques, Buhagiar will focus on and study select cast members. As a film-goer who is just now getting into the Harry Potter films (very late, I know), I am finding this series pretty enlightening — and I now look forward to seeing the rest of the films. — P.E.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Director:                 Chris Columbus
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:               2001
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

In retrospect, assigning Chris Columbus the job of director for a story as fantastical as ‘Potter’ is a considerably odd choice. With films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone and Stepmom under his belt prior to “Sorcerer’s Stone,” naturally there was skepticism amongst fans of the book. One positive attribute we were certain of, at least, was his proven talent in working successfully with younger actors.

Considering this was the first installment of a seven-part story, Columbus, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and the rest of the design team would not only have to execute the story properly, but also lay the groundwork for the remaining six installments – and I believe they did so admirably. Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the Great Hall and even the mundane suburban Privet Drive, home of the loathsome Dursley family were visually translated with great respect to Rowling’s detailed descriptions.

This was undoubtedly the easiest of the books to adapt, as it is the shortest in length and very few elements of the book were cut in consideration of length. What made this film important, as already stated, would be the fact that this would be the establishment of the world Rowling created, to be revisited in each future ‘Potter’ film.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone does make a good film, and a satisfying one for fans of the book, as there were very few sacrifices involved in its creation. Since it is the first, and so early in the story, it is more of a children’s movie, less complex and more charming, humorous and family-friendly.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

Director:                 Chris Columbus
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2002
I Saw It:                  Twice
William’s Rating: 

Chris Columbus once again sat in the director’s chair for the second installment, and maintained the same family-friendly tone he had utilized in his adaptation of the previous film. No complaints there, as “Chamber of Secrets” was also more of an expositional story as opposed to the complex, multi-layered events that take place later in the series. The film, like Sorcerer’s Stone,” managed to remain relatively faithful to the novel and sacrifice very little – which naturally satisfied devoted fans.

The film wonderfully introduces us, as did the book, to the prejudice and bigotry that exists in the wizarding world. After Ron furiously attacks Draco Malfoy after the latter hatefully refers to Hermione as a “Mudblood,” a word unfamiliar to Harry, we learn that the term is an intolerant, venomous slur for witches and wizards born to Muggle parents. The word is so looked down upon, in fact, that the use of it generates the same caliber of outrage and shock that the use of the Dark Lord’s name inspires. It is essentially the magical equivalent of the ‘n’ word.

The “Chamber of Secrets,” an ancient hidden chamber buried deep underneath Hogwarts, is the home of a monstrous creature that, when released by the Heir of Slytherin, sets out to rid the castle of each Muggle-born within. “Chamber of Secrets” ultimately is the audience’s first acquaintance with the bigotry within the wizarding world that plays a much greater, and graver, role in future installments.

A Special ‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part I)

With the upcoming — and immensely anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II scheduled for release on July 15th, I thought now would be the perfect time to take a closer look at the “Harry Potter” series film by film, leading up to this latest (and final?) installment. However, I wanted to give the series the respect it deserves — and alas, I am not the right person for this weighty undertaking. In fact, as sad as it is for me to admit, I only recently watched the very first film (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and will certainly watch the rest of the films before “Deathly Hallows: Part II” is released. No, this retrospective needed to be written by an incisive professor of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This special Magic Lantern series is written by William Buhagiar (who previously contributed to this website with his Top 5 Tim Burton Films), a man who knows his movies and has an astute knowledge of Rowling’s works.

This first installment serves as an introduction Buhagiar, a passionate ‘Potter’ fan, reflects on a decade of the cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s “seven-volume masterpiece” (to use his words). The following installments will feature mini-reviews of each film — plus, a look at the all-star cast that the films have featured. I hope all of you Potter fans out there enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed reading it — and, as always, feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions…even if you strongly disagree. Let him know. William is a big boy…he can take it. — P.E.

Very rarely, and I mean very rarely, does a story come along that so radically explodes into public consciousness. One perfect example of this, undeniably, would be the ‘Harry Potter’ series.

