Wrapping Up The Harry Potter Revisit Project

A few weeks ago I threw myself into a careless project: Watching all six Harry Potter movies, AND writing reviews of each of them on this blog.

In case you're tuning in late to this, let me start with the links to the six reviews:


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)


As indicated by my original mission statement I haven't read any of the books, and I don't plan to. I have seen each of the six films once before, but I never really got into that whole Potter universe. So what interested me was giving the films another chance, and seeing how they would hold up, when they were watched very close to each other. It turns out that wasn't such a bad idea after all. I had a good time revisiting the films.

Knowing what to expect greatly improved the first two films, which I must admit I have been bad-mouthing for years. The third, the fourth, and the sixth were as good as I remembered, while the fifth one was every bit as awful as my initial viewing had branded it. But were the films more than the sum of their parts?

No, but they weren't less either.

Originally I didn't quite get where the films were heading. Watching them a year or two apart there was no clear course through the franchise, but this time I had a much better sense of the direction they were going.

An unexpected bonus, was an added appreciation for the differences in the films. Along the way I complained about some of the minor inconsistencies in the franchise, like Emma Watson's performance, and I'll stand by that. I also felt the young wizards' magic abilities varied from film to film, and that was a bit annoying. However, suddenly I could appreciate the big differences. The varying styles of directing, changes in cinematography and production design, and the fact that the actors were slowly growing up, all these factors actually helped the films. Compare the Potter franchise to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. The three Rings films look like one big movie. The look is the same, the actors are the same, everything is the same, and by the end of the third film, you'll be sick of it. Literally. The differences in the Potter movies kept them fresh, and I didn't realize this until I watched them a day or two apart.

Still, I would have liked if the producers had been able to secure some interesting, iconic directors to helm these movies. That would have added SO much to them. There was talk about Terry Gilliam at one point. Alfonso Cuarón wanted to return. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Kenneth Branagh, and Guillermo del Toro were also mentioned. They were all scared away, because the producers kept too tight a grip on the reins. What would Potter have looked like in some of these hands? I think Gilliam might actually have saved the fifth film! Imagine him tackling the bureaucracy, Brazil-style.

So did this experience transform me into a fully-fledged Potter fan?

No. I'm still not sold on the wizard universe, it all just seems a bit uncool to me, you know, like line-dancing or baggy pants. Plus, how cool can it be when parents can get into something, along with their kids?

What sells the franchise to me are the characters. Okay, Ron is best when he's standing quietly in the background, but Hermione and Harry have my full attention. Hermione, because she's cute, Harry, because his destiny and his past are interesting. These characters are the reason I want to see the next two films.


Award time! Gotta give a final shout-out to my favorite films and characters. Here we go:

Best film

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

No doubt. Not too long, tight story, great personal drama. Just a straight-up solid film.

Best Franchise Actor/Actress

Gary Oldman, as Sirius Black

Gotta go with with Oldman. His commitment to the character surprised me. He's just so good.

Best Guest Appearance

Kenneth Branagh, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Branagh is so damn funny! Be sure to watch Much Ado About Nothing (1993) as well, by the way. I only wish he'd shown up in more than one film, but so be it.

Most Fascinating Young Wizard in a Supporting Role

Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood

Luna. Definitely Luna. If there was a book series about her, I would read that. God, she's weird.

Best Scene

Harry and Dumbledore's secret mission in the dark cave, from Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

When you're playing with magic, when people can transform, disappear, rise from the dead, it's difficult to get a sense of danger. This scene is different. This scene chills me to the bone. And I genuinely feared for Harry and Dumbledore.


Well, that's it for the Potter-ness. Almost. Believe it or not, I'll be milking this project for one final Potter-ish blog (sort of), stay tuned for that one. I also think it could be fun to do this again with another series of film. Any suggestions? Post them below!

The future of the Potter franchise will bring us a massive two-part adaptation of the seventh and final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I'm actually going to try to catch that at the cinema. That's the plan.

Until then... I'm officially Potter'ed out.


Special thanks to Dennis Rosenfeld and Anne Petersen for their assistance during these trying times.


Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Follow the exploits of the Single-Minded Movie blogger, as I revisit the six Harry Potter movies. Never read the books, didn't care much for the movies, the first time I saw them, but everyone deserves a second chance...


Facing unmeasurable odds, the sixth Harry Potter film must lift the baton, after the previous one dropped it in a pile of horse manure.

Still, with the same director at the helm, David Yates, we're beginning to get a sense of continuity in the franchise, as we're slowly moving towards the final showdown.


The darkness is spreading all over the world, and the magic community is in a state of unrest. Dumbledore enlists the help of Harry, to learn more about the Dark Lord, from the teacher who once taught him. Meanwhile Draco Malfoy has a special part to play for the dark side. Harry also finds an old book, with some very valuable notes.

Hermione and Ron finally become an item. Harry smooches yet another girl (this time it's Ron's sister, Ginny). And we lose a dear character.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is so many light-years ahead of the previous film that it's not even funny. Gone are the ridiculous plot-lines, the cartoonish characters, and the ridiculous plot-lines. Wait, I mentioned plot-lines twice, right? Well, they really were that stupid.

This time the fight against the Dark Lord is back in focus, as all the elements are being lined up for the final showdown. Even though the Unmentionable One doesn't actually show up here, his henchmen do a great job of terrorising everybody.

The film starts by slowly establishing that the darkness is seeping out into the real world - out among "regular" people. We hear rumors that attacks are occurring everywhere, and that people are disappearing. When the students arrive at Hogwarts, they face added security measures. Is this just paranoia? No, late at night when everyone is sleeping dark creatures try to penetrate the shield around the school. With a few very simple moves the film quickly creates a surprisingly effective sense of danger and claustrophobia. There's something really sinister at play here. Make no mistake, it's time to get out your wand and choose a side.

The wizards know this, and because the film works so well, so do we.

Despite the darkness, or perhaps because of it, the film takes the time to give us some great moments between our three young wizards. It even gets a little playful here and there.

Even though I'll still call Hermione's sanity into question, I like the way her and Ron's relationship develops. There's not an awful lot of room for Emma Watson and Rupert Grint here, but they make the best of it, especially Watson, who obviously enjoys sinking her teeth into the complicated emotions of her character. The scene where Hermione shares her frustrations with Harry is one of the best in the film. And it's just two people in an empty room! Another great moment comes when the boys are lying restless in bed at night talking about girls. I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's moments like this that makes everything else work. It's during these small scenes we're reminded what the big fight is all about.

Is this a good time to mention a completely unnecessary character that I absolutely love? Luna! She's back! God, she's so freakin' weird. What's the progress on her getting her own movie?

The biggest surprise of the film is Draco Malfoy. Remember him? He's the snotty kid who was supposed to be Harry's archenemy, but ended up being a joke. He's been walking around restlessly on the sidelines for five movies, but this time he finally has a proper part to play in the story.

Actor Tom Felton, whom I've criticized quite a bit, must be thrilled! Perhaps that's why he's been able to take control of his performance. He's turned down the volume and made Malfoy not only tolerable, but actually transformed him into an interesting character. We finally learn that Malfoy is not just a d**k, he's actually in league with the Dark Lord himself. He's become quiet and brooding, and there are hints of bitterness and regret in the performance. He's no longer a buffoon, he's a real threat. I didn't think it was possible to salvage Malfoy, but they've done it!

