Harry Potter in Retrospect

Recently, I had the pleasure of re-visiting all eight Harry Potter films on Blu-Ray. After hours upon hours of dissecting each and every film, I’ve come to a conclusion that Harry Potter only gets better with age. It’s far and away the best young adult movie series ever made – surpassing the quality, production value, writing and acting of such series’ like The Hunger Games and the insanely horrendous Divergent and Twilight movies. This article aims to present some short insights and critiques I’ve had upon watching all eight movies since the initial release of the finale back in 2011.

Harry’s on-screen journey has been some of the most consistent pieces of chronological cinema in recent film history. The quality of each picture flourished throughout the years. Mostly due to the insanely talented cast involved. Daniel Radcliffe in the leading role is perfect, his two friends found in Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are top-notch, and the supporting players which involve most of British cinema’s most valued actors are priceless. The direction and screenplays are adapted and envisioned so well, making other YA movies so pale in comparison. This is YA done absolutely right.

2001 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The beginning: Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (as Ronald Weasley) and Emma Watson (as Hermione Granger) remain committed in their characters for the next decade

Pure childhood magic is the only way to describe this first film in the widely successful series. Certainly the most iconic of the bunch, it gave us three young stars the world instantly admired, John William’s exceptional musical score, the mystical visuals that are still eye popping today and the feeling of ultimate nostalgia. The Sorcerer’s Stone is more then just fluff, despite it having the simplest themes and climax in the entire film series. However, it’s enough to get you hooked. You meet the young hero, you discover he is the chosen one, and you follow him into an incredible journey. The movie ends with a happy thought, leaving you to yearn for more.

2002 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2
Loneliness is painted in hues of black and green throughout Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

The Chamber of Secrets plays out like a detective story. Somebody has opened the infamous Chamber of Secrets (which caused quite a stir when it was first opened fifty years prior) and our young leads are determined to discover who it is. In this film, you realize that the three principal characters have brilliant minds. At such young ages, their passion for curiosity builds a better bond between them. This makes the film more interesting then the first. The attacks that happen around Hogwarts makes for darker subject matter then the previous film, and certainly foreshadows the everlasting theme of the series: death.

2002 Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets 1
Daniel Radcliffe prepares to fight the Basillisk, controlled by Tom Riddle, in the finale of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Visually, Chamber follows a darker, greener aesthetic – capturing the essence of Slytherin House in which snakes are idolized. The finale is gripping, and the mystery that leads to it is very well written. For instance, Hermione using the mirror to avoid the Basillisk’s stare is not mere coincidence, but a symbol to show how empowered and clever the young witch is.

The themes of loneliness is recurring in the film. It is shown in many ways throughout the picture: Professor Lockhart’s selfish ways to become famous which causes him to be alone forever, Moaning Myrtle’s cause of death as she wept in the lavatory after being bullied, and Hermione’s isolation after being called a mudblood. It is highlighted most especially in Tom Riddle’s semi-possession of Ginny Weasley. A lonely student himself, he latches onto Ginny’s struggle in her first year in Hogwarts. Events in the story bond the three characters more closely, showing that everybody is stronger when they have friends.

2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) is one of the best films the series has to offer with Oscar winning director Alfonso Cuaron at the helm

Director Alfonso Cuaron steps it up a notch with his single Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The film is visually stunning and well executed, redefining the series in general. It is the most adult between the three earlier films, and yet never forgets its childlike heartbeat. David Thewlis is introduced as Professor Lupin, one of the many characters forgotten by fan favorites Snape and Sirius Black. He is an underrated character, and truly the first one (after Dumbledore) to give Harry substantial and heartfelt advice.

Azkaban is probably the most rewarding on re-watch. As an adult, true appreciation is achieved when understanding the concepts of time travel and theme of family. Harry’s disillusion that his father invoked the patronous charm also gives growth to his character. After discovering that it wasn’t his father at all, Harry begins to seek family elsewhere. He finds it in his friends, in Sirius and in Professor Lupin.

The film also marks the very first time death is introduced not in flashback form (Harry’s parents and Moaning Myrtle being the first – in which Harry did not experience, unless you count Professor Quirrell whose body was already absorbed by the Dark Lord) – with the death of Buckbeack, the mystical Hippogriff reminiscent of a griffin.

2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 1
All is fair in love and war – the kids of Harry Potter touch on the subject of romance for the first time in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

In the fourth film, childhood innocence is truly lost. Though it is my least favorite of all eight films, Goblet of Fire plays a large role in the character development of Harry, Ron and Hermione. As the Triwizard tournament commences throughout the school, Ron begins to feel envy towards his best friend – an issue quickly resolved by Ron standing back and allowing Harry to shine once again. Love flutters through the air as a ball takes place and they begin to hint at the romance between Ron and Hermione.

2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2
Harry is forced to grow up and realize the seriousness of his predicament when Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) is murdered by Lord Voldemort

The most important scene in the film is death of Cedric Diggory (played by Robert Pattinson) which forces Harry to grow up in a blink of an eye. Murdered by Lord Voldemort during the finale of the tournament, Diggory becomes collateral damage in the Dark Lord’s quest to take down Mr. Potter. This becomes an important eye-opening moment for the young hero (as well as the audience), and a foreshadow that the series is not afraid to kill even their most beloved characters. The Potter films now begin to get dark. This film also marks the first true appearance of Lord Voldemort in the form of Academy Award nominated actor Ralph Fiennes.

