Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One - Review

Directed by David Yates, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, written by Steve Kloves.

Dark times are coming. All across the land of Britain, men and women huddle in shadowy corners, whispering to one another of the inevitable fate that none of us can elude. Every second draws us closer, ticking away the remaining time before the ominous fear will become reality...when we reach the end of the Harry Potter movie saga!

OK, so that was a bit of a dramatic intro, but it truly is a shame when great film series reaches its conclusion. Think of how you felt when the Lord of the Rings films came to an end (bad example: Return of the King had about fifteen endings); it's a difficult thing to come to terms with. Although the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does bring with it the beginning of the end, it is nonetheless a thrilling and effective adaptation of J.K. Rowling's insanely popular novel.

HP 7: Part One depicts the outbreak of civil war in the wizarding community, forcing Harry, Ron and Hermione to abandon their studies at Hogwarts as they go on the run, Voldemort's Death Eaters hot on their trail. Harry must follow his task of destroying the seven horcruxes, dark magical items created by Voldemort in a bid to gain immortality. This challenge, given to Harry by Professor Dumbledore before his death, will not be an easy one. As they embark upon their quest, confronting the mystery of the Deathly Hallows along the way, the trio will face all kinds of dangers and trials, threatening their lives as well as their friendships.

After re-watching the entire Harry Potter series so far, it's amazing to see how much the three main actors have grown in their skill and ability. I'm guessing that by now they are pretty much best friends in real life anyway, and so it isn't much of a stretch to portray this on screen. However, this doesn't tarnish the performances of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson in anyway, as they draw you into the fraying relationship between Harry and his best friends. However, it's hard to highlight the three leads in this movie as giving the best performances, when the entire cast is a role-call of the cream of British thespians. If I was going to pick one person who shone brightest for me, it would be Jason Issacs, playing disgraced Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. His portrayal of a broken man who knows he has lost his former status and power is chillingly believable, making you almost pity him.

No doubt there will be those who will cry sacrilege at the choices made by screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates when adapting this novel to the screen, but I agree with their decisions for the most part. I especially liked their choice of where to split the book in two, leaving my taste-buds tingling for the next installment. There were a couple of instances where I felt that tricks had been missed and events mishandled, the blunt addressing of Mad-Eye Moody's death being one example. I felt that the pacing of the narrative work really well however, the drawn-out bleak sections of the story having exciting action sequences interspersed at the appropriate points. I my opinion, this is a very faithful adaptation, with some interesting and effective changes made here and there to made the story suitable for the visual medium. For a more detailed summary of my views on book-to-film adaptations, click here.

Visually, HP 7: Part One is spell-binding (I'm really sorry, I had to use it somewhere!). From start to finish you are sucked into the magical world of Rowling's books, with a mixture of incredible visual/special effects and artistic cinematography. Some of the most beautiful moments of the movie are those set in the wild countryside of Britain, which would feel as much at home in an indie arthouse film as in a fantasy blockbuster. Also worth mentioning are the totalitarian themes and imagery used to depict the Ministry of Magic, now infiltrated and controlled by Voldemort's minions, invoking hints of distopian films such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) and Brazil (1985).

One thing I will admit about this, the latest in the Harry Potter saga, is that the film is definitely intended for those devoted to the previous books and films. There isn't much point watching this movie if you haven't seen those that precede it. I would even go as far as saying that you won't completely understand the plot if you haven't read all the books. Some elements of the story, such as the importance of the wizard Gellert Grindelwald, are included with the assumption that the viewer doesn't require a thorough introduction, which may confuse those less familiar with the series. I don't necessarily think this is a flaw however, because this is the seventh installment of the story, meaning there is a little bit too much to recap at this point. Another small disclaimer; don't take young children to see this movie. It is quite scary at points and contains suggestive and adult themes that are unsuitable for younger viewers.

So, to conclude, my high expectations were very much met by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. The first section of Rowling's epic teen fantasy has been cleverly and lovingly brought to life on the screen, with a wealth of excellent performances and beautiful imagery. I can't wait for the finale, although I feel a tinge of sadness that the end is nigh. However, there has to be a conclusion, even for the Boy Who Lived.

If you liked this, then try: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Narnia saga, the Star Wars saga and the Twilight saga.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Adapting books to the screen: a brief consideration

With the seventh installment in the Harry Potter film saga being released in the cinema this week, the subject of 'book-to-film' adaptations has been on my mind. It's a topic that is very easily seen in polemic terms, with one camp stating that the book is always superior to the film, and those at the other end of the spectrum saying the exact opposite. However, I think a little more consideration needs to be taken before any judgements can be made.