Alan Rickman's Professor Snape has also been waiting patiently in the wings. He's been in every one of the other films. He hasn't always had too much to do, but sometimes the sight of him lurking silently in the background was enough. With this character Rickman creates his third memorable screen villain (quick, what's the other two?). Though, I'm still not a hundred percent sure he really is a bad guy. Rickman is equally good in ordinary dramas, but he seems to get a special kick out of these villainous characters. That definitely shines through in this film. Snape finally gets to step out of the shadows and take part in the drama. And it's fantastic to watch.

In sharp contrast to Rickman's Snape we find Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. The character could have been reduced to a funny old guy in a hat, but Gambon finds a warmth in the composed headmaster, which I absolutely love. He's mysterious and strange, not because the script needs him to be, but because he cares a great deal for his students, and does everything in his power to protect them. Though I'm sad about the reason Gambon took over the role (original Dumbledore Richard Harris died after the second film, you'll recall) I'm still glad he did.

Perhaps this is a good time to cover director David Yates, who was also responsible for the previous film, The Order of the Phoenix. Before he was drafted to the Potter universe he did the State of Play (2003) miniseries and the TV-movie The Girl in the Café (2005). He's also directing the 7th and 8th Potter films, The Deathly Hallows: Part I & II (2010/2011). Yates is an even more curious choice than Mike Newell, who directed the fourth film. Yates has done absolutely nothing that would make anyone think he could handle anything in these films. Except the actors, of course, and perhaps that's the key. The performances from both Rupert Grint and Emma Watson - which previously have been all over the place - are perfectly in sync with Daniel Radcliffe's Harry, and as I mentioned earlier, even Malfoy now works! Is this Yates' fault? Let's say it is.

It terms of the visuals Yates also seems to have hit his stride. The fifth film had its moments - especially in the finale - but this film is almost pitch perfect. Perhaps he wasn't such a bad choice after all?

The Half-Blood Prince ends with two big set-pieces. First Dumbledore and Harry search a for an important piece of the Dark Lord's past. The sequence begins with two tiny fragile figures entering a vast dark cave. It ends in a sea of fire. The next sequence is the final showdown (I'm keeping this a bit vague to keep the spoilers to a minimum). All major characters, most of them representing the dark side, face off against each other.

I'm so impressed with these scenes. When I hear the words "wizards", "magic", "battle against evil", it's scenes like these that come to mind. They're epic, they're touching, they made me jump out of my seat! There are two films left in the series, and yet I still feared for Harry's life! When a film can pull that off, it's doing something right.


The Half-Blood Prince is an impressive return to form. It doesn't quite beat the third film, but it taps into an emotional ore, none of the other films have reached. Though the plot may seem a bit weak at first - Harry gets a cool magic book (cricket... cricket...) and he attempts to get a teacher to talk about another student (more crickets....) - the whole thing fits beautifully into the overall plot. The screws are effectively tightened throughout the film, ending in a spectacular, heartbreaking finale.

The darkness is no longer "on the way", it's HERE. It brings melancholy and sadness with it. We're close to the end now, we made it, but at what cost? One thing is certain: Harry is no longer an innocent boy. I don't know how the final showdown will play out, but I know this: It won't be quiet and it won't be pretty.

I can't wait.


And so we've reached the end of this little marathon. Well, not quite. I'll be wrapping up the whole experience in the next blog. Maybe I'll try to say something profound about the world, about society or something. Maybe I'll just be happy that it's over.

I can promise one thing, though: There will be prizes! Do check it out.


Feature running time: 153 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 607
Hermione Hotness Factor: 7/10. She's in a dress again. It's low-cut. I'm a bad person.
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 4/10
Voldemort-o-meter level: Zero. He's a kid in this one! You could squash him like a bug, or a small animal.

Best moment:
Harry and Dumbledore's secret mission in the dark cave.


Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Follow the exploits of the Single-Minded Movie blogger, as I revisit the six Harry Potter movies. Never read the books, didn't care much for the movies, the first time I saw them, but everyone deserves a second chance...


With shivering hands I put the fifth Harry Potter film in the Bluray player. I absolutely hated this film the first time I saw it, but the big question was, how would it fare right next to the other films? Would it somehow be redeemed?

Only one way to find out: Man up and press "play".


Nobody believes the Dark Lord has returned, a pink furball takes over at Hogwarts, and Harry creates a secret army of students to combat the darkness.

Harry is put on trial by the Ministry of Magic, but he also gets his first kiss! Sirius Black, Mad-­Eye Moody and Lupin return to fight the Dark Lord himself, and Helena Bonham Carter shows up as a demented witch!


My suspicion that something was completely wrong with this film started right after the opening scenes.

The film is off to a rather awkward start when Harry is being bullied on a playground by his cousin Dudley, who was so blissfully missing from the previous film. (Once again we enter the land of BULLHORN acting! Honestly, where do they find these people?!) Suddenly two Dementors attack, and Harry must defend himself with a spell, otherwise he would be dead. A little later he gets a letter, unceremoniously informing him that he's now expelled from Hogwarts, because he used magic in public.

Let's stop right there for a second. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's when a film treats me like I'm an idiot! Even within the context of this story, it doesn't make any sense to kick Harry out of school. I mean, I assume we're still operating in a world, where wizards must keep their abilities hidden from the general population. If you had a student who was "out of control" - i.e. using magic in public - surely the first thing you would do would be to try to control him, rather than throwing him out of the ONE place, where you had a chance to prevent him from doing anything improper?

The film obviously wants to create a feeling of a hostile world, where Harry must face great opposition, and that's fine, but please do it with an iota of common sense! I don't know how much of this is due to the original novels, or the screenplay adaptation of them, since I haven't read either. It could also be the fault of the director, either way I'm just going to refer to this as "bad writing".

After that fumbled opening a team of wizards arrive to save Harry from suburban mediocracy and overacting. They take him to the secret headquarters of the Order of the Phenix. Here powerful wizards hold secret meetings, they talk about an upcoming war, and all kinds of exciting stuff, but no one wants to tell Harry the whole truth. This is more like it! This is what we've been working towards. An expansion of the wizard world and the inevitable big showdown with the Dark Lord. Maybe I judged the film too quickly...?

Sadly no.

The bad writing continues to plague the film in the following sequences where Harry is brought to a hearing at the Ministry of Magic. This sequence is so clumsily designed that it makes the Monty Python rendition of the Spanish Inquisition seem subtle. The minister refuses to believe Harry's story, brushes the death of (SPOILER) off as an accident, while a red cloaked chorus of followers nod in agreement. How exactly did we get from a fairly serious fantasy world, to a fascist society that seems almost cartoonish evil?

So virtually nobody believes Harry? Right! That's the kind of moronic writing that may have looked good on paper, but the reality is that there's nothing worse for a viewer/reader. This renders the entire third act of the previous film meaningless, because the return of the Dark Lord was the whole point of that showdown! As viewers we've SEEN the return of the Dark Lord with our own two eyes. We KNOW it happened. So to spend two hours in the company of people who blatantly refuse to believe it, as if some mass hypnosis had affected the entire magic community, is incredibly frustrating.

