When the history of 21st century pop culture comes to be written, there’s going to have to be serious attention paid to Harry Potter’s literary and cinematic forms, as well as the cautionary tale of what happens when successful authors are allowed to control their own Twitter accounts.
It’s amazing to think there are kids being born now who will never know the pain of finishing a Harry Potter book, only to have to wait two years for the next one. Same goes for the cinema. And remember thinking this as you walked out of the cinema after seeing Prisoner of Azkaban for the first time: “Gee, I hope everyone else in there read the book first, because that would have made no sense at all without having read it!”
In 2017, after one of my team at work re-read the books, I decided it was time to rewatch all the films again. Turns out they weren’t all available on a streaming service, so I managed the BluRay bargain of my purchasing career when I picked up a mis-ticketed boxset at JB Hifi.
I still get a chill when I hear this theme and see these titles
THE HARRY POTTER FILMS
Vital Statistics (though I’m sure this series needs no introduction):
Based on the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Directed by Chris Columbus (1-2), Alfonso Cuaron (3), Mike Newell (4), David Yates (5-8)
Music by John Williams (1-3), Patrick Doyle (4), Nicholas Hooper (5-6), Alexandre Desplat (7-8)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and the entire British acting establishment that wasn’t doing Lord of the Rings
Number of films: 8
Completely watched: YES
Premise: Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives with his cruel extended family, in a cupboard under the stairs in an England apparently devoid of its real-world social welfare state. After his home is bombarded with letters delivered by owls, his uncle snaps and takes the family to a small island where they are still tracked down by a terrifyingly hairy man who announces that Harry is, in fact, a wizard. Throughout 8 films (but only 7 stories), Harry will battle the forces of evil and adolescence with varying success and levels of grey filtered over the film.
How did I discover it?
My folks read the first three books and finally condescended to allow me to read them too at age 9. Years later all my siblings were allowed to read them at younger and younger ages, which just goes to prove that being the eldest child is a rip-off.
The Harry Potter series is a landmark in cinematic history. It is rightly called a phenomenon. It launched the careers of dozens of child stars who have since broadly failed to hit those peaks again. It revitalised the careers of dozens of British actors who finally became international household names at the end of their long careers. And it’s those classic British actors whose tireless efforts throughout eight films and ten years of production that help disguise the fact that these films really aren’t very good.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them, especially the first three. But you can use my thoroughly researched and peer reviewed Richard Harris Index to determine whether the films are almost faultless adaptations or an increasingly patchy series of sketches that adapt key scenes from the novels whilst expecting the audiences to fill in the blanks. The scale goes like this: Is the singer of Grammy-award winning single “MacArthur Park” in the film starring as Professor Dumbledore? If yes, it’s a great adaptation. If not, it’s ranked somewhere from “Really good despite Michael Gambon’s questionably “whimsical” performance” to “Good grief, is this nearly over?”
The original film series also represents the halcyon days before JK Rowling discovered Twitter and started defecating all over her own legacy (and in one case of information nobody asked for, quite literally).
But anyway, I don’t think the majority of the films are that good. The last six overuse grey filters, and only Prisoner Of Azkaban does it effectively. Rupert Grint is the only actor of the main trio who turned out to be able to act. Michael Gambon is badly, criminally miscast as Replacement Dumbledore. And they just don’t hold up to narrative scrutiny. There are gaping holes starting at Prisoner of Azkaban where the filmmakers are relying on audiences having voraciously and repeatedly consumed the novels so they can fill in the gaps. At best, the films form companion pieces to the novels, which shouldn’t be the case. They should stand up on their own (remind me I said this when I defend Avengers: Endgame as being part of a series).
I realise I should make my arguments stronger, but this isn’t a long-form review, it’s a way for me to justify keeping or ditching a DVD boxset.
Things to look out for: bad child acting; Ralph Fiennes’ middling performance as Voldemort, Michael Gambon
I got the set for a bargain at JB Hifi because it had a sale ticket left on it during a further 20% off promotion which they applied. Big win!
It’s pretty good, plenty of special features for those who want them, and Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets both have the option of watching extended editions! I wish they had continued releasing those for the other films, I would happily spend all day watching a much longer version of Prisoner of Azkaban.
You can get the films in 4K now, but I haven’t seen them in that format. There has to be a limit to how much high definition the human eye can percieve; I’m happy to stick with BluRays as my chosen physical medium.
THE VERDICT: I do a yearly rewatch of a number of film series, but I don’t feel the pressing need to repeatedly watch this one, even though the very act of writing this post has made me want to watch all eight films again. Their frequent and lengthy absence from streaming services is not enough to justify the presence of this boxset in my reduced collection, and so I sentence Harry Potter Complete 8-Film Collection to:
BURN LIKE THE BURROW IN HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, EVEN THOUGH THAT NEVER HAPPENED IN THE BOOKS, YOU CINEMATOGRAPHIC VANDALS
See you next time!