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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
With the final Harry Potter film coming out this weekend, I thought it would be fun to go back, watch, and review the earlier films. These reviews are strictly based on the movies. I’ve never read the books nor do I really care to. I am just your average moviegoer in this regard.
Well, lets get on with it, shall we?
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
A solid beginning to the franchise. The thing that amazes me the most is the quality of the child actors. Usually kid actors can be very dreadful. Somehow, the producers were able to collect a strong child cast. Honestly, there isn’t really a weak one among them. However, this isn’t a perfect film. While the child actors are strong, the adult actors (specifically, Harry’s aunt, uncle, and cousin) act needlessly campy and a bit too over the top. Also, the actual story of someone stealing the Sorcerer’s Stone is extremely thin. The majority of the film is pure exposition designed to set-up the series. As such, the movie somewhat drags at times. However, there is a certain innocent quality about the film that makes it nearly impossible to dismiss.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
The second installment is, to put it simply, dreadful. It is over-long and has a needlessly all-over-the-place story with numerous plot holes. Quite frankly, it is boring. Except for maybe the flashback scenes, nothing overly interesting happens. It is arguably the worst film in the franchise. Due to the length, the film created a gag between a friend and me: “You know what this movie is missing? The end!” However, there is some good. Kenneth Branagh as the self-absorbed Professor Lockhart is immensely fun to watch. Too bad nothing else was.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The series gets a new director in Alfonso Cuaron and corrects all the problems of the first two films. In particular, the film wasn’t slavish to the source material and was an actual movie as opposed to a “book-on-film”. The pace is swift, the story is engaging, and the direction is sharp (this film is easily the most visually interesting one in the series). Interestingly, this story is a much quieter and less epic than the previous and forthcoming films. I find the character-based nature of the story to be one of the film’s strengths. Also, I need to mention the fantastic score by John Williams. Williams is always great in whatever he does, but in the two earlier Potter films, his work was very derivative of what was typical of him during that time (particularly, his work in the Star Wars prequels). However, Williams really broadened his style and the result was one of his best scores in the past ten years.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
This is probably my favorite entry of the series. The film is well-structured in regards of getting the narrative up, running, and never slowing down. The story is nicely constructed mixing adventure, sports, and mystery all into one tale. The movie never wastes any time with extended exposition nor wild tangents the way the first two films did. I was also happy to see that they ditched Harry’s aunt and uncle instead of forcing an appearance. The film, however, isn’t perfect. There are a lot of things that happen in the movie that we are just told to accept. For example, why does the Tri-Wizard Tournament take place over nine months when the participants only have to accomplish three challenges? And why do the other schools send a large delegation to live at Hogwarts for the year? Did Hogwarts send delegations to the other schools in exchange? It also seems as if Ron and Hermione importance has dropped considerably in this film. The previous ones had them involved in the action. Here, they mainly serve as support for Harry and not doing anything vital in regards to the movie’s story. Still, these are really minor nit-picky things in the larger scope. As an aside, it is also kind of cool to see Robert Patterson and David Tennett in supporting roles here before they got big in Twilight and Dr. Who, respectively.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Another solid outing. This film seems to be the most focused out of the bunch with still giving each character their moment. I wonder if it had to do with this being the only entry that Steve Kloves didn’t write. The one is also considerably darker. While I appreciated that move, I did miss the amount of humor present in earlier films. One element that I didn’t care much for was the completely over-the-top Soviet parallel. It seemed very strange that no one, except our heroes, questioned the Ministry’s actions. However, I did enjoy watching Imelda Staunton as Umbridge. She is so obnoxious, yet wickedly evil that you can’t help but love to hate her. She also reminds me of a woman I use to work with (except for the whole torturing kids thing).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
This one is a mixed bag. I liked the dark storyline with Harry trying to manipulate a teacher to gain some information, and I also liked the over-the-top humor connected with the various love triangles. However, I don’t think they worked well together. It really throws the tone of the movie off, and I am not 100% certain if they weave in and out together well. Another problem I had was that the film really starts to drag in the third act. Still, the acting in this film is really top notch, and I really hope Daniel Radcliffe gets involved in comedy in the future as he really demonstrates some great comic timing.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)
This movie is awful, and almost as bad as the second film. It starts out alright, but it quickly goes downward. The problem is that the film is over two and a half hours and nothing happens. Harry, Ron, and Hermione just walk around the woods and accomplish next-to-nothing. An hour could have been easily cut, and you wouldn’t have missed it. The movie also comes to a sudden end. It simply stops. Granted, the storyline was split between two movies, but doing that in a movie simply doesn’t work as a film should be able to standalone by itself. This movie simply cannot stand by itself at all.
And that wraps up my thoughts on the first seven Harry Potter films. Overall, the films are pretty good and, generally, got better as the series went along. The series had three really strong films, two which were middling, and two which were complete misfires. Given the fact that the producers cranked out a new film every eighteen months or so, that is track record is very impressive. I suppose now it’s all about how it ends. The reviews so far have been positive, and I’m looking forward to see it. Hopefully, it doesn’t disappoint!