The behavior of the minister and everyone associated with the cause is so head-slappingly stupid that it breaks my heart. The film fails to establish any reasonable understanding or sympathy for the opposite side of the argument. All we get is some nonsense that the minister is "mad with fear", because he thinks Dumbledore wants his job.

Now, if the point of the conflict was HOW do we battle the Dark Lord, it would make a hell of lot more sense. It shouldn't be difficult to build up a realistic drama surrounding this very serious situation, but instead we get this ludicrous sequence of events, which utterly violates the universe constructed by the other movies.

But we're not done yet.

Enter Dolores Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton. She's part of the Minister's entourage, and she's appointed to a key position at Hogwarts. Soon she takes over the whole school. I don't know who's most directly responsible, Staunton, the director, or the writer, either way, creating such an abomination of a character should be punishable by death. Every single moment this character is on screen is annoying. EVERY facial expression she makes is exaggerated. EVERY line she says is stupid. EVERY action she performs is frustrating.

First she takes over the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, and proceeds to completely ruin the curriculum. Later she's allowed to physically TORTURE students, and if that wasn't bad enough she also DRUGS them so they tell her all their secrets! Give me a break! She's evil and vicious, for the sake of being evil and vicious, because it serves the purpose of the story, not because it makes any kind of sense.

Hogwarts is populated by very smart, responsible, and caring adults, we've already established that, and yet her actions go virtually unchallenged! Oh sure, there's a little "debate" here and there, as if her actions - which, again, includes actual torture - were merely a question of different methods of education.

This is what I mean by BAD WRITING. And if that isn't insulting enough for you, how about the way the character is designed?! Everything she wears is pink, her office is pink, even her bloody tea, and the sugar she puts in it, is pink! What the hell?! You see it's IRONY. The character is a goose-stepping nazi, so when we dress her in cutesy pink, it's a contradiction! See how clever that is...? Somebody hand me a bat!

Luckily Umbridge is pushed to the sidelines for a large portion of the story, giving the film a chance to breathe, but we're stuck with her for most of the film. Her final comeuppance is too weak, and badly conceived, but then again nothing short of being ripped to shreds slowly, or burned alive, would have been sufficient at that point.

In the face of all this, all I can do is thank The Maker for Daniel Radcliffe! In the midst of all the magic and all the hoopla, it's easy to forget that everything here revolves around this young actor. He delivers a straight-forward, no nonsense, honest portrayal of Harry Potter. Harry gets an interesting new dimension, when he begins to fear that he has a little too much in common with the Dark Lord, and Radcliffe takes full advantage of this. He could have hammed it up, but instead his approach seems to come from a very real place, without any distortion. "I feel so angry all the time", Harry confesses calmly. Instead of clinching his fist and acting TO the camera, Radcliffe has apparently found the right motivation, and he never gets too big.

When we get into the later sequences, where Harry must step up and teach the other students how to defend themselves, the film reaches its emotional high-point. This is also thanks to Harry's crush on fellow student Cho Chang, whom he actually gets to smooch! The subsequent scene where Harry tells Ron and Hermione about the kiss is a sorely needed return to the bond between the trio that the third film established so well. Thank God for the life spark this part of the story provides to the film. It's the sole reason it's bearable.

Along the way, when he's feeling most isolated, Harry finds a kindred spirit in  another outsider, fellow student Luna Lovegood, played by Evanna Lynch. She's a wonderfully bizarre little thing - a fascinating character. She's floating through the film, seemingly disassociated from reality, and talks as if she's always fifty percent preoccupied with watching the magical animals the rest of us can't see. Which, ironically, she is!

Helena Bonham Carter is the sole new celeb addition to the cast. She plays Bellatrix Lestrange who'll become a very important character indeed. Unfortunately her rendition consists merely of laughing like a maniac. A frustratingly inadequate characterization. I get the feeling Bellatrix is supposed to be a very scary character, but she's not in this film.

Gary Oldman returns to the film as Sirius Black, after being (almost) absent from the fourth film. I've missed him. He only has a couple of scenes to make an impression again, but he does. That guy is a charming devil when he wants to be. I really wish this character was more present in the story.

This leads us to the climax of the movie, a spectacular three-part showdown between the untrained wizards and the Dark Lord himself. There's magic in the air (no, not in a Phil Collins kind of way)! Spells are flying left and right, people materialize and vanish, wands are waved. There's also some nonsense about a prophecy and a little glass ball, which we haven't heard about before, but that's not too important. Once the action starts it's easy enough to keep up. I do think that the three separate fights tend to bunch up a little. There's no breathing room between them, so the whole thing feels a tad rushed. Still, the sequence is quite effective, and there are some very interesting developments along the way!

Before we wrap this up I want to quickly cover the visual effects, which are pretty damn solid in this film. One sequence impressed me more than others, and one disappointed me. The sequence set in The Department of Mysteries is the impressive one. It takes place in an enormous hall with rows and rows of shelves, each filled with glass globes. Everything here is created in the digital realm, and I think it's a perfect example of how virtual sets have a place in modern filmmaking, you don't have to go all "George Lucas" to use this technique.

Unfortunately the film is also marred by one really disappointing effect sequence. It's the one with the baby giant, the CGI baby giant, of course, which is only slightly more convincing than the baby from Tin Toy (1988). Why, oh why? We were doing so well! It's like they're doing this on purpose, just to piss me off! It's sequences like this that sets us back 10 years.


Revisiting this film was every bit as frustrating as I had originally feared. It's a giant hairy mole in the face of the Harry Potter franchise, and each time I've wanted to watch the films again, this is always the one that stops me.

There are a few points of light in the dark, murky pit of stupidity that is The Order of the Phoenix, but they are too few to justify its existence. I suggest we all try to forget this film, and from now on simply refer to it as the film that shall not be named.

No sense in beating this rotting old horse carcass more than we already have. Perhaps there's hope to be found in the sixth and final Harry Potter film of this series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009). Let's prey the darkness doesn't prevail. For Harry, and for us.


Feature running time: 138 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 766
Hermione Hotness Factor: 2/10
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 3/10
Voldemort-o-meter level: 6/10. Too much grandstanding and colorful lightning bolts. Oh, and he's temporarily dispatched with "love"!

Best moment:
The young wizards pick a fight at The Ministry of Magic.


Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Follow the exploits of the Single-Minded Movie blogger, as I revisit the six Harry Potter movies. Never read the books, didn't care much for the movies, the first time I saw them, but everyone deserves a second chance...


The fourth Harry Potter film has some very big shoes to fill. Following up on that almost perfect third movie must be a daunting task, and by now we've also entered the phase, where the books have become so unmanageable that whole characters and subplots have to be cut, when they're adapted for the silver screen.

To top that off we're in the hands of a peculiar new director, and the kids are growing up too fast. But we're past the point of no return now, three down, three to go!

Bring on the goblin! The what, now? What's a goblet?


Hogwarts hosts The TriWizard Tournament, with three deadly challenges, which Harry inexplicably finds himself involved in. Our wizards go to their first big dance, and the Dark Lord makes his triumphant return, albeit without a nose.

There's a battle with a dragon. A certain young Robert Pattinson shows up in a small role. And both Ron and Hermione appear in a dress.


After The Prisoner of Azkaban I found myself really looking forward to revisiting this fourth Harry Potter film. It's got some fantastic elements, but also some huge problems.

