Famously (or infamously), I avoided the Harry Potter franchise. Not quite to the same degree I refuse to watch Titanic, but perhaps similar. I jumped on the Lord of the Rings bandwagon and figured I’d put off Harry Potter until Meg would be old enough to appreciate the books.
Well, she’s not quite old enough, but now that all of the movies are available on DVD, we figured it had been long enough. Brooke had never seen them either, though she read all of the books, a few more than once. Last weekend, Meg was visiting my parents, so we borrowed the early movies and watched them, starting last Friday night.
Between Friday and Monday, we watched the first five movies. The next three we spaced out due to Netflix DVD travel time. Therefore, in a period of 9 days, we watched 8 Harry Potter movies.
Kinda nuts, I know.
Regardless, I must say that the movies, overall, hold up quite well. The first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released in 2001, so I expected the various CGI effects to have aged to a significant degree, however I found them to be surprisingly decent, even 10 years later. This isn’t to say that the effects didn’t improve over the decade these movies were coming out: the last few, Deathly Hallows Part I and Part II had all the effects trappings of any other big-budget blockbuster.
The acting was always good, yet still improved over the years, likely because the three primary actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were all 11 or 12 when the movies were released. By the time they reached the end, they were all doing very well in their roles and had likely surpassed the adults that had been alongside throughout the series.
Each movie had its own “flavor,” of sorts, to contribute to the franchise. Some focused more on the school experience at Hogwarts, others focused on some specific activity, like the Triwizard Tournament, and later movies (and the books, of course) laid more of a focus on the Good vs Evil aspects that run throughout the series. Thus, the latter movies tend to be much darker than the earlier movies. Also, I felt that the earlier movies were better at being “standalone” features, while the latter movies (Order of the Phoenix and later) flow into each other to some extent.
Speaking of which, Order of the Phoenix was probably my favorite in the franchise. This movie featured a level of “political upheaval” in the fiction of the series that I found to be interesting, and I wish they could have explored it further. Brooke says that there was quite a bit more of the Ministry of Magic (the group that acts as a sort of governing body over wizards and witches) in the Deathly Hallows (the final book, separated out into two movies), but very little of it remained by the book was translated to the silver screen.
One interesting bit about watching all of the movies in sequence in a short time like this is that you can observe all of the kids growing up. I suppose it’s part of why these actors were chosen in the first place: their characters first attend Hogwarts when they turn 11, which is right around the age when the actors took on the roles. Each book is supposed to represent an additional year at the school and, while they couldn’t quite keep the movies churning out each year, they still stayed close enough that the actors could have passed for 17 in the last story. If my math is correct, Daniel Radcliffe turned 17 during the filming of Order of the Phoenix, which is the fifth book/movie of the series. Still, looking at the pictures I’ve posted above, the actors have obviously aged during their tenure in the roles.
Overall, I was pretty impressed. I’d expected a bit more “kiddie fare” throughout the series, but in actuality, it was really only persistent in the first movie, and followed into the second one to an extent. The characters “grew up” relatively quickly, so the movies didn’t get bogged down in young-minded storylines to the extent I’d anticipated.
The latter half of the series, though, really seems to ape the “Star Wars” franchise, with Harry being Luke Skywalker and Lord Voldemort as…well…Lord Vader. Much as Luke and Vader were connected by family, history, loss, good/evil, and so on, so were Harry and Voldemort. I kinda wanted a bit more out of the Voldemort character, honestly. He was present the whole time, and he was certainly bad, but somehow, he just didn’t seem evil enough to me. They would constantly talk about their fear of “He Who Must Not Be Named,” yet the scenes we saw him in, he just wasn’t doing much that was particularly…evil. Granted, it’s a children’s series, so you can’t get too dark, but I can’t help but think more could have been done. Watching the movies, I was more disturbed by Dolores Umbridge, the teacher sent from the corrupt Ministry of Magic that is trying to sweep the return of Voldemort under the proverbial rug. I’m sure the books make Voldemort seem more evil than he turns out to be in the movies, but I found him to be a bit lacking. Perhaps it’ll take a few more viewings of the last two movies before I really settle on why that is.
In the end, I still prefer the Lord of the Rings series over this one, though the Harry Potter series was fun, interesting, and well-produced. In many ways, the effects in the first few movies hold up better than the effects from LotR, though they were definitely less complicated (e.g. putting a light at the end of a wand is a bit cheaper than modeling Gollum, let alone developing the technology to create the character in the first place). Order of the Phoenix was my favorite of the movies, though I really liked Chamber of Secrets, despite it being an “early” movie. The later ones got quite a bit more confusing, but it’ll make more sense when I re-watch them in a few years, once Meg’s old enough.
Maybe I’ll even read the books when Meg does.