WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS: major plot points and details that may ruin the story for you if you haven't seen the movies or read the books for yourself! If you've never seen the Harry Potter films, I advise you not read this article.
As a child, I was always one of the unlucky few whose parents forbade him from taking part in the bespectacled wizard’s adventures; not because of any ludicrous opposition to the series’ apparent witchcraft (I say “ludicrous” because the series comes nowhere close to any true-to-life black magic dabbling), but because my parents assumed it was a bit too intense and scary for me. (And, in retrospect, they were probably right.) At thirteen, I went on a school band trip to Universal Studios Orlando, where I explored the then-new Harry Potter-themed section of the park. I was amazed with the world I had entered—yet I sadly had no knowledge of its source material! Over the course of the next seven years, even with a couple of failed attempts to do so, I never got around to exploring the series.
Finally, upon my arrival home for spring break of my sophomore year of college, my I discovered the series available through HBO Go (albeit in pan-and-scan). I hopped right in and, over the course of the vacation, eventually made it all the way through Harry’s story.
Now before I continue, there’s a matter I want to address. I know you bibliophiles are already set to bombard me with hate comments along the lines of “You didn’t read the books first!” Besides Sorcerer’s Stone, no, I did not—I’ll not argue against that fact. But as I mentioned in my first VLOG a couple months ago, books and movies are separate art forms, even if one is based on another. Harry Potter (in one of its many impacts on the industry) started the annoying trend of the companionship of commercial books and movies: every hot, new commercial book for young adults released these days enjoys a couple years of shelf life before it becomes a film that audiences consider to be its companion, meaning you can’t have one without the other. This trend puts the wrong idea in people’s heads: that the book and film are essentially the same piece of art, presenting the same experience. But I, as you all know, do not subscribe to this school of thought. Second of all, what truly bothered me when people would attack me with these meaningless accusations as a child was how they assumed a sort of arrogance with reading the book. In other words, they implied that if one had only seen the movie (or, heaven forbid, preferred it), one wasn’t as smart as them. They also failed to consider that some people (like me) actually enjoy movies along with books, appreciating them just as well, if not more so. So kids, if you’re a budding cinephile or prefer movies to books, don’t let people bully you over that fact. Enjoy what makes you happiest. So, with those troublesome matters out of the way, I’m moving on.
To say that I was impressed by the film series is a hideous understatement. After years of befuddlement at people’s obsession over it, I finally see the appeal. The series has a certain allure unlike anything else. It isn’t special in the same way as other great movie series or great works of literature, children’s or otherwise. It is, instead, a new breed of “special”— one that touched my heart in a fashion that no other piece of media or art has yet.
When it comes to appeal, the film series has three major star qualities. The first is J.K. Rowling’s impeccable writing. As I also discussed in my “Turning Books into Movies” VLOG, the author of a book, upon which a movie is based, is not the film’s auteur; that title goes instead to the film’s director. However, even so, Rowling’s style still shines through in the films. Based on what of the novels I have read, the films seem to mirror them one-to-one via a remarkably faithful utilization of the “translation method.” Rowling’s writing is also well-suited for cinema, as the plot moves forward via action and dialogue. Plus, they are chock full of the Lawrence Kasdan-esque humor, which sparkles onscreen and lives on for decades. But Rowling’s writing stands out best when viewed from far away: her characters, her world, and the story she ultimately tells are both charming as hell and purely inventive. Every character we meet is fascinating, and Rowling’s names for them are even better. And with what she’s crafted, who wouldn’t want to study magic in the wondrous world of Hogwarts?
Which brings us to the series’ second star quality: the visuals of the films. The series is, needless to say, an absolute feast for the eyes. Expertly crafted sets and costumes accompanied by some of the greatest in special effects perfectly realize Rowling’s world. Sadly though, some of the cinematic imagery often fails to live up the creativity in Rowling’s source material. Several moments in the series had me thinking, “That looks like [insert movie title here].” But nonetheless, a series like Harry Potter couldn’t be realized onscreen without stellar production design, and that which appears in the films (thanks to Stuart Craig) simply could not be better. Like Rowling’s work, it harkens back to the fairy tales and mythology that inspired the series, and it introduces new imagery that can now only be attributed to the series. And best of all, characters and settings appear just as we imagined them ourselves.
Speaking of characters, they, along with the actors who play them, are the third significant star quality of the films. “Books-first” fans try to deny any allegiance to the series’ onscreen imaginings, but even they fall victim to the affection we feel for the actors. I’m writing, mainly, of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, who portray the three main protagonists of the series. Watching them grow both physically and mentally is absolutely touching, especially considering how they mirror their characters so well. And what makes it even more satisfying is knowing that the trio of thespians didn’t fall victim to the usual corruption that destroys child actors. Instead, we get to see them mature in an endearing way.
But even as I praise the actors, the characters themselves are inarguably brilliant. It’s fun to watch the children grow up and face the same challenges we face in our own adolescence—but in the wizard world! What Rowling brings us are the most endearing group of youngsters we could ever hope to meet. Harry himself exhibits many qualities we see (or would wish to see) in ourselves, making him not only a stellar hero, but also the perfect set of eyes from which to see the story. Ron and Hermione are the best friends we’ve always wanted: loving, funny, and supportive to the end. (They also make the cutest couple in literary history!) And the supporting cast is just as rich as the leads, as each character exudes abundant life, feeling, and originality. (And, as I mentioned before, Rowling’s names for them make her a rival to the great Charles Dickens!) On the whole, the characters marry romanticism and realism perfectly, helping us to not only see the whimsy of the world, but also take it seriously.
Now I will go film by film, exploring the qualities of each. The most notable attribute of the films’ progression is the shifts in style as they go along. This is mainly due to the films having different directors over the course of their production. The series also experienced changes in screenwriters, but seeing as how they’re so heavily reliant on Rowling’s work, it isn’t as noticeable as the carousel of directors. Rowling herself serves, surprisingly, as no more than author (and consultant, I assume) until the final two films, where she serves as producer as well. The rest of the creatives and crew stay generally the same for the entire run.