This time British director Mike Newell takes the reins. He's a bit of an odd choice. His only qualification for tackling a film of this nature seems to be... that's he's British. Looking at Newell's filmography it's hard to imagine that he's a passionate filmmaker. With films like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Donnie Brasco (1997), Pushing Tin (1999) and Mona Lisa Smile (2003), it's obvious that he doesn't have a clearly defined style, and he doesn't seem to have a passion for any particular type of stories. In my view he's a journeyman, nothing more.

Even though he doesn't make a complete fool of himself, Newell has nowhere near the same confident grip on the drama that Alfonso Cuarón had on the previous film. Newell often gets lost in the big, busy scenes (of which there are quite a few), and the characters aren't properly introduced, visually. Sometimes it even feels like there aren't enough close-ups.

Newell doesn't get under the skin of the wizard trio. The young wizards say and do all the right things, but they don't look like they mean it half as much as they did in the last film. It's a subtle difference, but it's there. Newell just doesn't manage to make the Potter-verse quite magical enough. On top of that he's stuck with a story that has some major flaws and fundamentally doesn't make any sense.

First of all: I don't buy this tournament at all.

Dumbledore announces the tournament to the students, and the next moment teams from the other schools burst into the dining hall, ready for the challenges, meanwhile all the Hogwarts students are gobsmacked! Hang on a second... Doesn't anybody tell anybody anything in this school?! The most prestigious wizard event in creation comes to Hogwarts and NOBODY knows about it until 3 seconds before it starts? That seems odd. I really have serious questions about the level of information between the school and the parents, and between the school and the students!

This is further enhanced when Dumbledore describes the nature of the tournament. Apparently this is extremely perilous stuff! Every single one of the challenges are nothing short of LETHAL! Really!?! And the parents are fine with this? They have no problem with this annual slaughtering of their kids? I know the winner gets a fancy cup and all, but even in the context of the film's universe it doesn't make ANY sense! Plus, as the challenges unfold it turns out that the whole tournament is rather pointless, since everybody seem to be lying, cheating, and stealing till they're blue in the face, just to get ahead.

The tournament and the challenges themselves are actually pretty cool stuff, and quite riveting, it's just the whole setup I have a problem with.

This film also kicks the whole Ron and Hermione romance into high gear. I'm torn on this one. On one hand I like where the characters are heading, on the other, Ron is such a pitiful guy that I find it hard to believe Hermione would be attracted to him. Like he himself points out, he's just Harry's stupid friend.

The most unfathomable moment in this story happens when Ron is forced to show up to the dance in a ragged old dress! Why in poo-perfect hell does he need to wear a freakin' dress?! WHY?! As if a young boy going to his first dance wasn't awkward enough! There's plenty of potential for good, realistic drama in such a situation, there's no need to muck it up with such stupidity!

I have to mention Emma Watson again, because I've noticed she's awfully inconsistent. In some scenes here her primary acting tool is her eyebrows! In other scenes, she's a fountain of fire, especially when Hermione gets really frustrated with the boys in her life. Watson tends to be a bit screeching, when she gets mad, but when Hermione descends the stairs, Cinderella style, flashing a crooked little smile, everything is forgiven. This moment is played out to perfection! Tip of the hat to Newell and Watson for that. Did I mention this is also the film where Harry tries to land a date with an Asian chick?

The sexual awakening of these characters is an interesting thing to explore, and it keeps all the magic grounded in reality. Harry may have battled all kinds of deadly creatures, but he still gets all befuddled when he's standing in front of a girl. That's a nice contrast.

Another thing that bothered me here, which I didn't notice in the other films, was that I felt parts of the story were missing. I'm not surprised that die hard fans feel something is missing from the films, compared to the books, but when I get that same feeling - keeping in mind that I haven't read the books - you're in deep trouble.

The whole opening sequence, for example, is devoted to the quidditch World Cup. Young wizards and assorted parents travel to the event, they're set up in a tent, they arrive at the giant arena, the two teams enter the site and then.... Nothing. Cut. Suddenly the whole match is over and everybody talks about how great it was. Huh?! If I had seen this at my local cinema, I would have thought a reel had been misplaced. Same thing happens moments later when the place is attacked by Voldemort's cohorts. All hell breaks loose! Panic in the streets! Pandemonium! Yet, for all the running around, the fire and brimstone, we don't actually see anything, and suddenly it's over. Maybe it's just poor staging from the director, but it felt really odd.

Okay, before we enter a death-spiral of negativity, let's cover some of the good elements of the film.

New personal! With the appearance of future Doctor Who, David Tennant, and a certain Mr. Pattinson as fellow student Cedric Diggory, this is starting to look like an all-star team. Still, best new addition is once again the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Boy, they sure go through a lot of those!

Brendan Gleeson stars as Mad-Eye Moody, complete with peg leg, facial scars and a mechanical eye that seems to have a life of its own! He's quite entertaining, and provides the funniest moment in the film, when he transforms Draco Malfoy, to teach him a lesson. "Is that a student?" asks Professor McGonagall. "Technically it's a ferret!" Moody justifies.

Moody also teaches a class where he explains the three unforgivable curses, by tormenting and eventually killing an innocent bug. This is quite a scary scene, but it perfectly demonstrates how a wizard could be drawn to the dark side of magic, while it also sets up some definitions we need to know later.

Like I mentioned earlier, most of the film revolves around the challenges of the tournament, and the three sequences that deals with those are pretty spectacular. The first one is the best, visually speaking. Harry must go head-to-head with a fire spewing dragon! The sequence, created by Industrial Light & Magic, is a fantastic set-piece. Harry is chased through the air by the dragon, the roofs of Hogwarts are torn to pieces in the process, it's very dramatic, and very believable.

While I'm impressed with the challenges, I'm less impressed by the visuals this time around. Though the film is quite striking at times, it doesn't look nearly as edgy as the third film. Some scenes seem a little flat, especially the big outdoor scenes, and the color-palette appears a bit faded at times.

In the final act of The Goblet of Fire, after an awful lot of misdirection, ALL HELL suddenly breaks loose! The film drops all its prancing around, and goes straight for the jugular! We finally see the Dark Lord materialize, and that is truly a frightening moment! Ralph Fiennes is PERFECT as Voldemort, he can be quite scary when he wants to be, just think back to Schindler's List (1993).

The showdown between Voldemort and Harry is incredible and actually worth the wait. Though, I was a bit surprised that the film gave us SO much, so fast, after stepping so delicately around the subject through three films.


There's no question that The Goblet of Fire is the biggest Harry Potter film to date, but that doesn't make it the best. I don't want to sound like I hated the film, because I actually did enjoy watching it again, despite my problems with major elements of the plot.

In terms of Harry's quest to find out more about his past, this whole movie is basically one giant detour. With the final act, and that exhilarating confrontation with Voldemort, we're back on track again.

"Dark and difficult times lie ahead," Dumbledore warns. "Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." That's coming up in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). I must admit I LOATHED that one the first time I saw it, but I'll try to give it a fair chance when I see it again.

Watch this space, as they say.


Feature running time: 157 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 636
Hermione Hotness Factor: 8/10
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 7/10 (it's the long hair that does it)
Voldemort-o-meter level: 9/10. Holy crap that guy is nasty! What's wrong with his faaaace?!

Best moment:
Harry faces off against Lord Voldemort... That, or Hermione coming down the stairs in a dress.


Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Follow the exploits of the Single-Minded Movie blogger, as I revisit the six Harry Potter movies. Never read the books, didn't care much for the movies, the first time I saw them, but everyone deserves a second chance...


The third film about Harry Potter needed some new blood. The previous films were very successful, and the fans seemed pleased, but everyone else were not quite as impressed. A change was necessary. Director Alfonso Cuarón would provide that change.

And so the highly successful franchise moves ahead in a new direction, showing no signs of stopping. It's time for the darkness to descent upon Hogwarts, and it's time for our intrepid young heroes to take a stand.


The murderer Sirius Black has escaped from prison, and he's coming after Harry, who must also defend himself against the gruesome Dementors that have taken position around the school. Harry learns more about the death of his parents, meanwhile Hermione plays around with time travel.

There's a super-fast bus. A werewolf. A transforming rat. And something called a hipper- hip- hippogryf- griff'er.


Something wicked this way comes. It's been hinted at for two whole movies, but there's no beating around the bush anymore. The third adventure of Harry Potter is dark, both visually and thematically. Even the opening shot, with the Warner Bros. logo is shrouded in darkness. And it's so freakin' cool.

For the first time we have a clear simple story, with a clear simple goal: Sirius Black is loose. He must be stopped. That's it. Okay, there are a lot of subplots, and even some time travel, but no matter how confused we get along the way, the central premise is clearly defined and that's a great relief.

There's no doubt the Harry Potter producers knew what they were doing here. They made a conscious decision to find a new director who could really add something to the franchise. They knew which way the story was heading, not just in this film, but in the upcoming entries as well, and they knew they had to get away from the "safe" environment established by Chris Columbus in the first two films. They needed someone special to handle that.

The choice of director Alfonso Cuarón was inspired. He already had a good track-record of working with kids, after all he did A Little Princess (1995), and one of my own personal favorites: Great Expectations (1998), which both feature very convincing performances from its young cast members. Besides tackling the darkness, Cuarón also adds a sorely needed fix of the bizarre to the proceedings, with a few erratic touches of crazy here and there.

Cuarón's mise-en-scène - how he stages his scenes, his choices in camera angles, music and other elements - makes the film seem fresh. Take for example the very simple scene where Ron's father reveals crucial information to Harry, while everybody is reunited in the background. This is a perfectly ordinary scene, and usually you would shoot this with a number of different angles, covering both the foreground action and the background. Cuarón doesn't do this. He shoots the entire scene in one single uninterrupted shot. This builds up tension (that's what a lack of cutting can do), and it shows the audience that Cuarón has confidence in us - he knows he doesn't have to point his camera directly at everything, in order for us to get it. Finally the shot also sets up the point that we have to keep one eye on the background, an idea that'll come into play later in the film. Most people will probably never notice this, it all happens in a very subtle way, but make no mistake, this is a very clever sleight of hand.

I'm also going to give Cuarón credit for keeping the scenes with Harry and his foster family on a realistic level, more or less. It's quite telling that even though these scenes actually feature a lady being inflated to epic proportions and BLOWING out of the window, they are still more downplayed than usual! And on a point of personal satisfaction, Harry finally slams the door and leaves that intolerable family! Thank God! I hope he never returns!

Everything in this film seems to operate on a new level. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the cinematography. This film is simply GORGEOUS. Cinematographer Michael Seresin is no stranger to working with darkness, he previously photographed Angel Heart (1987). He has created a sinister, stark look for the film, where everything significant seems to take place during dark and stormy nights. There's even a quidditch match in the rain storm!

Cuarón and Seresin also use the various locations around the school to much greater effect. We really get an appreciation for the beautiful surroundings, it's not like we haven't seen them before, they've just never looked prettier. Finally, I don't know if these two gentlemen are to blame for this, but how brilliant is it to show the passing of the seasons, by using the same image of The Whomping Willow (that's the big living tree)? Simple and poetic.

Before we get to the real stars of this film, let's cover the REAL stars of the film! The Dementors. I sometimes find it hard to be scared by computer-generated characters (well, Tom Hanks looked scary in The Polar Express (2004), but that's not what I mean). However, I must admit that the Dementors work really well. When that bony hand slowly opened the door to Harry's train compartment, I had to reach for my stuffed penguin. I know there are four novels after this, and yet I still fear for Harry's life! The odd thing is that even though we see the Dementors several times, and even once in full daylight, they remain scary! I'll chalk this one up to great direction.

The soul-sucking Dementors may have stolen my attention every time they're on, but the real treat in this film is that for the first time the bond of friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione takes center stage. We get to spend more time alone with the three wizards and I feel like - to a much larger degree than before - this is their story. The film has some great moments between the characters. I love the way they share a three-way hug after a particular sad event, I love the way Hermione steps in front of Harry, without a moments hesitation, when his life is threatened. In the midst of all this crazy magic, we need something like this, to remind us that there are real lives on the line here. The trio seems to be closer than before, and it suits the story very well. It's that kind of bond that's been missing from the other films.

Once again we have a few new players among the grown-ups. Of course Gary Oldman is the standout.

For some reason Oldman seems like a high maintenance actor, and I didn't think he would embrace a mainstream film such as this, but here we are. He may just have done it for the paycheck, but the producers certainly got what they paid for. He's only really present in a handful of scenes, but he makes quite an impression! Just the image of him screaming towards us on the wanted poster is enough, but when he's suddenly revealed to be in the same room as our heroes, I almost dropped my coffee!

Another formidable addition to the cast is David Thewlis. He plays the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin. I've loved him since I saw him in Naked (1993), where he delivered a fearlessly beautiful performance. He's got a lot less to work with here, but that doesn't really stop him. He's just good.

No film could rightfully expect to have both Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, and Alan Rickman in the cast, but this one even gets to have them together in the same room. Great stuff.

As for Emma Thompson, who stars as Sybil Trelawney, Professor of Divination, she seems like a rather unnecessary addition, though. She'll be needed in a later movie, if I recall correctly, but all her scenes here are pointless, and a bit hard to get through.

After the death of Richard Harris - bless him - the role of Professor Dumbledore has been taken over by Michael Gambon, and given a makeover. His version of the charismatic schoolmaster feels less like a caricature, and more like an actual person. More on him, as we move through the franchise.

Before we finish up I want to waste a few words on our old foe, Draco Malfoy. Luckily he's simply reduced to an annoyance, who pushes people around, and he's easily defeated with a punch to the face. I won't waste anymore time on him. He's not worth it.


This is more like it! The third Harry Potter film sheds most of the idiocy left over from the first two films. It looks beautiful, there's great drama, some great new characters, and a real sense that we have now moved out of the kiddie pool.

The big showdown here - Harry locked in a life and death struggle with the Dementors - is truly a powerful scene. Within the confines of the Harry Potter universe, this is probably as good as it gets.

With a running time of two hours and twenty minutes, the movie is also comfortable to watch. I'm tempted to recommend complete newcomers to simply start here, but of course that's not really possible, since you need the background information the two first movies provide. Oh well, guess there's nothing to do, but take it like a man. It's time to move on to the fourth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).

This one has Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort! Bloody brilliant!


Feature running time: 142 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 317
Hermione Hotness Factor: 5/10
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 4/10
Voldemort-o-meter level: Zero. He's barely mentioned.

