Reviewed Jul 31, 2012
That's right, I've watched the best-selling film series of all time. Shucks, I even enjoy some of it. Let me explain.
I'm not about to give a story overview, I mean, it took Rowling 7 books (≈ 4100 pages, depending on the publisher) and 8 films just to get the story told. It's the story of Harry Potter. Does that satisfy you?
I must say that I have not read the books, and really have no plans to, so I'm simply taking the films as they are. If you really need to know the story, it's about a bad guy who tried to kill a child and couldn't. Harry Potter grows up, finds himself with magical powers, and goes to school to learn how to use them. Meanwhile, bad guy keeps coming back, getting beaten, but getting more powerful, till we reach the epic conclusion thousands of pages and hours of film later. Oh, and yeah, interwoven throughout, we find many powerful themes of love, friendship, sacrifice, making choices, and all that stuff.
Now, a little disclaimer. Many people have a problem with Harry Potter due to the magic, or witchcraft or sorcery or whatever it gets labeled throughout the series. And I agree with most of their concerns. As such, I certainly don't suggest handing the series off blindly to your kids to sit and soak up all that nonsense. Be that as it may, I can't argue that there aren't many very good and powerful messages woven into the story. I simply recommend caution when watching films like these, where we have a very clear good vs. evil a lot of the time, but sitting back and looking at it we find some basic problems. Red flag. Exercise caution.
Now that I've told you the story, and cautioned you, let's get to the films.
Numbers one and two are a good introduction to the series, and unlike some people, this makes me a great fan of Chris Columbus's directing. The films are a perfect blend of suspense, fun, and hilarious comedy. This is Rupert Grint at his finest, or rather, funniest. I will say that the visual effects aren't great, downright cheesy at times, but the cinematography is excellent. I love the fluid motion of the shots, the excellent use of a shaky cam, and the overall great job at bringing the films to life.
Shifting gears a little, we change directors and Dumbledores. I must admit, I preferred Columbus and Harris, but oh well. Number three is quite possibly the worst of the series. The overall feel of the film is very different than the previous two and the characters are not as engaging, though there are some excellent additions such as Remus Lupin and Sirius Black.
Entering the PG-13 realm with a new director we go to the fourth film. The actors do a phenomenal job and the visual effects are getting better. With a reborn Voldemort, evil is getting closer, and a more intense and darker film is the only way to appropriately handle that. And with 14-year-olds, we also start getting into a little puppy love, which is sometimes annoying. Patrick Doyle takes over the composer's seat, and does a really good job.
David Yates takes the director's seat and carries on through the rest of the series. Fitting the position very well, his directorial style is excellent, and though we have to put up with the first kiss in the series, the fifth film is quite powerful. A lot of the themes are very real-life struggles and the film handles them well and with powerful imagery. A few complaints here and there, but overall this film is good technically. Nicholas Hooper takes over the score, and does quite a good job aside from a little too much percussion in some action scenes.
I'm not a big fan of number six. Though it had the highest budget of any of the films, and contains many very crucial, exciting plot twists, it doesn't have much point by itself, and can't help being a little disappointing. By now, the romance is starting to get a little more emotional, though it is also still played for fun, especially with Ron. There are some good things. The visual effects are very good, and Tom Felton does an amazing performance as Draco Malfoy.
Number seven is quite similar to the last one, it falls short because it is just a piece of a larger story. Artistically, it looks really, really good, it just doesn't have a very engaging storyline. Some good comedy and a few good scenes, though. It does OK as an introduction to the end.
And the final film is an amazing conclusion to the series. With the strongest definitions of good and evil, this film is powerful. Harry has become a man, and his choices in this film are what make it. The visual effects are very impressive, and this may be the best-written script in the series. A great blend of comedy, tragedy, love, friendship, victory, and ultimate sacrifice is combined with good cinematography, lighting, effects, acting, and score to produce a result that is best summed up as excellent filmmaking.
The acting in the series is top notch. Throughout all the films, it's hard to find an actor that doesn't do an amazing job with his/her character, and it's really unique to see all the kids grow up throughout the films.
John Williams composed for the first 3 films, and so the classic Harry Potter themes are his. The music is good throughout the series. A number of the themes are very good, though sometimes repetitive, but I love the way they are used up to the end of the last film.
There are so many characters with interesting stories, you could write books simply about each of them. Draco Malfoy has a unique story. A horrible little kid, but you really get to see into him towards the end, and we see the results of his decisions. Severus Snape is probably the most mysterious character throughout the films, and his intriguing behavior (and Alan Rickman's performance) are very well done. Though with less screen time, there are a host of other neat characters, such as Gary Oldman's Sirius Black, David Thewlis as Lupin and the humorous Dursley family. And of course, watching Harry grow up, the choices he makes, and ultimately the humble, selfless man that he becomes is what the series is all about.
If you want some films to watch just for entertainment, these aren't my first recommendation. When defining what is good, should we really include sorcery, magic, potions and spells? And I know it is a made-up world, but that's still shaky ground. If you're willing to tackle the issues that lie at the core, I will say that along the way you find many themes that truly are good and some messages that our culture needs to hear. If you're a filmmaker, artistically, there is a lot to look up to in these films. They're well-written, excellently-acted, captivating and, well, enjoyable. So watch them to learn how to make your own films better, 'cause there's a lot that can be learned.
Conclusion? Yeah, I know, I think about movies way too much.