In preparation for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I have been re-watching all the Harry Potter films in chronological order. Today I'll post my thoughts on the first four Harry Potter films.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
I started reading the books as a kid before the movies were announced, let alone had been released. At the time it seemed like turning these books into movies would be challenging, especially since the book series wasn't even finished yet! Despite the degree of difficulty, director Chris Columbus did a great job of creating the immersive Harry Potter movie universe. Without this set-up the sequels would have failed. Scenes like Diagon Alley not only capture the feel of the book, but explore the depth of the wizarding world. The first two movies, both directed by Columbus, are very close to the books, but stand alone so that if you didn't read the novels you could still jump into the film series. While I love film adaptations that are close to the original source material, I always think that a movie should be able to be seen and enjoyed without having to watch or read what it is based on before you watch it. Of course if you have read the books you will get even more out of these movies. The CGI is a bit dated, for example the mountain troll, but this is a problem with all movies that use CGI. To be fair, there are a surprising amount of practical effects for a film series like this. The success of this film, its sequels, and the Lord of the Rings movies have really made almost anything film-able.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
After seeing this movie for the first time in years I actually liked it better than I remembered. This has a similar feel to the first Harry Potter movie, which makes sense since Columbus also directed this movie. I really liked the mystery aspect of trying to figure out who has opened the Chamber of Secrets. Like Sorcerer's Stone, this one also stands alone if you haven't read the books before. I loved the casting of Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. Although this was Columbus' final Potter film, it did a good job of setting up Ginny Weasely and Voldemort's back story. The Chamber of Secrets is even better than the first since the world was already established and now we could focus more on the characters. The story gets a bit darker, although the series doesn't fully commit to this new tone until the fourth movie, which is also the case with the books.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
After re-watching it I actually liked the third Potter movie a little less than I had remembered. The Prisoner of Azkaban was directed by Alfonso Cuaron and it shows as the style is noticeably different from the first two movies. Gary Oldman was perfectly cast as Sirius Black, I just wish he could have had more screen time throughout the series. Although I love the concept of time travel, I don't think it belongs in the Harry Potter universe for a number of reasons. That said, the time turner sequence is done even better than in the book. This is partially because we can actually see and hear what is going on. We get to see the events from before and after the time travel, which show that this is actually a fixed timeline. My main issue with this movie was that this is really the first one that had important plot elements that were mentioned in the movie, but only fully explained in the book. For example, the Marauder's Map plays a pivital role in both the novel and the film. However, the movie never explains who Moony, Wormtail (he is sort of explained but not his relationship to the others), Padfoot, and Prongs are. This must have been confusing for those who had not read the books, especially since I noticed in the fifth movie they mention Padfoot again. If you read the books like me its not an issue, but it would have only taken a couple of lines or a brief flashback to explain it.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
While I still feel that Goblet of Fire is currently the weakest of the Harry Potter films, I actually liked it a little more this time around. We have our third director in four movies as Mike Newell takes the helm. Like when Cuaron took over, we have another stylistic shift, but it still feels like a Harry Potter movie. The main problem with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is that is is based on one of the longer Harry Potter books. There is a lot of material to cover, and since it was only filmed as one 157 minute movie, several important sub-plots and characterizations had to be cut. I also still don't quite understand why Harry had to participate in the tournament since he didn't put his name in the cup and nobody else wanted him to enter. To be fair, I think this was explained in the book but its been awhile since I read it. I wish they filmed this Lord of the Rings style, as it was my favorite Potter book, but its still an enjoyable movie and worthy installment in the Harry Potter movie series.
I'm going to be seeing Deathly Hallows Part 2 at midnight Thursday so I'll get a review up of that on Friday with the wrap-up of the other three Potter movies. Then we'll be back on schedule with a film topic post on Saturday and the weekly wrap-up on Sunday.