Best moment:
The showdown between Oldman, Thewlis and our three young wizards in the old dark house.


Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Follow the exploits of the Single-Minded Movie blogger, as I revisit the six Harry Potter movies. Never read the books, didn't care much for the movies, the first time I saw them, but everyone deserves a second chance...


The second Harry Potter film started shooting barely a week after the first one opened at the cinema. Director Chris Columbus is back at the helm, there's a couple of new additions in front of the camera, and a few changes behind. It seems like almost everybody stepped up their game, but the film still suffers from a few severe flaws. So, what's the bottom-line? Is this an improvement compared to the first film?

Let's investigate.


Harry is warned to return to the school by a CGI dwarf, but when he does anyway, he hears voices. The students at Hogworts are being attacked, we're introduced to Malfoy's father, Kenneth Branagh plays the new teacher, and we find out not all wizards are created equal. There's a big-ass snake. A forest full of spiders. And a flying car.


More danger. More magic. Greater set-pieces. Bigger action scenes. The Chamber of Secrets has got it all! Okay, maybe it doesn't have everything, but the film does feel both bigger, deeper, and more magic.

Harry Potter's sophomore outing is a bit of a frustrating watch. The film looks fabulous, and it seems like the color-palette has been boosted to enhance the fairy tale feeling. Unfortunately the frustrating elements from the first film are back with a vengeance. The story has actual substance this time around, but at the same time the film is a little too keen to deviate from the central plot, and at 161 minutes the story drags on a bit. So I guess it all comes down to "good news, bad news".

Let's cover the bad first:

Bubble... Dubly? Dobby! The little house elf thingy! Whatever his name is he is AWFUL. Technically speaking the computer generated character is not all that bad, my issues are with everything else. His voice is annoying, his big stupid eyes are annoying, his face is annoying, everything he does is annoying! I truly felt like pulling my own arm off, and beating his little CGI body into a bloody pulp. He's the wizard equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. Yes, he's THAT bad.

My second big issue with the film is once again Harry's family. They're just as awful, and overact just as much, as they did in the first film. Look at the scene where they tell Harry he should stay in his room, while they have important guests... Look at the way the three characters interact with Harry. That's not acting! It's barely bad performance art. It's certainly not worthy of a film that expects to be taken serious. I don't know how this is portrayed in the books and frankly I don't care. This is a film. These scene should work ON FILM. They don't. Period.

Another reoccurring issue is Harry's arch enemy Draco Malfoy. Once again young Tom Felton reaches new levels of eyebrow acting, as he grimaces his way through the film. This time he has scenes where he needs to deliver dialogue and it just doesn't work. His performance consists of moping and sneering "PPPPPPotter!" In this film the issue is made even worse, because his father shows up. New addition to the cast, Jason Isaacs, stars as Lucius Malfoy. The part is underwritten, but Isaacs brings the exact right icy malice to his character. This is how Felton should have played the part, but maybe he's just not that good an actor. That's a real pity.

As for the other performers, most of them do very well.

Daniel Radcliffe gets to grow up a bit here, as Harry begins to recognize the magnitude of his legacy and his responsibility. The young actor handles the subtle change quite well, and I clearly get the sense that he actually understands his character. I look forward to seeing him do other things.

As promised, Emma Watson has found the right balance in her portrayal of Hermione, which is quite a relief. She's fast turning into a dangerous little heartbreaker, and though she's often asked merely to be the expositional element in a scene, she's added a depth to her performance that'll be a gift to the franchise, in the upcoming films.

Unfortunately Rupert Grint is worse than ever. He was always the weak link among the leads, but this time his interpretation of Ron reached new levels of unbelievability. Just compare his performance to Radcliffe's in the scenes they share in the forest. The difference is quite startling. There's nothing more to say.

The grown-up cast is pretty damn good.

Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, and Maggie Smith return, and they are as solid as ever. Rickman seems to enjoy being all nasty and evil! He always was most comfortable in villainous roles. This would turn out to be Harris' last performance on the big screen. He died about a month before the film was released. He will be missed as an actor, but in the part of Professor Dumbledore, I must admit I prefer his replacement.

Best of all, though, is the addition of Kenneth Branagh as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He's hilarious and steals every scene he's in! I've loved Branagh ever since I saw his Henry V (1989). He can do no wrong, and I'm sorry he won't be returning in the next film.

Top-notch performances from the actors are matching by top-notch work from the visual effects team. The film has more than a few show-stopping effect sequences. The quidditch game is far better than the one in the first film. The flying car scenes are impeccable, as is the truly nasty spider-scene, where a million huge spiders chase Harry and Ron. Really, really creepy! The final battle with a giant snake is also worth noting, especially because the film doesn't rely completely on CGI effects, opting instead for a mix between animatronics and computer generated stuff.

Having watched the first and the second film so close to each other, I see now why it would have been careless to reduce the first two novels to a single film. Too much would have been lost. There's the central story, which is fine, and then there's all the quirky, funny tidbits, which set up the environment. The paradox is that we need those tidbits to build up the universe around the characters, but at the same time they distract from the main story, causing the film to feel quite episodic at times. Ideally the two elements should be build together. That's often easier to do in a film, because you can operate on two levels - visually and narratively - simultaneously, without necessarily confusing anybody.

I think the film makers have fallen prey to a familiar problem: A fear of deviating too much from the books. With such an intimidating army of fans behind the books, who can blame them?


And so we finish our second tour of duty with Mr. Potter.

After this film Chris Columbus vacated the director's chair. We bid him a courteous farewell. He did a good job setting up the story, and casting the actors, but this Herculean task was not completed without certain missteps, which we've already covered.

As for the film itself, I find it hard to completely endorse it.

There are plenty of really good things here, but taking the flaws and the running time into account, it's a tough sell. I do believe that the franchise is on the right track, but whether it's going to reach the right destination as well remains to be seen. I guess I'll be a little wiser after I screen Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), which is up next. It's got Gary Oldman in it! That's (almost) always a good thing.


Feature running time: 161 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 251
Hermione Hotness Factor: 3/10
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 1/10
Voldemort-o-meter level: Zero. Repeat after me: A young punk claiming to be Voldemort, does not a creepy bad guy make.

Best moment:
Harry and Ron are chased through the forest by giant spiders. Holy crap there are a lot of them!


Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Follow the exploits of the Single-Minded Movie blogger, as I revisit the six Harry Potter movies. Never read the books, didn't care much for the movies, the first time I saw them, but everyone deserves a second chance...


Warner Bros. didn't mess around when they started the Harry Potter franchise. They got a seasoned director, Chris Columbus, they made sure the original writer, J. K. Rowling, was happy, and they made sure all the fans were on board. They knew - with as much certainty as anyone can have in the movie business - that they had a sure-fire hit on their hands: A series of films that would span 10 years, gross a trillion dollars, and - if done right - earn the little wizard his own spot in movie history.

Whether they accomplished this or not is a question I'll leave unanswered for now. Instead I'll throw myself into the first adventure of Harry Potter...


Harry Potter finds out that he's a wizard, begins his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, meets new best friends Hermione and Ron, gets an arch enemy, and learns about the dark wizard Voldemort, who killed his parents. There's a giant dog with 3 heads, we see our first quidditch game, and there's a guy with an extra face in the back of his head.


