Sep 13, 2009

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Looking Back On The Harry Potter Films … So Far

By now there can’t be too many people on the planet who haven’t at least heard of Harry Potter. Based on the worldwide box office, there are even fewer who have yet to see one of the movies based on J.K. Rowling’s series of books chronicling the adolescence of the young wizard. The latest film in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (directed by David Yates) is set to open worldwide on July 15 and promises to be a much darker Potter adventure than its predecessors. Hopefully, this makes for a more engaging film than previous offerings and is more along the lines of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the best film in the series – at least to date).

Now, don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of things that work in the series (for example, the actors and actresses in the series have proven to be absolutely incredible and have done an incredible job in realizing their characters), but the films have lacked the emotional depth and enthralling plots that surfaced in the third film. With Harry finding himself in a far darker place than ever before in Half-Blood Prince, the possibilities of dramatic character growth and an engaging storyline has us wildly excited. So, we thought this might be a golden opportunity to revisit the previous films in the series as we eagerly await the new adventure featuring Harry, Ron, and Hermione. So, join us as we board the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9¾ and revisit the first five Harry Potter films.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)


The much-anticipated screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s first book about the Dickensian orphan, who discovers his wizardly legacy, didn’t disappoint its legions of ready-made fans. Director Chris Columbus remained painstakingly faithful to the book, although the film sometimes lacks any real personality of its own. This may have been intentional as it never detracts from the outstanding production and captivating storytelling. But the real triumph of the film (and perhaps the entire series) is the casting of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). The rest of the stellar all-Brit cast is fun to watch, and the stunning special effects are what you’d expect given a $125-million budget and the use of no less than nine effects houses. Even those not familiar with the books will find it hard not to enjoy the film’s many charms (though they may find it a bit too long).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)


The action-packed sequel tops its predecessor with less exposition and more adventure as Harry and his friends at Hogwarts try to figure out just what is terrorizing the school (here’s a hint, it has something to do with He Who Must Not Be Named). In his second year at school, the young wizard re-teams with cohorts Ron and Hermione to brave new dangers posed by the Chamber of Secrets, which lies somewhere within the halls of the school. Everything about this outing is bigger and better, including a delightfully expanded, labyrinthine Hogwarts. Sometimes over-the-top thrills may be a lot for younger viewers. This film is also notable as the final installment directed by series stalwart Columbus. It is also the last of the by-the-book recreations of Rowling’s original.


Harry’s back at Hogwarts, and he’s still dealing with evil entities trying to kill him. This time out it’s Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), a rogue and supposedly insane wizard (he is purportedly the person who betrayed Harry’s parents allowing their murders) who has escaped from Azkaban Prison (which is not a place anyone would really want to be in the first place). Harry also has to deal with the onset of puberty and the trials of being a teenager (for example, no one ever listens to him). Michael Gambon ably takes over the role of Dumbledore from the late Richard Harris. First-time series director Alfonso Cuaron is more faithful to the spirit of the books and, driven more by emotion and feeling, and less by the marketing department, delivers the first (and so far the only) film in the series that feels like a legitimate artistic work and less a substandard adaptation. It’s interesting to note that Cuaron was author Rowling’s choice to direct the franchise from the very star, leaving audiences to wonder what could have been.
If you aren’t already swept up in the book-turned-film craze at this point, this film might just do it. Harry and his trusty pals Ron and Hermione, now teens in their fourth year at Hogwarts, battle the forces of evil that swirl around Harry’s mysterious past. Lord Voldemort makes an appearance, and Harry competes in the frightening and dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament. Twilight star Robert Pattinson makes an appearance as Cedric Diggory – Harry’s chief rival in the tournament and for the affections of Harry’s first crush Cho Chang. The special effects are even better than the previous films but director Mike Newell doesn’t really advance the artistry that Cuaron established. Instead he delivers a rather passionate character-driven film (something he’s known for). Old fans won’t be disappointed with the film, but new fans may want to play a bit of catch-up before jumping right in.
For the fifth chapter of the series, the studio turned the reigns over to David Yates (they would later enlist him to finish out the series by adapting the final two books), their least recognizable director yet (having only been known previously for helming the British television series State of Play). Regrettably, he doesn’t bring much to the table. Angsty Potter returns to Hogwarts only to discover that most of the wizarding world doesn’t believe him about the Dark Lord’s return, so he begins training his school chums in wizard-on-wizard combat under the nose of Ministry stooge Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). The result is a film that rather dark and moody (which is fine as the series is supposed to be getting a bit more sinister as it nears the final chapters), but the story is made nearly incomprehensible, and Yates bungles most of the sequences that made the book so much fun to read (such as the book’s climactic battle between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters) either by truncating them or writing them out all together.

In his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry learns more about Voldemort’s past with help from mentor Dumbledore as they search for objects known as Horcruxes that hold the key to finally defeating Voldemort. Harry also finds a mysterious potions book that was the property of someone called the Half-Blood Prince and begins using some dangerous new spells. Love also finds its way into Harry’s life when he develops feelings for his best friend Ron’s sister, Ginny. This is the darkest story in the series so far and hopefully returning director Yates delivers a gripping film that proves an exciting prelude to the final chapter in the saga Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which has been wisely broken into two parts and is set to be released in 2010 and 2011 respectively).

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