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A Look Back at the Harry Potter Movies

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The final chapter of the Harry Potter saga is almost in theaters. It’s almost over.  All over.  The movies have had their ups and downs over the years, but even when down they’ve been phenomenally entertaining.  It’s an unbelievable, yet inevitable thing that the series would end.  Let’s take a backwards glance at how the movies have progressed.

We started out, of course, with The Sorcerer’s Stone, directed by Chris Columbus.  The philosophy was a strict adherence to the plot of the book, which worked well in its favor.  Personally I felt that a few things were handled better in the movie than they were in the book, such as how Harry found out he was a wizard.  In the book Hagrid tells him he’s a wizard, and then immediately explains about Voldemort.  It seemed like Harry was learning two big things all at once, while the movie let him soak in that he was a wizard before bringing in the reality of his past.  Ultimately I preferred the book, but the movie did a fantastic job of sticking to the original plot while tidying up a few rusty areas.  If there was one thing that the movie did wrong, it was the pacing.  The same pacing that worked for a book was a little too slow for a movie.  Other than that, though, the movie was great.

The Chamber of Secrets, again directed by Chris Columbus, naturally followed the same formula.  It was, again, a little too slow, but that was an acceptable effect of being so faithful to the original.  It didn’t make improvements as much as the first, and compared to the book it can feel lacking, but there was one exception.  In the book, the final confrontation had the way to beat the villan given to him, while in the movie he figured it out on his own, which made him seem like a more resourceful hero.  Again, I prefer the book, but the movie had one thing going for it that the book didn’t.

That sort of thing pretty much stopped with The Prisoner of Azkaban.  Compared to the book this is the first that starts to feel really sparse.  It is still an excellent movie in it’s own right, one of the best, but it was the first that didn’t beat the original in any respect.  Still, it helps that this one struck its own identity since it couldn’t contain everything from the book.  Under the guidence of Alfonso Cuarón, Harry Potter’s world came to life more than it ever had before or since.  It also felt better paced than the previous movies, moving at the right speed.  To this date it is still one of the best Harry Potter movies of all time.

But then The Goblet of Fire followed.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was great, but after the previous three it was a little disappointing.  For the first time the movie moved a little too fast.  Certain scenes felt rushed, like they didn’t have time to get them out properly.  Director David Yates, I must say, directed the action quite well, making for an exciting movie, but it still felt squished together, as if they didn’t know how to get all the important information in.  During the final battle, for instance, something strange happens which is an emotional moment for Harry, but they never explain how it happens.  I expected Dumbledore to, but he never did.  I had to read the book to find what how it happened.  It was a thrilling movie, but it fell short of its predecessors.

However, The Order of the Phoenix got things right back on track.  It was still fast paced, but it didn’t feel rushed.  David Yates was back directing, but this time we had a new screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg.  It seems, for the longer Harry Potter stories, that he was better suited to getting in all the necessary information than Steve Kloves, the previous writer.  Mr. Kloves did well on the first three, but he was behind the disappointing fourth movie, apart from David Yates.  The fifth movie felt like the right way to do a longer Potter story.  It had the drama and the action well balanced, all the necessary information included without feeling too rushed, and of course some of the coolest wizard duels I’ve ever seen.

But then Stephen Kloves was back for The Half-Blood Prince.  I’m not trying to smear him or anything.  Like I said, he did a great job with the first three, but with these longer stories the scenes seemed, again, rushed.  Take for example Ron’s reaction to Harry dating his sister Ginny.  You don’t see it.  You hear Hermione tell Harry how he feels about it, when it should have come from Ron’s mouth.  It was done in an effort to save time I’m sure, but it felt misdone.  For that reason, this was the most disappointing movie of the lot.  Then there was the distruction of the Burrow, which never happened in the book and didn’t add anything, and the final moments which were exciting and heartbreaking in the book but fell flat in the movie.  I still enjoyed it, but for the first time Harry Potter had stepped from great to just okay.

But then I’m pleased to say that David Yates and Stephen Kloves brought things right back on track with The Deathly Hallows – Part 1.  In a wise decision they split the final movie in two, giving more time to cover the important details and bring the movie along in a leisurly pace.  I’m sure the tickets from two movies would earn more money, but since the end result was a better movie, you can’t really complain.  True, we’ve only seen half the movie really, but that half was an exciting and dramatic half, and it’s all owed to the fact that they gave themselves more time to tell the story.

The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is just around the corner, and it’s set to finish the series for good.  Even with the ups and downs it’s been a great ride.  If the final half of the final movie can deliver, then Harry Potter will get the ending he deserves.  I await that ending with great anticipation.  Harry Potter, see you at the theater. 

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About Jason Richard