When I saw The Philosopher's Stone back in 2001 I was somewhat underwhelmed. Mostly because that whole wizard universe seemed utterly ridiculous and completely uninteresting to me. So it came as a bit of a surprise that I actually enjoyed the film the second time around. As the Warner Bros. shield spins into the frame, and the first few notes from John Williams' theme play in the background, even the most battle-hardened film geek will feel a tingle of anticipation, and I'm not ashamed to say that I did too.

Unfortunately the opening of the film is more than a little rough. When we're introduced to Harry and his foster family it almost feels like we're watching The Benny Hill Show. The scenes are absurdly overacted, and every conceivable aspect exaggerated to biblical proportions. If I had come to this film completely blank, without any previous knowledge of the production, the characters or the plot, I would have done a stone cold walkout right then and there. This part of the film is almost unbearable to watch. What the hell were they thinking? The only saving grace during these moments is Daniel Radcliffe as Harry himself. He's a charming, expressive little actor, and he brings us hope that better things are on the way. Luckily we escape the dungeon of chainsaw subtlety very quickly, and after that the film wastes no time setting up the world of Potter.

Which brings us to the film's primary flaw: There's no story.

Sure, there's some nonsense about a powerful stone, and there's also a conspiracy, but this is basically two and a half hours of introduction to the Potter universe. The philosopher's stone is not even mentioned by name until 98 minutes into the film!

The only reason this is bearable, is because the film moves at such a brisk pace. It quickly outlines what kind of world the story is going to take place in in, it sets up the rules of magic, it shows us the school, the brewing friendship among the lead characters, even the family history of several players, plus it also gets around to explaining the rules of a popular sport! When you look at it like that, it's pretty impressive how much the film manages to squeeze in. I also love the way it establishes Harry's street cred: Every time his name is mentioned, the room goes quiet!

The stars of this film are the three young wizards. The first scene with Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) brought a smile to my face, even though I still think Ron should just come out of the closet, and let Harry and Hermione have at it, but apparently this is not the direction we're exploring here. All three actors display a cute, wide-eyed innocence that serves the story well, only Watson is a bit off. She's too precocious, and she enunciates everything a little too carefully. She'll grow into the part soon enough, but in this film she's often a bit grating.

I should comment on some of the grown-up actors as well, but I'll save that for the upcoming instalments.

Seeing as this is a world of wizards and magic, the film is surprisingly subdued in its visual approach. It's pretty colorful, but it never loses its grip on reality. Cinematography John Seale - the man responsible for such grounded classics as Witness (1985), Rain Man (1988), and Dead Poets Society (1989) - keeps his images clean and fresh, and never resorts to the kind of heavy post-production manipulation we've grown accustomed to in recent Hollywood films. The production design is also quite impressive, but again it has this sort of semi-realistic finish, as if the film is conscious about easing us into its universe.

The visual effects were far better than I remembered. It's really only one element that fails the film: The completely computer generated characters. The troll, the man/horse thingy, every time anyone flying a broomstick is replaced with a CGI rag-doll... The rest of the effects hold up very well.

Before I finish up here, I should also point out a problem that I feared would plague the rest of the franchise, even as I saw the film for the first time: Harry's new enemy, Draco Malfoy. Actor Tom Felton puts the entire The Bold and The Beautiful cast to shame with his overly simple portrayal of Malfoy. He snickers every time something bad happens to Potter, and looks pissed when good things happen. That's it. Not exactly subtle. The character needed a hell of a lot more groundwork in this first film, a flaw which will come back to haunt the franchise later... But I'm getting ahead of myself.


When I had my first encounter with Harry Potter back in 2001 I expected to be blow away. I wasn't. I walked away pretty disappointed. The second time I saw the film I knew what to expect, and I knew how it fits into the overall story of Harry Potter. It was a much more pleasant experience. I'm not going to call this a GREAT film, but I actually think it worked "sort of okay" this time around.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn't point out that some people will never get past their initial reaction to this film, and because of this they will never get into the Potter universe. Some folks suggested combining the first two novels to a single film, in order to get to the good stuff a little earlier. I'll have a better idea about that theory after I've screened Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), which is up next.

Onwards and upwards!


Feature running time: 152 minutes
Number of pages in novel: 223
Hermione Hotness Factor: 0/10 (anything else would be wrong)
The Weasley Twins Creepiness Factor: 2/10
Voldemort-o-meter level: Mild. Only one scary scene.

Best moment:
The scene where Harry, Hermione, and Ron play wizard chess and almost die!


Introduction to The Harry Potter Revisit Project

I don't really like Harry Potter.

There's no denying, however, that the books and the films have been hugely successful - quite absurdly so, in fact - so I can't help but feel that it's my duty, as a professional film geek, to be familiar with these films. I don't think I'll ever grow to love them, but I should know them. At this moment, I can barely tell one from the other. I have seen all the films once, though. I saw the first three at the cinema, but then I lost interest and only caught the next three on DVD.

Since the first part of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, is scheduled to be released later this year, this is the perfect time to reacquaint myself with the popular franchise.

So I got this idea for a little project: I'll be getting a tiny break from my weekly film review podcast in the next couple of weeks, so I'll watch all six Harry Potter films again, and review them on this very blog!


Here's how it's going to play out: I'll watch a film one day, write the review the following day, and then move on to the next film. The schedule is, as follows:

The Schedule
Thursday 6th: Philosopher's Stone (2001) Review
Saturday 8th: Chamber of Secrets (2002) Review
Monday 10th: Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Review
Wednesday 12th: Goblet of Fire (2005) Review
Friday 14th: Order of the Phoenix (2007) Review
Sunday 16th: Half-Blood Prince (2009) Review

This is, of course, subject to change. I may discover that I just can't stand the whole thing, and give up halfway through, or I may suddenly get the urge to strangle myself in the middle of yet another spell, but we'll see how it goes. I'm fairly confident I can pull it off. Tomorrow I'll screen the first film: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Wish me luck!


Why does Minority Report look like a turd on Bluray?


Buying old films on Bluray can be quite a disappointing experience. I've learned my lesson the hard way. When I buy the Bluray version of a film produced prior to 2004, the first thing I do is check out some of the online reviews. This method is by no means flawless, since all eyes see things differently, but usually you can get a general idea about the quality of a disc by checking out 3-5 reviews.


Recently I acquired Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002) on Bluray. I had done my research well, especially in terms of video quality, and I had encountered a slew of "5 out of 5 stars" reviews of the video presentation. Imagine my surprise, when I popped the disc in the player and saw the quality of the image for myself. It looked HORRIBLE. Absolutely atrocious. It was grainy as hell, in an awfully inconsistent way. (Grain in a film is not a bad thing. In fact, grain is your friend. Grain gives a film texture and life. It makes the image feel organic and dynamic. The right kind of grain that is.) Some shots in this film had so much grain they were buzzing like a nest of angry bees. Several scenes were also marred by frequent occurrence of specks, meaning flaws in the image that appear as tiny white dots.

I was heartbroken. I was angry. Heads were gonna roll. I went back and re-read the reviews, and sure enough the praise I remembered reading was all there. So where did it all go wrong? Am I just completely off base here, and is this actually a completely accurate representation of the film?

