x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Harry Potter's last scene is a wrap

The seventh Harry Potter movie concentrates on the three actors who have become household names: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

From left, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, actors whose identities are inextricably linked to the Harry Potter tales. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters
From left, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, actors whose identities are inextricably linked to the Harry Potter tales. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

The seventh instalment of the Harry Potter movies concentrates on the three actors who have become household names, thanks to the boy-wizard book adaptations: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Plucked from relative obscurity at a young age to take on the roles of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, the actors have now become ingrained in the fabric of the story.

Despite the massive protection they've been given by the Warner Bros publicity machine, the trio have been unable to avoid growing up under the public microscope. The seventh instalment confirms that it's Grint who has perhaps the most acting talent of the trio. The ginger-haired actor has a surprising comic touch, which he uses to great effect as he grows ever more jealous of Harry Potter in his battle to win the heart of Hermione Granger.

It was another JK Rowling masterstroke to make the latter books as much about fluctuating whims of teenage affections as they are about Potter's battle with Lord Voldemort. The fact that Watson's off-screen public image has changed from being a studious plain Jane to a slightly rebellious fashion icon has also helped - even if her character still seems a tad bland on-screen. The young actress turned up to the London world premiere wearing a much-photographed little black dress.

The fact that the seventh book has been split into two parts has enabled director David Yates to make this episode far less plot-driven. The main focus is on the emotions of the three lead characters. The best moment in the film is a dance sequence between Harry and Hermione that occurs after Ron has walked off in a jealous rage. Yet the seventh Potter film is not often able to replicate such highs, and Radcliffe especially seems lost in an episode that has a weak narrative arc and poor focus.

It would seem Warner Bros has made a mistake in giving director Yates the reins for the third time, as one of the strengths of the series has been the fact that each director has brought their own sensibilities to the Potter lore.

The first two films in the series were directed by Chris Columbus, who had made hit films Nine Months and Mrs Doubtfire, and with mixed results. Columbus did a good job in setting up the world in the first book, but his films lacked atmosphere. Not that the public cared as the Harry Potter phenomenon translated from bookstores to cinema to the sounds of chiming tills. With just a fraction of the films, Potter challenges James Bond as the most successful movie franchise in history. Each film has earned around $1 billion.

Initially, critics unfairly chastised the three young actors for their perceived lack of acting ability, which was more than competent for first-time performers. Grint, in particular, was painted as gormless. Of the trio, it was Radcliffe who got the best notices. Yet he also seems to be the actor who has grown the least as the series has gone on.

The series was rejuvenated when Alfonso Cuaron was employed to take on the third instalment. The Y Tu Mamá También director gave the film an atmospheric fantastical look that the opening two films lacked. The criticism of part three would be that not enough was done on the narrative side, but this was the film that confirmed that the series would have commercial legs to the very end.

Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell was the surprising choice to take on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It remains the high point in the series from a filmmaking perspective as it carried some of Cuaron's style along with Columbus's focus on pushing the plot forward.

Yates, hitherto best known for British TV films, was chosen to take on the fifth. The camera angles became a bit more focused on the actors and his strength seemed to lie in dialogue rather than action sequences. He was able to bring out the best in the trio of actors and it was under him that Grint really began to develop. Yet his action-sequence directing was poor and so it came as a surprise when it was announced he would be making the final instalment.

Now that has become the final two films as the studio took the decision to split the final weighty tome into two movies. It's a move that stinks of commercial exploitation, which is a shame, as the strength of the earlier films - particularly parts three and four - was in the artistic licence given to the directors.

The seventh film is going to end up being the anomaly of the series - the instalment that doesn't work at all as a self-contained movie. But the executives won't mind as they count the take from the box office.