Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter: An Critical Appreciation

I'm a Harry Potter fan. I make no apologies about it. I've loved the books ever since I picked the first one on a whim last Christmas of 1999 after hearing a few good things about it. I've been hooked ever since. This week, the last installment of the film version of the series is released in theaters (I've already seen it. I'll post my review by the end of the week in my "Weekly Round-Up") pretty much marking an end of an era whose legacy I hope will continue for decades to come. I love this series of books. The film versions however, have been up and down (mostly up though). Let me run through them.

When Chris Columbus was announced as the director of the first movie version of the books, The Sorcerer's Stone, I was concerned. He's not exactly an auteur and is mostly known for his juvenile comedies. The film suffers from being a rather slavishly faithful film adaptation rather than an actual film, lifting whole scenes from the book rather than trying to turn them into something more cinematic. But the strength of Rowling's material still managed to make this film a pleasant experience. Columbus improved quite a bit with The Chamber of Secrets where you can see slivers of potential greatness of this series.

Things changed in 2004 when Alfonso Cuaron, coming off his success from Y tu mama tambien, was chosen to direct what many critics regard as the best book of series so far The Prisoner of Azkaban. I was really excited since this is going to give this series a much-need shot-in-the-arm and get it to be cinematically respected. It absolutely worked. Cuaron delivered a beautiful piece of dark fantasy that both fits in with his ouevre and pretty much laid the groundwork for the darker, more grown-up films to follow.

Mike Newell added his own touch in the fourth film, The Goblet of Fire. He gave it a more epic feel and polished up the comedic elements of the series. Then acclaimed veteran of BBC miniseries, David Yates, took over in The Order of Phoenix and pretty much never let go. He built on everything Cuaron and Newell had introduced and more.

The young unknown newcomers, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, have since blown up into big stars, forging their own respective careers and also vastly improved as actors. It probably also helps that the great supporting cast of A-list British actors are their co-stars from Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, etc. Each one clearly having a ball in their respective roles.

The series is by no means perfect but they do contain lots of moments of cinematic greatness. It is a testament to the strength of J.K. Rowling's writing that these movies work. I mean, how many films can have 8 movies with the same cast and work both critically and commercially? That's no easy feat.


Anonymous said...

I like the movies too, and they have gotten better with each one imo.

Banacek said...

I agree. The movies get better as the series progresses. Still, I've never been a huge fan.

StigmataHandjob said...

I've never seen or read Harry Potter. Please don't hurt me. Maybe I'll give the books a shot once my current Ryu Murakami-obsession lets up a little and I can allow myself to read other things again.

braumaman said...

I enjoyed the series for the most part, but didn't really care for the last 3 films. 6-7.2