Rewind Reviews: Harry Potter 1-3
One year ago, an era ended. The final movie of the Harry Potter series was released to theaters in the US, bringing an end to the magical series and about ten million childhoods. But even after all this time children and adults alike still celebrate the story of Harry’s coming of age at Hogwarts. For Harry’s is a tale unlike any other. Underneath the magic, mystery and misery lies a series with a pure heart and a castle that will offer a home to anyone willing to believe in it. Like me, many children grew up along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and their hearts will always hold a special place for the young wizards and witches.
I will relive the series over the next three days, starting today with the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban, the section of the series also known as “The Early Years.” Since this is a movie blog I guess I have to talk about their movie counterparts, but I will say this: all of the books are better than all the movies (with maybe the exception of Half-Blood Prince being tied). Oops. This section of the series has a much lighter tone than any of the later five, appropriately so. The Harry Potter series is a Bildungsroman, which is a German word for coming-of-age tale. J K Rowling designed the series so that each book is darker and more mature than the previous, a move indicative of Harry’s entrance into adulthood.
The Sorcerer’s Stone begins with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), the boy who lived, turning eleven years old. Harry is the boy who lived because when he was just one year old his parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord. Voldemort tried to kill Harry as well, but the spell rebounded, instead killing himself. Harry knows nothing of this, of course, until a giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) shows up at the Dursley household and politely informs him.
“You’re a wizard, Harry,” Hagrid excitedly declares in what is probably the series’ most iconic scene.
Harry is whisked off to Hogwarts, an enchanted castle and school for young witches and wizards, where he befriends brave bumblehead Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and class brainiac Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Over the course of their freshman year the three battle mountain trolls, butt heads with “My father is rich, I’m better than you” Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and trash talk their cruel potions master Professor Snape (Alan Rickman).
The glorious thing about the first movie is pretty much that it’s the first movie. It brought Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint to Hollywood, and they are now probably three of the most adored people on the planet. The movie series added a brand new trio for fans to grow up with. You’re not fully human if you don’t get teary eyed watching the Goblet of Fire trailer showing how the three have matured each movie. One of the best parts of the series was watching these three improve their acting each movie and mature along with their roles. Radcliffe is one of my personal favorite actors, and his first post-Potter expedition, horror movie The Woman In Black, is AWESOME. We could not have asked for a better cast.
The Quidditch scene was also iconic. At the time of its release, seeing people riding on brooms through the sky with no invisible strings or choppy CGI attached was pretty revolutionary. Now that Quidditch is an actual sport that people actually play (my aunt is a keeper on a Quidditch team, I do proudly declare) we also have the movies to thank for that.
Harry and Daniel have grown a lot in between the Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, because now they’re twelve. This time around Harry has to deal with an ugly house elf named Dobby warning him of dark things happening in the castle. Harry goes against the circus freak’s will, and soon finds himself dealing with violent moving trees, giant spiders, and a reputation as heir of Slytherin, who was a really really mean wizard.
Chamber of Secrets is basically Rowling’s equivalent to Harry in middle school. He is still young but must deal with more complex problems than Draco tattling on him. He’s more or less a social outcast by the middle of the story due to nasty rumors being spread about him. Harry already knows not to trust every authority figure he sees (“Snape tried to light Harry on fire!”) but he soberly learns that some authority figures are simply incompetent.
“And then Ron emitted a cough that sounded a lot like ‘Lockhart’.”
Chamber of Secrets is the most detailed of the adaptions. From my unrefreshed memory it included all but one scene from the book, Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday party, and that was an unnecessary scene anyway. But every scene the movie tackled was approached with loving care and attentiveness. Unlike later adaptions of the series, each scene was fully fledged and properly paced. There was no time for boredom, except maybe during the corny, excessive clapping during the ending scene. “Yay Harry you saved the world again let’s applaud! Hermione you solved the mystery, everyone applaud! Look everyone Hagrid is back STANDING OVATION.” It was the second shortest book but the longest running movie, and one of the most thorough book-to-movie adaptions I’ve ever seen.
The jump from Chamber of Secrets to Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the most noticeable. Director Alfonso Cuaron took over for Chris Columbus, resulting in a lax of Hogwarts wardrobe conduct as students now walk around in common street clothes rather than black full body cloaks. The three actors also underwent a huge growth spurt in between the films, particularly Radcliffe’s hair. This movie also welcomed a new darker artistic view as the dementors come to town.
Harry continues his fast-paced journey to adulthood, this time being hunted by wizard prison escapee Sirius Black, some crazy dude who apparently blew up a lot of people back in the day. So weary of his bad luck by this point, Harry doesn’t really question why Black chose him of all people, softly murmuring “Oh, dear” to himself while he tries to focus on his schoolwork for once. This of course does not last, and soon Harry finds himself hunting for the killer while dealing with the trial and murder of Hagrid’s innocent pet, a Hermione who seems to be taking more than one class at literally the same time, and the supposed omen of death following him wherever he goes. And also Ron’s really pissed at Hermione’s cat.
Azkaban is far and away Watson’s break out performance, as Hermione undergoes the most growing up this time around. She branches out from respectable nerd to badass heroine, saving the lives of two innocent beings while taking on a huge amount of extra classes. But most importantly she punches Draco in the face. Hermione grows from a know-it-all to a role model young girls (heck, even boys) can look up to. Except for maybe the punching thing. (But at the same time especially the punching thing!)
The movie is designed to be ‘cooler’ than the first two. The first two followed the books to a T; the third is where the movie series begins taking its own risks, changing to better fit the big screen. Every design the movie makes inevitably works. The dementors, though not exactly what I imagined when reading the books, are designed incredibly, disagreeing perfectly with the appearance of the wispy, elegant Patronuses. Cuaron focused on the visual aspect more so than any of the earlier films do, and the pay off is well worth it.
Overall, The Early Years are three fantastic adaptions. Audiences can easily comprehend the complex story in these movies without needing to read the books. They portray the innocence and maturing in Harry’s early life. Tomorrow we will discuss Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix! AKA “When Harry goes wrong.”