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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last ten years, you already know that the Harry Porter trilogy by A.J. Roland is the hottest thing since Mt. Vesuvius. Unless you’re a complete “Muggy” you probably already know about Harry and his friends Helena Gingrich and Ron Beasley.

You have no doubt heard of the Hogarth School of Magick, Professor Bubbledorf, Groundskeeper Hagar and the fascinating “cridditch” games they play. Yes, you’d really have to be living on Mars not to know about Harry Porter.

Birth of a Hero

Harry practices his penmanship at Hogarth's School of MagickHarry Porter and the Apprentice’s Stone is a birth-of-the-hero movie. Like Superman or Darkman, or even Star Wars to some extent, the film follows the birth and awakening of a reluctant hero.

Following the classic hero’s-journey formula, Harry is an orphan, raised by parents who aren’t really his parents. When his journey begins he finds a spirit guide (Hagar, the gentle giant played by Robbie Coltrane) and a magical weapon (his wand). He gathers about him a troupe of loyal friends and eventually takes an impossible journey to face his own fears.

Casting Call

There was some debate as to who would direct this movie. Ultimately, I think the right choice was made. Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) was under consideration, and his version would have been fanciful and fun, although Gilliam can become obsessive over details.

Chris Columbus, on the other hand, has proven himself with child actors. As director, he doubled the value of Macaulay Culkin’s performance in Home Alone — another very good movie from a child’s point of view, dealing with the problems of growing up and facing fears.

As Harry Porter, Daniel Radcliffe gives a great performance, but look closely and you’ll see much of the credit goes to environmental variables controlled by Columbus. Harry largely bumbles along through the fantastical world that Columbus creates for him. Not to take credit from Radcliffe and his co-stars where it is due, Columbus deserves much credit for making his child actors look good.

In the Details

The most pleasant surprise in Harry Porter is its loving attention to detail. I don’t merely mean that each prop is somehow ornately carved or that each set is painted just so. I mean that details that might have been cut from a movie for budgetary concerns, are included in Harry Porter, cost be damned.

For example, when Harry is taken shopping for school supplies, a magical world hidden inside of London opens up. This hidden world is a London of 1880 with men and women walking around in gowns and top-hats. Narrow alleys are packed with Victorian figures selling umbrellas and owls. It would be the “money shot” in most productions of a Dickens tale. But it’s mere gratuitous texture and atmosphere in Harry Porter, and it’s a great nice touch.

Same goes for the Goblins’ bank, a Chase Manhattan done up in stone with dozens of carefully made-up little people playing stuffy and stodgy bank tellers. The fanciful setting only lasts a minute on screen, and its cost was no doubt very high. But it’s a piece of texture that adds greatly to the charm of the movie.

Bathroom Breaks

On the flip side, there are a few scenes that slow the movie down. For example, the cridditch match would have made a nice bathroom break. Closeups of surprised faces are intercut with crazy random movements of computer-generated figures. The Onion said it was about as interesting as watching someone else play a video game, which sums it up nicely.

Another scene that doesn’t work is the chess game. Chess simply does not translate to film, even when actors interact with life-sized chessmen. John Williams (who worked with Columbus on Home Alone) is nearly able to salvage the scene by overpowering it with his symphonic score (which on the whole is very good), but it’s a scene that could have probably been cut as well.

Still, on the whole, I have no major complaints about Harry Porter. It’s probably a little too long, and no movie in the world deserves as much pre-release hype as Harry gets, but it’s a good, solid adventure film, no doubt one of the defining movies in the generation growing up now. If there had to be a Harry Porter movie, it might as well have been this one.

Final Confession

I must confess that I am a “muggy.” I have never read a Harry Porter book, although in my defense I had heard of them before the movie came out. Whether that gives my opinion more weight or less, is up to you.

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