2007 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Stauton) takes things in her own hands in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Imelda Staunton comes on board as the evil lady in pink Dolores Umbridge in the Order of the Phoenix. It isn’t her larger-then-life performance (though everybody remembers it as the highlight of the film) that makes the film, but the comradery of the students of Hogwarts. As times get darker, and Dumbledore has fallen from the graces of the Wizarding World, Harry and his friends take it upon themselves to train for the upcoming war.

The film ends with an impressively edited finale at the Ministry of Magic, as Harry and his troop aim to acquire the prophecy that finally tells him that he is the only one who can defeat the Dark Lord. Harry looses his godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) because of mentally insane witch Beatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham-Carter). Bonham-Carter overplays, but she overplays beautifully.

2009 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 2
Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) grows a new layer in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) when he begins to experiment with the ideas of death

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a marvel of a movie. Certainly the darkest film in the entire series, the movie allows major loose ends to be tied in a slow-burning, but ever-interesting manner. It tends to be the forgotten Harry Potter movie, and yet it is one of the most cinematic. The supporting performances of Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and the ever reliable Jim Broadbent is full of soul. Surprisingly, Tom Felton’s Draco Mafoy grows another layer (after constantly being profiled as a mean-streaked bully with nothing much of a back story). Mafoy’s inner struggle is widely portrayed in the picture as he begins to feel the pressure of evil and starts to play with the dark ideas of death.

The screenplay is stupendously written and the cinematography is superb. The dark subject matter and slow pacing allows the audience to feel that the series is no longer for children. Rightfully so, all those old enough to have watched the original film in cinemas should be an adult by now, allowing them to grow up with their favorite characters. The introduction of the Horcrux storyline is too complicated for young children with little patience. Dumbledore’s death is a major turning point for Harry and the series – a signal that war is coming.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) falls from the astrology tower in one of the series’ turning points in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

By this point, all whom Harry loves (except for Ron and Hermione) have ceased to exist. It leaves the hero without a mentor figure. Those who have guided him have all been diminished – Dumbledore, Cedric and Sirius (Lupin has left in fear that his condition would prove to be fatal for students) have all died. Harry and his troop are clueless kids once again.

(P.S. I don’t count Hagrid, as he is more a friend to Harry rather then a mentor)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The principal leads in the Harry Potter series provide their most excellent performances in the second to the last movie

I’ve always been one to find two-part movies to be quite unnecessary. But because of Part II’s perfection and tightness, I’ll let this one slide.  This film features the best acting between Radcliffe, Watson and Grint throughout the entire series. They make for a strong ensemble as they are left alone in the wild to figure out how to destroy Horcruxes. Their friendship is tested as madness and isolation begin to eat them up. Most of the film shows beautiful scenery while the three of them are in hiding. It is a boiling pot for the epic showdown that is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. 

Daniel Radcliffe grows up before the audience eyes as the lovable hero Harry Potter

Emotional. Visually compelling. Exhilarating.
The final Harry Potter film is a gem, with the final battle of good vs. evil at the forefront. It is full of surprises and is the strongest film in the series. Favorite characters are killed off with no hesitation.

Dame Maggie Smith is given a moment to shine, with background character Professor McGonagall finally owning up to her power. The final chapter is a continuous gem of cinematic magic from the moment Snape and McGonigall have a throwdown in the Great Hall to the red and green magical wand fight of Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter. The visual effects and cinematography pops through the screen even when Hogwarts begins to crumble before the audience eyes.

2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 3
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (2011), all loose ends are tied – including Snape’s love for Lily and his actions from the last six years

All loose ends are finally tied together, making us realize that even the smallest lessons that Harry and his peers had learned in school have a purpose. In fact, everything has a purpose. From the Basillisk tooth that was once Harry’s weapon to destroy Tom Riddle’s dairy, to Neville’s bravery and kindness allowing him to pull out the Sword of Griffindor from the sorting hat, to Snape’s love for Lily which revealed his actions over the years – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is an unmatchable epic series finale.

2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 2
Neville Longbottom becomes an unexpected hero in the final Harry Potter movie

The final fight between Harry and his nemesis is intense, but our love and care for all the other characters overwhelm the heart. A single shot in which Ron hugs Hermione as the Nagini makes her attack (before finally being defeated by Neville) is split seconds of pure emotion that got to me. The death of several characters is a massive tug on the heartstrings. Even the short shot of Lavender being murdered was an emotional sight.

The film only falls flat during its final minutes, in which there is a time jump showing the character’s sending off their children to Hogwarts. It isn’t that it is badly written or acted, the makeup was just not believable. However, it is quickly redeemed by the final shot of our three heroes finally older, safe and truly alive – a ending we’ve all hoped for since seeing them face adversity on the oversized chessboard in the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 4
Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger have become iconic characters known throughout pop culture

By this point, they are legends in the fictional world of Harry Potter. But they are also legends in both the literary and cinematic worlds too. In fact, all the characters are so well written and thought-of by the imaginative mind of J.K. Rowling. No one is put to waste. Love it or hate it, Potter and everything part of his story is a fixture in pop culture. They are cultural icons in their own right. It is no wonder that its fan base is strong and clearly large. The love for these films are well-deserved and I have no regrets in being a big Potterhead.

These films are simply magical.



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