The ‘Harry Potter’ phenomenon, for me, began in 1999, when I was given a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my ninth birthday. Not yet familiar with J.K. Rowling’s extraordinary creation of a world-within-a-world featuring witches, wizards, dragons, aerial broomsticks, potion lessons, etc., I approached the then-obscure book with nothing more than a vague curiosity…and the rest is history.

Now, twelve years later, I am still as furiously obsessed with Rowling’s masterfully executed seven-volume saga of good versus evil as I was upon completing the very first ‘Potter’ novel. Myself, and many others my age, are grateful to be part of what is lovingly referred to as “The Potter Generation,” as we essentially grew up with Harry. From the release of “Sorcerer’s Stone” up until the savagely-anticipated unveiling of “Deathly Hallows,” (the fastest-selling book in history, by the way) we, the madly-devoted fans, would faithfully wait years in between the releases of each volume – which, as any fan would admit, was agonizing. We gladly waited on obscenely long lines at bookstores for the midnight release of each book – not for the simple novelty of attending a midnight ‘Potter’ event, but because we simply could not wait another second to resume the story and hunt feverishly for answers to the questions we had been asking since reading the previous book. Was Snape really Lord Voldemort’s servant? Who was the unknown wizard who stole Slytherin’s locket? How many more beloved characters would we have to confront the devastation of losing in the war against the Death Eaters? And what was the significance of Dumbledore’s momentary “look of triumph” upon discovering that Voldemort had used Harry’s blood as a component for his rebirth?

During the third book, “Prisoner of Azkaban,” Rowling’s books began to grow steadily, palpably darker – and after the fourth, “Goblet of Fire,” it was abundantly clear that these books were no longer the harmless, delightful children’s stories we had grown accustomed to. They had now adapted a dramatically darker and disturbing tone. Beloved characters were dropping dead left and right, a brutal genocide arose and characters more shockingly cruel and inhumane than we could have ever expected in a ‘Potter’ book were introduced. The books had suddenly evolved from sweet, charming children’s stories into a ferociously suspenseful political fairy tale – hence the true magic of Rowling’s writing: her story was now appealing to more adults as favorably as it had to her younger readers. She understood that her young readers who began the stories as children were now more mature, and ready for something deeper, darker, and undeniably more violent than we had ever expected.

Naturally, books as wildly successful as the ‘Potter’ saga are bound to be adapted into films, and adapted they were. Warner Brothers seized the film rights while the ‘Potter’ name was still a hot item, and since 2001, I’ve watched the stories be translated from beloved text to big screen blockbusters. It is common knowledge amongst those I discuss the ‘Potter’ movies with that I find the movies less-than-satisfying, to put it mildly. Of course, as argued to me in the past, books and movies are two very separate mediums, which I must respect – but a Harry Potter junkie like me can only respect so much before he is tempted to rip out his eyeballs in frustration. For this retrospective, I will attempt to maintain a less-prejudiced mindset, and view each film as it is meant to be viewed – as a motion picture…no more and no less. Naturally, covering each aspect of the series (roughly 5,000 pages of story and exactly 1,168 minutes of cinema) is relatively impossible for this humble posting, so I will be covering those topics which I found most distinct throughout the adaptations of Rowling’s novels.

Henceforth, I will now begin discussing each film in the franchise, beginning with 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With the very last installment hitting theaters in July, this will indeed be a bittersweet undertaking. The ‘Potter’ series has been with me for over half my life, and as Harry grew older, I grew older. Despite the fact that the story itself came to a close (for me) July 22nd, 2007, upon completing the very last novel in the series, I am still not looking forward to the lights coming up in the theater after “Deathly Hallows Part II,” when I will have to bid Harry, Hogwarts, Ron, Hermione, Snape and Dumbledore my final, inevitably tearful farewell.

Thank you, Miss Rowling, for giving us such a marvelous story. — by William Buhagiar

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