It is short-sighted to judge the film adaption of a novel by the same criteria as the original text. I get really annoyed when I hear a movie being criticised for 'leaving out' parts of the book; if a literal adaptation of a novel was ever attempted, it would be an extremely tedious and dull experience for the viewer, not to mention the longest film ever made. The director's job when making a screen version of a written work is to put across the essence of the story, using the elements of the book that are most relevant to the visual medium. With some books this task is quite simple. For example, Cormac McCarthy's novels read very much like screenplays and embody a cinematic tone, meaning that the film adaptations of No Country For Old Men (2007) and The Road (2009) easily retain the qualities that made the books so enjoyable. With longer fantasy-based novel's like Harry Potter, the director's retelling has to be much more subjective.

This leads me onto my next point: the role of a film adaptation isn't to provide a carbon copy of the original. Like it or not, but the director has a duty to present their own interpretation of the story, not just regurgitate the author's views and sentiments. When Katsuhiro Otomo adapted his own manga classic Akira (1988) to the screen, he made drastic alterations to the narrative, presenting the version of his story that works best for film. I will admit that I haven't always agreed with the choices a director/screenwriter has made during the adaptive process, but I'll defend to the death their right to make those choices. In a way, the activity of adapting a novel to the screen is just a continuation of the tradition of oral storytelling. As the narrative is passed on by one teller to the next, it is warped and contorted, gradually leaving behind many of the elements that made up its original form. In this case the director becomes just another link in the storytelling chain, passing on their version of the tale.

Don't get me wrong however; I'm not saying that cinematic retellings of novels should replace the original written document. Both are equally valid versions of the story, as long as they told with skill, imagination and integrity. Although I don't like people automatically attacking an adaptation movie, I also detest it when someone states that they won't read a book because they can just watch the film version. This attitude ignores the fact that all films start out as a written document; a screenplay. Without reading, and the imaginative processes it generates, there wouldn't be any films.

There is one situation where I do oppose the adaptation of books into films, and that is when 'Hollywood' gets involved. By this I mean, when studio execs look at a literature masterpiece and only see dollar signs. When this happens all the truth of a text is lost, replaced with the shallow goal of generating the biggest box office success. My example for this phenomenon would be I Am Legend (2007). Richard Matherson's original novel is a horror classic, chilling and inventive, with a really powerful if bleak conclusion. Director Francis Lawrence's adaptation removes almost all of the tension, replacing it with off-the-shelf jumps and scares, and reduces the vampires (yes, they are vampires, not weird zombie things) to unrealistic CGI ghouls. And the altered ending; don't get me started! Without wanting to spoil the story, the film's conclusion has no meaning at all, it says nothing new. But who cares when the film took $585 million worldwide? Isn't that what filmmaking is really about? I'm not so sure.

So in conclusion: not all novel-to-film adaptations are bad, in fact some books feel like they were written to be converted. I think I'm right in saying that Chuck Palahnuik actually acknowledged that he considers David Fincher's version of Fight Club (1999) to be superior to his novel. However, that doesn't mean that reading should now be obsolete; film cannot exist without the written word. I'll let you know what my assessment of the latest Potter adaptation in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, keep reading AND watching!

Friday, 12 November 2010

'This Dark World' - sample chapter

Paul pushed open the glass doors, exiting the building onto the angular concrete steps. The evening had a chilly edge, but was dry and still, darkness beginning to settle in the clear sky. Warm light illuminated the interior of the church building, groups of people visible within, chatting amiably and drinking cups of tea and coffee. Paul stood on the steps, looking down onto the street that passed by in front of the church.

Why did it feel so pointless? He'd been doing this ever since he was a kid, but now it just seemed like empty words and meaningless actions. Where was the blind belief he'd professed as a five-year-old? He turned back and looked at the people within the building. It meant something to all of them. He just felt hollow, wishing he had the guts to stand up to his parents, to say he wasn't going anymore. An even bigger part of him, a gnawing emptiness within, just wanted to know the truth.

God,” he began quietly, his words resonant against the hushed atmosphere of his surroundings. “If this is real, if you are real, then show me. Not in words or pictures, actually show me. Or, I don't think I can carry on with this. I don't think I can believe unless...”

Paul stopped. A young man, possibly in his early twenties, was leaning against the railings next to the church's wrought iron gate. He was wearing an immaculate grey pinstripe suit, which seemed to shimmer in the darkness. His jet-black hair was slicked back, giving him the appearance of an eight-ball with a handsome chiselled face. His eyes stared at Paul, who felt like he was being consumed in their gaze. The man smiled, breaking the tension.

Hey, how's it goin'?”

Alright I guess.”

Paul walked down the steps, hoping the stranger hadn't overheard him talking earlier.

I'm off to a party,” the man informed him. “It's 'gangster' themed. You think I look good?”

