Possible Spoilers for any who wish to remain oblivious!
Having finally joined the world of Blu-ray movie-watching at the tail end of last year, I’ve officially switched all my purchasing from DVD’s to Blu-ray, and have been acquiring a handful of movie sets at decent prices here and there. In my future I’ve got all the original Planet of the Apes, the Rocky series, and the large complete Bond set featuring every Bond movie from Connery to Craig. Cinephile heaven.
In this world of streaming content and people watching movies while posting on facebook and tweeting and updating different forums with how far along they are in a certain movie this may already be anachronous, but when I’m watching a movie it has to be on a television screen, there have to be no interruptions, and the experience has to be as immersive as possible.
I just finished up an 8 day Blu-Ray marathon of all the Harry Potter movies. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books. I think JK Rowling has a towering imagination, and she created a rich, interesting world filled with characters as real as any I’ve read about. It’s impossible to ask the movie to live up to the books, but on their own, how do they fare?
Having read the source material and having the capability to fill in the holes in the movie, it’s difficult to judge the movies as would one who went in cold without any prior knowledge. Despite the loss of large chunks of plot that had to be stripped from Rowling’s sometimes very large novels, overall I enjoyed the movies a lot. With eight movies over ten years, you’re watching a micro-lifetime, not only in the cast both young and old, but also in technology. There were a lot of computer generated elements sprinkled throughout, and where in the first movie there was a bit of disconnect, by the last movie the computer generated characters were as real as the humans.
The strongest aspect of them would have to be the casting. From top to bottom, the casting department has to be commended on their exceptional ability to succeed at an impossible task: forecast the future. They weren’t casting ten or eleven year olds. They were casting future 17 and 18 year olds for movies that had yet to be. That’s a seemingly impossible task, due to the fluctuating nature of teenagers. Would they age right? Would they even be recognizable once puberty had their brutal way with them? Would an eleven year old even care about Harry Potter as he moved towards adulthood? Would Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger turn into a hottie? Would Bonnie Wright’s Ginny Weasley seem like someone Harry Potter could fall in love with? Yes on all accounts, it seems.
As important as the younger actors were, it’s the older actors that would provide the firmament that the younger actors all maneuver around. When your cast includes such cinematic powerhouses and Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Richard Harris (quickly replaced by) Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, it’s hard to go wrong. Even when the length and breadth of material meant that the middle movies were mere shells of the source books, the acting talent was such that they were still watchable as any of the others.
Though typecast as children’s books and children’s movies, I commend them on not being afraid to get dark. And by the last two movies the darkness is so palpably thick it’s almost chewable. The movies themselves are layered in shadow and gloom as our hero and his friends lose friends and loved ones and pieces of themselves, and the subject matter is unafraid to follow suit. People die. People suffer. People whose world we’ve become invested in. The final three movies in the franchise more than make up for the almost summary-style weakness in the 4th and 5th installments.
Movie by movie:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in non USA markets):
We meet all the regulars. The kids are learning to act, so line readings are big and bold. A full movie with a lot of satisfying meat to properly introduce the characters and the world.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
Much of the central plot remains seems rushed and unfleshed out by comparison to the book. The acting is already stronger, the bonds between the young actors already seem strong. The world is set in place.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
Dumbledore looks different (due to the death of Richard Harris and replacement by Michael Gambon). If it’s not quite legal to think of Hermione as hot yet I don’t care. Enough time is spent on the proper plot elements that it feels like a complete story with a proper payoff.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
With so much to get through from the book, the movie really is stripped down to important beats with barely any time for character growth. Probably weakest of the 8 due to this.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
This is the second movie where the amount of plot from the book is reduced to a series of beats for the movie. I don’t think there was any way to get around this unless each movie was LOTR in length. Definitely thicker than the 4th though.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
A much more satisfying movie, although much of the actual story of the Half-Blood Prince seem to falter so the reveal of the just who the Half-Blood Prince is suffers.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1:
This is the Harry Potter road movie. While it’s mostly setup for the second movie, there’s a lot of character development, and a lot of darkness. It’s hitting the fan though. Comparing the tone of this one to the first movie is like comparing two completely different franchises. These aren’t kids anymore.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2:
The series ends on the strongest note it could hope for, and splitting the movie into two parts allows the viewer to have proper resolutions to all the threads that had piled up until now. Great character moments for all involved, terrific acting (even if to some it might border on scenery chewing, these are big evils and grand operatic gestures so that’s allowable for a movie like this.) A conclusion that has all the heart and poignancy of the book. Satisfying as can be.
So with some weaknesses, I still count these movies as successfully achieving something few franchises would or will be able to do: 8 movies with a single cast doing a remarkable job in service of a believable world created in a popular series of books. I enjoyed myself, and that’s all I want in a movie experience.