As I've pointed out, I really love Harry Potter. The series is adaptive and challenging, taking a new generation of kids and exposing them to some brilliant writing. The series’ planning and forethought is often mindboggling to behold. However, like many children I didn’t start out reading the books – I grew up on the first three films in the series, directed by Christopher Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron respectively. I loved these films direction and their spellbinding worlds, as well as how the characters were portrayed by the ambitiously cast main actors. I started reading the books before the fourth film was released, and I was immediately hooked into this richer world. It’s no coincidence that I didn’t like the films afterwards as much, maybe because I now noticed the problems of translating the series from stage to screen.
The first two films, directed by Christopher Columbus, had an eerie fantasy feel that reflected the relative innocence of the early books. The books here were only around 200 pages long, meaning that not a lot had to be cut out or changed to fit the new medium. Regardless, a lot of things were, but nothing that affected the story in major ways. Of the first three films, I prefer the second – it was the last on-screen performance of the late Richard Harris, whose performance as the earlier, more mystical Dumbledore fit that version perfectly. I also loved the chilling climax, where the threat felt very real.
The third film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron took a more mature feel as the actors were beginning to out grow the ages of their characters. The film took a lot more liberties with the source material, especially in the omission of several key points affecting the series’ mythos that make certain scenes in later films more nonsensical. It also saw the arrival of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, a character whose skilful introduction is carried over from the book. Most of all, I enjoy this particular film’s dealings with the book’s time-travel aspect, which really captured my imagination as a child. Michael Gambon’s new Dumbledore, while strange at this early stage, is better later on when Dumbledore takes on a darker persona.
The fourth film was somewhat of a no-brainer for me, as it didn’t abuse the source material in any meaningful ways and actually introduced us to the film series’ badass version of Lord Voldemort. It was a more-or-less perfect translation from script-to-screen, helped no doubt by the book’s plot, which is pretty much a filler arc until the climax. The director, Mike Newell, was drafted in at the last minute and thus has no obvious grandiose takes on the series.
The last four films were directed by David Yates, whose style took on a more adult and epic feel. After the fourth film, I became a lot more disconnected with the franchise. The seventh and final book came out just after the fifth film, meaning that all of the previous plot-significance that the previous films had omitted would hopefully be left in. The fifth film took a hell-of-a-lot of liberties – several major character arcs were omitted, making previous characters useless – an example here being Rita Skeeter, whose arc here in posting negative propaganda about Harry, as well as being revealed to Hermione as an unregistered Animagus, were left out. We never saw the character again, making her inclusion in Film Four a rather wasted opportunity.
The only Harry Potter film which has really disappointed me is the adaptation of Book Six, whose focus moved away from the mythos and more into an irritating adolescent drama filled with kissing, dating and other such trifles. I understand the desires of screaming fangirls and Shippers in the Harry Potter fanbase, but the film could have been so much better had it focussed more on the mythology set out in the book – one that examined not only our villain’s main motivations, but also shone some light onto Dumbledore. I was, most of all, worried for the adaptation of the final book – this film had been scripted with the final book in mind, and yet it leaves out so much that the final tale needs.
A lot of fans were irritated when they learnt that the final adaptation, being around 5 hours long, would have to be separated into to two different films. I was intrigued and I had my hopes up – and I wasn’t disappointed, with a much more mature and considered directing style that perfectly captured the feel of the book. In places, the film was actually better – especially in the climactic battle, where the film did things that literature cannot, making it much more epic and exciting to witness. I also loved the final film’s treatment of Snape, who is the series’ true protagonist – the section where his loyalties were revealed was much more moving and poignant than I ever could have imagined.
The all-star cast of the series help to cement its pedigree – among others, Alan Rickman’s Snape is a perfect translation and adds a new dimension to the character; Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid also fits his character very well. The three main leads, despite being complete unknowns, show a genuine growth in both their characters and their acting ability.
The series’ fourteen year legacy ended this July with the release of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. But despite the films’ (and the books’) problems, Harry Potter will go down in history as the first time that such an ambitious project was undertaken – the first time that Hollywood even tried to adapt a series like this to the big screen. Its effects are everywhere – the recent Avengers Series, for example, wouldn’t have been possible without the proof and long-lasting appeal that the Harry Potter series brought with it. The series, now on its deathbed, is already working its way into the history books.