Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the United States in 1998. I first picked up a copy in 2001 – right when there was buzz about the movie coming out – and became instantly hooked. Over the years I’ve had mixed feelings about the movies compared to the books. The books are, of course, better. There are more details, more characters, and more information that only enhances each story. That being said, the movies are amazing. When seeing the films in the theater, I would usually reread the book right before and be disappointed at the changes made or things not included. Now, when watching them all again from start to finish, I realize how good the movies stand on their own.
So instead of mentioning all the things that were not included in the movies, I’ll mention some positive additions that were not in the books. Firstly, our three main characters – Harry, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger. They have so many little moments between them that don’t happen in the book – Ron with his witty one-liners, Harry with his surprising humor (a bit sarcastic at times), and Hermione who always has her nose in a book but learns to take herself less seriously. When the three of them are together on screen and something happens that is not in the book, it’s like magic (no pun intended). All of the main characters from the books have been excellently portrayed in the films – especially Albus Dumbledore. It still blows my mind that the actor playing Dumbledore could change and still be perfectly cast. Richard Harris was Dumbledore in the first two films, and after his death in 2002 was replaced by Michael Gambon for the remainder of the series.
It’s been a long, long journey since the first Harry Potter film premiered in 2001. Over time, the films have gotten deeper, darker, and arguably better. Let’s quickly revisit each one.
The first two films were directed by Chris Columbus, who previously directed family-fun movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire. The Sorcerer’s Stone is light, innocent, and very similar to the short book of 320 pages. It introduces all the main characters we now love – Harry, Ron (and his entire family), Hermione, Neville Longbottom, Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid, Minerva McGonagall – and perhaps a few characters we don’t like so much – Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape, and obviously, Lord Voldemort. While re-watching this film, it is difficult to view the very bad acting of the three leads – especially Hermione, played by Emma Watson. She has truly grown up through the films and has become a very good actor. It would be interesting to see her in a different role.
The Chamber of Secrets (my least favorite storyline) has some changes but is certainly still geared to a younger or family-oriented audience. It introduces a new teacher, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), who is annoying and lame (he’s infuriating in the book, too, so it’s no discredit to the film). Malfoy’s dad, Lucius, also enters the picture.
The Prisoner of Azkaban takes a drastically dark turn with the introduction of Sirius Black. Remus Lupin joins the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Little Princess) the film is the first in the series to attract a more adult audience. It also stood apart from the first two movies with Gambon becoming the new Dumbledore. Changing a main character that viewers already loved must have been a difficult task, but Gambon kills it. He is so different from Harris, but not in a bad way. Harris was charming and kind with a twinkle in his eye, while Gambon is still mesmerizing but in a somewhat frightening way. He appropriately transforms Dumbledore’s character to make it fit in with the darker theme of the movie, which includes an awesome time-traveling sequence. It is the third film that sets the ominous stage for the rest of the series.
The Goblet of Fire was directed by Mike Newell (Mona Lisa Smile, Donnie Brasco). Alastor ‘MadEye’ Moody is introduced, along with Hogwarts student Cedric Diggory. Harry also develops his first crush on classmate Cho Chang. The story surrounds the Triwizard Tournament. It’s fun and exciting, but the most thrilling part doesn’t happen until the very end when Voldemort finally returns in human form.
The last four films were directed by David Yates, beginning with The Order of the Phoenix. Finally, a battle between good and evil. The ending is epic, with the students fighting the death eaters, and then a showdown between Dumbledore and Voldemort. Bellatrix Lestrange finally makes her first appearance, but it is Gary Oldman in his portrayal of Black that makes the film great. He is one badass wizard in what I believe to be an Oscar-worthy performance. Luna Lovegood joins the student clan as Harry forms Dumbledore’s army. The only bad thing about the fifth installment is Dolores Umbridge. Imelda Staunton does a great portrayal of the evil teacher; I would just rather watch more of Black – or any of the other characters – than see her get so much screen time.
The Half-Blood Prince introduces Horace Slughorn as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Much is discovered about the past with Dumbledore’s pensieve, which allows Harry to see memories with the young Tom Riddle. The film tests the viewer to see whose side Snape is really on. Unfortunately, the ending is somewhat anti-climactic. It certainly does tug at the heartstrings when Dumbledore is killed, but there is no battle (as there is in the book). While Prince is not as action-packed as the Order of the Phoenix, it’s the first time we see some romance among the leads. Hermione becomes jealous of Ron when he shows interest in Lavender Brown (who is hilarious as the obsessed lover), and Ron realizes he can’t stand Cormac McLaggen, who is crushing on Hermione. Harry finally realizes he has feelings for Ginny when he sees her “snogging” Dean Thomas. The young love is exciting to witness and makes us feel even closer to the trio. Another awesome feature is Felix Felicis – also known as liquid luck.
The Deathly Hallows Part I takes us for the first time away from Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have separated themselves from everyone in order to search for and destroy the remaining horcruxes. Their friendship is tested along the way, as times get hard and anxiety-filled. Meanwhile, Voldemort is searching for the Elder Wand, which we see only through Harry’s visions. The Wand is one of the three Deathly Hallows we learn about through a cool animated sequence. What Part I really does is set up an amazing introduction for Part II, which comes out Friday.
There is so much to look forward to in the Deathly Hallows Part II. Part I covered well over half of the book, which means all those little details from the book will hopefully be squeezed into the finale. Who else will die? What is all the secrecy with Snape? Will Harry, Ron, and Hermione be able to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes? Who will win the long awaited battle – Harry or Voldemort?
We’ll find out Friday. I can’t wait, but am truly sad to see the series end. It was upsetting when I finished the last page of the final book, and now those feelings are happening all over again with the movies finally coming to a close.
I don’t like to give anything away, so I’ll just say one word. “Always.”