Anyone who knows me, knows that I desperately adore the Harry Potter series. Since the 8th and final film is coming out in just a few weeks (*bawls*), I wanted to do something to commemorate its release.
And so begins my five-part series on the films vs. books, which ones I felt worked and which didn’t, culminating on July 15th with my (hopefully) super-wonderful, amazed, over-the-moon, expectations met AND exceeded, review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2.
Part 1: The Faithful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone & Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The first two films in the Harry Potter franchise are tremendously similar. Same director (Chris Columbus), same screenwriter (Steve Kloves – who’s written all but one), same Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris). These two are mediocre movies at best; enjoyable enough, but I find myself only watching them for nostalgia’s sake. The kids are adorable, McGonagall and Hagrid look young!, you get to see Alan Rickman’s bare leg, Kenneth Branagh hamming it up. They’re funny, heartwarming, and just plain cuddly. Then again, so are the first two books, which these films are extremely faithful to. Book loyalty has caused me serious issues with some later films, but here they went a little too close for comfort. Or did they? You could argue that setting up the entire franchise (which, from the start, no one involved had any clue if the films would be successful or if they’d even get the chance to make more than one), the filmmakers needed to stay as close to the source material as possible, if only to create a solid foundation of the world, characters, locations, costumes, the now-iconic music, hell, even the famous font – it was all established here.
Many have derided Columbus (the Home Alone movies, Goonies, the Gremlins movies, countless other things that are awesome), saying that these are the worst films of the series, but I can’t agree with that sentiment. They are good, for what they are, which is an introduction to a new, original, and magical world. I really think Columbus’s contribution is the most important of anyone’s, besides Rowling herself. He helped create all that we see on screen, and I think he wrongfully gets more hate than credit.
The sets and costumes look great, and nobody can argue that Hogwarts is flipping amazing. How can you not get chills when the students float up to the castle in the middle of the night, all blue and black splendor? Some of the special effects however, haven’t held up, but that’s not the fault of the filmmakers, just the fact that CGI never looks as good as it did ten years ago. The troll, some of the ghosts, the quidditch scenes (ugh), Ron and Harry in the flying car, to name a few, look terrible.
As far as performances go, the kids are all inexperienced, which is fine, but it really shows in these two films, where they’re at their brand spanking newest. Their acting sometimes hits elementary school production-level bad, and it’s certainly distracting. The adults, as always, are fan-f***ing-tastic, and while they have more to do here than in the later films (one of the more heartbreaking facts about the big-screen treatment), it’s more fun than serious.
While HP is technically a young adult series, with the latter half being more “adult” and the earlier half being more “young”, Sorcerer and Chamber are really kids’ movies, and the plots aren’t especially twisted or complex. That’s another reason they’re not at the top of my list, the stakes haven’t gotten high yet – we’re still being introduced to the game and its players.
All in all, in my own personal ranking, where 1 is the best and 7 depresses the shit out of me, I’d put Sorcerer’s Stone in 6th place and Chamber in 4th. These films are not godawful by any means, but the only reasons I find enjoyment in them are purely sentimental ones.
- TBA – the best 🙂
- Chamber of Secrets
- Sorcerer’s Stone
- TBA – the worst 😦