Um, yeah.”

Paul was about to open the gate and get away from this quite possibly drunk man, when he noticed something in his hand. He walked away from the gate, transfixed by the object. The man smiled from the other side of the railing, the corners of his mouth curving wickedly.

You want some?” he asked, holding out the greasy hamburger.

Paul looked at the fast-food snack. For some reason he couldn't comprehend, the burger looked like the best item of food he had ever laid eyes upon. His stomach twisted longingly, consumed with hunger. He felt as if all would be right with the world as long as he could sink his teeth into that soft white bread and fill himself with the rich meatiness of the flame-grilled beef within.

His hand reached out.

The stranger's grin widened.

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The voice seemed to be simultaneously the softest whisper in Paul's ear and also a clap of thunder. The man's smile faded instantly, replaced by a look of inhuman rage. He threw the hamburger to the ground, stamping on it aggressively. Paul looked down at the trampled object. It didn't look so appetising anymore. He could see bits of green mould on the bun, and the meat wasn't even cooked in places. When he looked back up, the man was smiling again, his teeth perfectly aligned and plastically white.

Wanna see something cool?”

Paul nodded, intrigued. The man raised his hand high above the his head, then brought it swiftly down onto one of the pointed ridges on the railings, the metal tearing through his hand. Paul jumped back in shock, his colour sucked from his face at the sight of the blood gushing out of the man's hand.

What are doing? Are you mental?”

The man slowly removed his hand from the raised metal that had skewered it, making Paul feel faint and nauseous.

Look,” he commanded, holding his palm up to Paul.

The youth studied it incredulously. There wasn't even a mark. The flesh was clear and unharmed.

You can do that too.”


Yeah. You're protected. Nothing's gonna happen to you.” The man pointed up into the sky.

The big guy's got you covered.” He smiled his toothy grin. “Give it a try.”

Paul looked at the metal tips of the railing. Could he?

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Oh come on!” shouted the stranger angrily, striding out into the road in frustration. “I nearly had him with that one.”

Paul looked at him with confusion. What on earth was going on? He noticed a blotch on the man's suit trousers. His hand was bleeding, the drops staining the cloth a rich scarlet.

Hey,” shouted the man, walking back over to the railing. Paul looked at him. His face appeared youthful, but on closer inspection the skin seemed stretched and mottled, the bones of his cheeks a little too sharp, his eyes a little too dark.

Hey,” the stranger repeated, snapping his fingers in front of Paul's face, causing the youth to jump. The man laughed, a hollow rasping sound.

What do you want?” asked Paul, his voice quavering nervously.

What do I want?” the man echoed him, chuckling. “I want to give you everything. I have the power. You want money? I'll give it to you. You want women?” The man laughed again. “What a stupid question. What teenage boy doesn't? Well, they'll be queuing up for you. I can do that. You want respect? Power? I can give you all these things.”

What's the catch?'

Catch? There is no catch.”

The man turned away, whistling tunelessly to himself. Paul pondered his words. Money. Power. Satisfaction. Who didn't want these things? The stranger turned back to Paul, smiling his unnerving grin.

There is one, tiny, insignificant thing you'd have to do for me in return.”

What is it?”

I would need you to bow down to me. It's just an ego thing, it wouldn't mean anything really – ”

Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

This time the words were like a shock-wave slamming into the ground, causing Paul to tremble, fully aware of the terrible power the utterance contained. The man howled in agony, his hands clawing at his ears. He fell down onto the tarmac, writhing in pain. Paul watched as the stranger began rise. Terror gripped him, rooting him to the floor. The man seemed gloriously handsome, but his beauty was at the same time the most horrific thing Paul had ever seen. The angles of his bone structure, the arch of his back, the density of his shining hair. It wasn't human.

OK, OK,” the stranger said, his voice grinding, his breathing heavy. “I guess you must really want this one.” He looked at Paul, his eyes glinting viciously. “I've got one more thing to show you,” addressing the young boy. He clicked his fingers.

Everything changed. Paul looked about him in panic. The buildings of the street seemed to be crumbling and shifting, but somehow managing to stay standing. The sky had morphed into a dense black shadow, a sunless expanse, the complete absence of light.

Something grabbed at his leg.

Paul turned to see what was clutching at his ankle, his eyes widening with absolute terror.

A creature, a bony humanoid, its bulbous head vacant of features except for a gaping maw, was crawling towards him, its jagged hand scrabbling at him. Paul kicked out at the monster, knocking it away. The creature reeled back, but continued to advance. The youth turned to run but was surrounded by more foul ragged bodies, some shuffling awkwardly towards him, others dragging themselves along the ground, all attracted to him, sightlessly searching for him.

Get back! Get away!” he screamed, kicking and punching frenziedly.

