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Voldemort Strikes Back by FullAuto Written on 11th January 2006

Directed by: Mike Newell.
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Spall.
Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 18th November, 2005.
Running time: 157 minutes.

I've never been much of a Harry Potter fan, really. I read the books, and they were fairly well done. I couldn't see what all the fuss was about, and the same with the films. I wondered what I was missing. Everyone else loved them, but they left me like a poor girlfriend, unsatisfied, lukewarm and slightly moist. Thank fuck then, that the series is finally going somewhere.

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Harry wondered what Hermione was doing to Ron under the desk.
Breaking the mould totally, Harry Potter's fourth year at Hogwarts is interrupted by some extraordinary events. Namely, his totally illegal entry into the Triwizard Tournament (giving Hogwarts a slightly unfair advantage, I feel), competing against two foreign schools and the official Hogwarts candidate, a smug twat you'd gladly push down some stairs. And the minor matter of Darth Voldemort's resurgence. Once again, Hogwarts is not a safe place to be. Never pass an Ofsted inspection, I'm telling you now. The traditional trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione are also suffering from a severe case of puberty, with raging hormones, engorged sex organs and hair sprouting in strange places. Not on screen, but it is only a 12. Newell is the best director so far, although I think they'd be wiser to stick with one director and hence have one unified cinematic vision of Rowling's books. Swapping directors will not keep the story fresh, although many may be fooled into thinking so.

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"Are you eyeballin' me, boy? I will skullfuck you to death!"
This film is actually a fairly important turning point in the series. The darker, more mature tone is matched by the script, which is less condescending than the other films. Thankfully, the actors do it justice, almost all turning in improved performances. Coltrane could do Hagrid in his sleep. Solid performance, there's just nothing for him to do. Rickman's screen time is much reduced but he makes up for it by oozing even more poison smarm. The under-appreciated Gleeson is a fucking star as a new teacher at Hogwarts, playing hs role with real energy and more than a little anger. Watson (Hermione) is her usual too-clever self, still stuck up but gaining a new dimension, not only physically but socially. Grint (Ron) is by far my favourite character. Ginger, bitter and cripplingly shy around girls, the only thing he has in common with Harry is ever-lengthening hair. I know they're the future, but do they have to be so fucking scruffy? Does knowing magic stop you using scissors? Ron is also finally coming to admit, if only to himself, that he'd quite like a bit of wand practice with Hermione. Sadly, Radcliffe (Harry) is still being carried by the supporting cast. To be fair, it may not be his acting but the character (Harry Potter comes across as unfailingly thick as shit). Nevertheless he's totally outshone. Special mention to the Phelps twins as Ron's brothers. Shit, but very funny. The over-acting in the conclusion of the film by several characters is minor and quite forgivable, though unintentionally comical at that.

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Son of Karate Kid hated rocks.
Visually, it's impressive. It's difficult to engender a sense of wonder or awe in these great days of knee-jerk CGI usage, but this film pulls it off. They've relied on Rowling's imagination (stroke of luck that, this being the fourth film and all) and there is a definite sense of fantastic grandeur which I haven't felt for a fair while. Undoubtedly there will be clashes between reader's imaginings and the film's CGI, but they'll be minimal. The darker aspects have also got the full treatment, dragons being the least of it. Full marks for the mer-people, totally avoiding the stereotypical image (the sort of girl who can wash in my salt water any time) and heading right for fucking horrible. The more mature aspects mean an appropriate increase in the BBFC rating, and I'm glad they did the right thing and didn't think of the kids. Newell seems to be more at home directing the darker scenes. I don't use words like 'portent', 'bodes' and 'eldritch' without provocation, but they are warranted here. The latter half of the film bodes with eldritch portent.

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Voldemort's come-face was terrifying.
The music. Ah, the music. John Williams did the themes, and whoever did the rest must be his bestest friend, because they both gleefully believe in scoring everything. Introductions to the word 'subtlety' are obviously in order. A light touch is sometimes required, and it's just not there. It's like watching the Third Reich try to run a Jewish school.

I'm happy to see such a complete translation of the books, but the flaws translate too. The formulaic structure certainly helped sell books and DVDs, but it does the story and the characters no favours. Something strange happens every year, but no one remembers and thinks to take extra precautions for next year. Because the story is so rigid, the characters are firmly held within and simply end up looking stupid, lacking initiative, not being able to recognise a clue if it fell on them from an immense height, or all three. All the classic problems of a plot-driven (as opposed to character-driven) story. Unless they are as thick as pig shit, by following the strictures of the plot they are actually behaving out of character. The baddies are mostly being evil for the sake of it, making them shallow and lacking in believable motivation. These are faults that can be found to a greater or lesser extent in the entire series.

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"You are not my father!"
And yet despite these faults, the film is still good. The relationships in particular are a fine foundation for the rest of the film to stand upon. Harry finally develops the sort of friendship with Dumbledore they've been trying to establish since the first film. Ron grows out of being Harry's sidekick with well-acted I-may-have-ginger-pubes-but-I'm-not-a-wanker-like-you resentment. Hermione realises her social horizons can expand beyond their little triumvirate, at the cost of a little goodwill, which she is all too willing to pay. In short, every important character gets a good healthy chunk of development.

If Rowling dares to break away from the established pattern and let the characters behave believably, as they do concerning their relationships, the story will only go from strength to strength. If, on the other hand, things stay as they are and they have depth when dealing with each other but magically (how appropriate) lose it when it comes to fighting Voldemort and his cronies, things are going to go down the toilet in short order. The maturing of the characters must also be matched with a maturing story. The first steps have been taken here, and I hope the rest follow.


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