Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The world that author J. K. Rowling has created with the Harry Potter series is one filled with fantasy, drama, and amazement. The books have sold over 450 million copies world-wide making it the best selling book series in history. And it's no mystery why. Each book introduces new characters, creatures, and twists that would make M. Night Shyamalan's head spin.

At least, that's what I'm assuming.

See, I've never actually read all of the books. I remember words like "Harry Potter," "Hermione," and "muggle" being thrown around in sixth grade homeroom constantly before finally caving in and picking up my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, not having the faintest clue as to what I was getting myself into. Halfway through Prisoner of Azkaban I thought, "wait a minute, what the hell is going on?" and promptly stopped there (ironic, since Prisoner is probably my favorite in the movie series). I had realized that the only reason I made it through two and a half books was because everyone else was reading the books and I wanted to fit in (remember kids: peer pressure is wrong).

Don't get me wrong, though. I don't hate the Harry Potter franchise. In fact, I find it very interesting extremely well written. The problem is that you either love the franchise or couldn't care less. The sheer number of characters, plots, sub-plots, and seemingly unimportant objects that are introduced every book becomes overwhelming to keep track of to anyone less than a die-hard fan.

I've always been on the fence about returning to the series and this year, after playing through Lego Harry Potter without the slightest clue as to what was going on, I made a vow to finally find out why Snape killed Dumbledore (do I really have to put SPOILER ALERT?) and what exactly a "horcrux" is.

But not through reading the books. Reading is hard, you guys.

No, I'm going to watch the all movies within a close enough time frame to each other so that I actually remember the multitude of characters, plot twists, and seemingly unimportant objects that show up in the first act that become extremely important during the last.

Done and done. That was the least anticlimactic way to say that I have now watched the movies.

Now that I've watched them, I'm going to give my thoughts and reactions on the movie series as a whole. I already said that I'm not reading the books, so if at any point you think to yourself something along the lines of, "But in the book..." I'm going to have to ask you to stop right there. A good movie is a good movie and should be able to achieve that on its own; you shouldn't have to go back to the source material to fill in plot holes or else it wouldn't be a good movie. Now that we've gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let's start my unbiased review of the Harry Potter movies.

Let me start by getting this out of the way: the child actors are all terrible with Daniel Radcliffe being the worst offender. He had to have been cast based on looks and nothing else. He acts the way I imagine a robot would trying to emulate emotion: smile when happy, grimace when mad, mouth slightly agape when surprised, yell when sad. In the first movie, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson aren't any better by comparison but by the last, Radcliffe's performance make Grint and Watson look like a couple of Marlon Brandos. That is to say, Radcliffe is the only actor who's acting doesn't improve throughout the ten years these movies have been released. The worst part is that he's the titular character, so his astonishingly sub-par performance gets the most screen time across the eight movies.

However, the adult cast is fantastic. Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, and Ralph Fiennes are only some of the stellar actors boosting the movies' watchability. There's no other way I can say it: they're all just so damn good. It's obvious that they're all classically trained theatre actors and boy does it show, especially in scenes when several of the adult cast are interacting with each other. However, as much as I like Alan Rickman as an actor, I can't say that I'm completely in love with his portrayal of Snape. His manner of speech comes off unintentionally hilarious rather than "reluctant, stone-faced professor with a heart of gold".

The Harry Potter movies were the first to make me admire both the scenery and special effects in a film. All the set pieces, make-up effects, and CGI are gorgeous. The scene that really blew me away when I first saw Sorcerer's Stone was the Quidditch match.

Can I just take a moment and ask just what are the rules of Quidditch? It seems to be "throw the ball through the hoop and also don't die." From what I can see, there's no out-of-bounds or, more importantly, any penalties for actively trying to murder your opponents. Also, take into account the fact that everyone, both playing and spectating the game, knows powerful magic? To top it all off, it's a school sport in which players can be as young as 11. This calls into question just how responsible the faculty at Hogwarts really is. And that's nothing compared to the walking liability case that is the Tri-Wizard Tournament, but we'll get there soon enough.

Goblet of Fire was when the series did an almost complete 180, going from a light-hearted children's film involving magic to Voldemort's return, Cedric dying, (c'mon, you've read the books) and shit getting real. Arguably, this is where the series begins, with Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban serving as one huge build up to this point. Despite this, I still can't get over how the wizarding world can host a tournament in which the first challenge is pitting teenagers against a dragon, again, with the only rule seemingly to be "don't die."

Actually, the wizarding world is blasé to the whole "the kid who survived an encounter with the dark lord is now attending the most prestigious wizarding school in the world where, coincidentally, strange and terrifying things are starting to happen." This is one of my biggest gripes with the series. Throughout the entire series, no one ever believes Harry when he says something bad will happen, despite everyone knowing him to be the chosen one. Hell, no one even believes the school's seer when it's her job to predict the future. When a student ends up possessed, petrified, or missing, there are no investigations, the school is never shut down, and the only action is to send the students to their rooms while the teachers wonder who could be behind such heinous acts. When the kid who survived an encounter with evil incarnate says that the bad guy is back, you had better damn well believe him.

The good thing about the Harry Potter universe is that any little inconsistency can be explained away with "it's magic" and get away with it. However, I did find two instances that left me scratching my head. Even though it's explained that Harry and Voldemort's wands connected because of very specific circumstances, they never explain why Dumbledore and Voldemort's wands connect other than because it looked awesome. Maybe because of Dumbledore being who he is coupled with his possession of the elder wand? Okay, fine, I guess we could chalk that one up to "it's magic." The other instance sadly falls into the "it explains it all in the book" category: after the climax of The Half-Blood Prince, Snape reveals that he is the Half-Blood Prince with no explanation as to why or what it means. The only reason they put that line into the movie was because they had to incorporate the title somehow so they don't leave viewers in the dark as to who the Half-Blood Prince is.

I said that the movies were amazing to look at before, but that gets turned up to 11 once David Yates gets behind the helm as director. The cinematography gets noticeably and drastically better with his Harry Potter directorial debut Order of the Phoenix. What stands out to me as the best scene in the entire series would be, hands down, the duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore. Everything comes together, from how it was shot, the set, the effects, the acting, and the use of music (there was none) to make not only a visually stunning scene, but an awesome scene overall. These techniques effectively come into play throughout the rest of the film series during key moments; for example, to create tension when Harry, Hermione, and Ron are in the woods in Deathly Hallows, the camera switches to handheld, giving it a slightly shaky feel and the music is completely dropped. The shaky camera give an air of instability and the lack of music makes you focus on the dialogue or ambiance. One superfluous camera trick I noticed Yates using a lot was where the camera would zoom in or out on a character through a transparent object, such as through a window or through the defensive spell around Hogwarts during the last battle in Deathly Hallows. It really didn't serve a purpose, it just looked cool.

I can understand now why the Harry Potter franchise has been so successful. The story is very well-written and the characters are fully fleshed out and developed. For someone who found it hard to keep track of the multitudes of characters with constantly changing alliances and mundane objects becoming extremely important well after you forgot about them (the Deluminator springs to mind), seeing the movies practically back to back finally made me appreciate and understand at least part of the Harry Potter fandom. Still not going to read the books, though.

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