Cold hands latched onto his limbs, pulling at him, relentless against his strength. He was dragged down, pulled to the ground.

The man watched, grinning hatefully at Paul.

You're hopeless. Lost. A failure. He isn't going to save you this time. It's too much. You're done for.”

Darkness was almost upon him. He could feel the dank fetid breath of rotten mouths upon his skin, could feel razor-sharp teeth preparing to sink into his flesh.

Help me.”

The darkness was nearly complete.

Save me. Jesus, save me.”

Light. Unadulterated light. A supernova of whiteness. The creatures burst apart, disintegrating into dust, blasted into nothing. The man screamed with rage and was gone, disappearing in a flash of dark energy. Paul felt peace lap over him, the fear instantly replaced by calm. He eyes were closed, but he could sense the light surrounding him like a blanket of pure power. A voice spoke to him, the words falling into his mind without sound.

You are forgiven.

You are clean.

You are a new creation.

In your weakness, you doubted me.

I will turn your weakness into strength.

You asked me to show you...I will allow you to see.

Your sight will glorify me.

Paul awoke with a start, sitting up in bed. He was sweating, breathing heavily. His bedroom was cloaked in darkness, the bluish hues of early morning feeding in through the curtains. He lay back, catching his breath.

What on earth had happened? The man, the creatures, the voice? His mind felt foggy. He seemed to remember coming home, reading for a little while, and then going to bed. Was it all a dream? Something he had made up in his head? The memory of it didn't seem like a dream, but at the same time it didn't feel tangible, like some kind of disturbingly realistic illusion.

He let his body sag back into the covers, rolling over to find a comfortable position. Something did feel different. He felt...encouraged. Regenerated. Like he actually wanted to get up and face the dreary Monday that awaited him in a few hours time. He rolled over again, shrugging off these thoughts. It was just some wacky dream his over-active imagination had conjured up, probably from some comic or film he'd seen. However, as sleep seeped back over him, the words still echoed around his mind – “you asked me to show you...I will allow you to see.”

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Writer's block, RPG fun, and the first definitive test of whether a person is good or evil!

You may have noticed that after devoting an entire post to the topic of my current writing project, 'This Dark World', I haven't mentioned my novel idea for a while. The reason for this is that I am suffering the dreaded writer's block. Everytime I try to sit down and devote some time to my creative endevour I seem to hit a mental brick wall. All inspiration and motivation drains out of my mind, leaving me an ineffective husk of a man. That might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.

However, I think I've discovered the root of my writing issues. After reworking the fantasy concept of my story, I went through my draft and cut out everything that definitely wasn't useful anymore, leaving the parts that could possibly be cannibalised into the new form of my story. I don't think I went far enough in my purging actions. I'm getting caught up in reworking my old draft and combining it with my latest work, and making no progress. I am therefore turning a new page and starting over. I'm keeping my first six chapters because these aren't causing me any problems, but the rest are gone.I have kept hold of all my old drafts, but only as a reference of my progress. I'll let you know how my fresh start goes, but I think it's safe to assume I won't be finished by Christmas!

As a result of my writer's block, I've been doing a fair bit of gaming recently; role-playing games in particular have been my source of solace. I finally completed the main story quest of Fallout 3 the other day, after getting bored with the myriad side missions. There were some really interesting twists and turns in the narrative, getting you caught up in some awesome battles and interesting puzzles before the end. I'm playing through the Operation: Anchorage DLC now, which focuses on the FPS aspects of the game, offering the player a high-paced, guns-blazing version of the Fallout 3's action.

I also, to my shame, recently downloaded a ten-day trial of World of Warcraft. In my defence, I wanted to give the game an objective look, rather than dismissing it out of hand, and I have to admit; it's actually quite fun. I found it very easy to pick up as a beginner, although the demo did limit me to the basic quests, which all boil down to the same process - run to an area, kill a certain amount of enemies and loot their corpses, then return to the quest-giver. However, the landscape of the game is pretty in a cartoonish way, but also very involving and deep, allowing you to get lost in the world. The character customisation options are also extensive, allowing players to craft an unique avatar with specific skills and traits. It's fun to be playing alongside other human players as well, although I can see how the game can be a time-drain if you commit to questing with other people. I don't think I can justify getting into a game that requires me to pay subscription fees, and so although I have enjoyed my brief experience of World of Warcraft, it will remain a game that I don't regularly play.

Finally, here is a video that will separate those whose souls are filled with darkness from those who cling to purity and virtue. It shows two kittens who have 'fainting goat syndrome', meaning that they go rigid if they hear a loud noise or are shocked. Watch the clip; if you laugh, you are evil. If you cry, you are good. It's as simple as that. Enjoy!