Let me stress the fact that there are many different factors that influence the final look of a film. From the way the film was shot, to how it was treated during post-production. Other factors come into play when you watch it at your local cinema. What's the quality and condition of the print? Is the projector properly set? What about the screen itself? When we get to the home theater environment a completely new set of factors enter the equation. How was the film scanned or encoded? How was the DVD or Bluray authored? What player are you watching this on? What display? And let's not forget that your own eyes and even your own mind play a part as well.

My point is that it's impossible to ensure a consistent experience for everybody. It's also equally difficult to determine what the right look is, especially if the film predates the digital age. Often the director doesn't even know!

On top of that Minority Report IS a tricky film to evaluate. Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski made a conscious effort to create a dirty, gritty look for the film. The trick is, of course, to reproduce this look faithfully on Bluray. The format lends itself to a sharp image, with rich colors. It's during such conditions that Bluray shines, and that's not the look that was attempted on Minority Report. A chemical "silver retention" process was employed during the post-production of the film, which helped to create the film's signature washed out, blue look. The heightened contrast, and the rough appearance of the image, is all part of the plan. The first instinct of an uninitiated mind would be to try to get rid of these "flaws", but it's important to note that they are as much a part of the film as Tom Cruise.

Up to a point that is.


So let's look at some of the reviews I checked out before I bought the disc.

My method for finding these reviews is relatively simple. I subscribe to a few DVD/BD sites that post reviews of most of big releases, and I also do a Google search on "title + Bluray + review". This will bring up most of the big sites.

In the case of Minority Report I started with Blu-ray.com. Here Martin Liebman writes: "This Blu-ray release of Minority Report  comes from a "Spielberg-approved HD Master," and the results are indeed spectacular."

He continues: "[The] transfer retains a finely-tuned layer of grain that sometimes swells to enormous proportions but nevertheless lends to the movie a wonderfully gritty film-like texture that allows for the retention of an awe-inspiring level of fine detail."

Grain is good. Grain is the way to go, but a level of "enormous proportions" doesn't seem right to me. When I first read the review all I got was "spectacular", "wonderfully gritty film-like texture", and "awe-inspiring level of fine detail", but now that I've actually seen the disc, and carefully re-read the review I suddenly realize that this doesn't make any sense. The conclusion doesn't match the evaluation.

Mr. Liebman adds: "A few errant speckles are visible in the scenes with the heaviest grain structure, but they barely distract from the image and indeed, seem almost a part of the rough-and-tumble texture the film employs."

Read that again, please... This reviewer actually EXCUSES the presence of flaws, stopping short of calling them an added feature!

The next review I checked out was from Dale Rasco of HomeTheaterShack.com. He claims: "The grain in Minority Report can fall anywhere from non-existent to almost saturated but never feels unintended as Spielberg used this technique to give Minority Report it's gritty feel. This transfer is definitely reference quality throughout and I would argue that it is the best looking transfer of a live action movie since Blade Runner."

I'm gonna take a deep breath and just say... That would be no.

Let me stress this UNEQUIVOCALLY: We can disagree on how accurate the film looks, but there's no way a film with so much grain, which is so inconsistent, can be called reference quality. NO WAY IN HELL. Comparing it to Blade Runner (1982) is beyond offensive, especially because that Bluray is a perfect example of how a film can look both beautiful AND gritty. Though, admittedly, the gritty look is more expressed in Minority Report.

Even the dependable DVDBeaver seems to have had too much coffee that morning. There Gary Tooze writes: "This transfer seems impeccable - representing the film with pin-point authenticity. Achieving the intended appearance so succinctly I'd have to say this image quality is quite perfect - as perfect as I have seen in a while. It appears to look EXACTLY as the film was meant to. If you aren't keen on the appearance blame the filmmakers not this pristine transfer."

I will give Mr. Tooze one thing: If the filmmakers intended for the film to look flawed and inconsistent, then they got it right, but assuming that's the case, I still don't think we can say the "image quality is quite perfect".

I can't remember the theatrical experience of Minority Report well enough to judge whether this Bluray is pin-point accurate, but I don't believe it is. Some scenes do seem to capture the intent of the filmmakers perfectly, but was it really the filmmakers' intent that other scenes should look vastly different, and far worse in terms of grain? Even scenes that take place in the same location, under the same lighting conditions seem inconsistent. I find it hard to believe that was intentional.

My final example is from DVDTown.com, where John J. Puccio almost seems to have given up: "[The] case notes that Spielberg approved the HD master, so I suppose whether we like what we see or not, it's what the director intended and as good as it's going to get on BD."

Can you read between the lines there? I sure can. It appears Mr. Puccio was somewhat disappointed, but has surrendered to the idea that we're never going to get anything better than this. A little earlier he writes: "The picture appears shrouded in a mist, a heightened contrast, and a faint glare."

That's a very fair description of the effect of the "silver retention" process, Mr. Puccio seems to be on the right track here, but he still gives the film an 8/10 rating in video quality, which I think is inconsistent with his own description of the image.

I just can't wrap my head around the reviews I read of the Minority Report Bluray. It seems everybody saw a different disc than me. I sure would like to get my hands on their version.


Minority Report is meant to look ugly. It's meant to look rough. What I take issues with is how rough it looks, and the uncritical praise this Bluray has received, despite its considerable flaws.

But fair enough, let's assume I'm COMPLETELY wrong. Let's assume all the things the gentlemen wrote above are correct. Let's assume that the film is presented 100% accurately. I still don't think you can give it a 5-star rating. After all, if you transferred a videotape from the '80s to Bluray, complete with all the authentic flaws, you wouldn't give the disc top rating. Even though the Bluray PERFECTLY reproduces the original work. You would say it looked like shit, and you would give it a shit rating. Or if you decide to forgo that logic, at the VERY least you should mention that most viewers will be HORRIBLY disappointed with disc.

It's not that I don't have some heinous Blurays in my collection, but they don't piss me off, nearly as much as this does. Minority Report is a "new" film. It's an expensive film. A completely new master was created. And it still looks like shit. It just doesn't seem right to me.

Now, insert your own joke about the crimes committed on this disc, and how it, ironically, could have been prevented in the film's own universe.


There's no easy way to navigate through this maze of Bluray discs, and it's only getting more and more difficult. How is a film supposed to look? Who knows these days?

Maybe the Minority Report Bluray perfectly captures the film. Maybe it did look exactly like this when I saw it back in 2002. Maybe I'm overly critical, because I paid good money for this disc, unlike some of the folks who review it online. Or maybe not.

This was a "Spielberg-Approved HD Master". That's great, but here's the thing: Again and again we see that the worst offender, when a film is messed up, is the director. Look no further than William Friedkin, who completely messed up the HD transfer of The French Connection (1971). He altered the entire look of the film, without consulting the Director of Photography Owen Roizman, who was mighty pissed when he found out. That's clearly not the case here. I'm just saying that director's stamp of approval might not be such a big deal in the end.

It feels like a bit of a cop-out to say this, but the bottom-line is that any film experience depends on the eyes that see. The Minority Report Bluray looks like shit to me. And now I have to be even more careful when I buy older films on Bluray. Remember VHS? Things were much simpler back then, weren't they?



Minority Report Bluray Reviews:

Martin Liebman, Blu-ray.com
John J. Puccio, DVDTown.com
Dale Rasco, HomeTheaterShack.com
Gary Tooze, DVDBeaver.com