I’ve already finished my traditional re-reading of all the Harry Potter books, so on this rainy Saturday I thought I’d get myself in the proper frame of mind for this week’s premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by watching all five Harry Potter films in a 12-hour Potter-thon.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry learns he’s a wizard and leaves his miserable life with the Dursley’s behind for the wonders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He makes friends (Ron and Hermione) and enemies (Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape), and learns about his connection to Lord Voldemort, a wizard who “went as bad as you can go.”
While Voldemort may be gone, he’s not dead. Harry and his friends learn of the presence within Hogwarts of the Sorcerer’s Stone, a substance that grants eternal life. Voldemort — lacking a body of his own — possesses poor Professor Quirrel and plans to outwit the many magical obstacles guarding the stone. Harry, Ron, and Hermione beat him to it, and in the end Harry Potter defeats Voldemort once more.
The Best Bit
Ron Weasley screws up an 11-year-old’s courage and sacrifices himself during an epic chess match so Harry can retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Director Chris Columbus sets the appropriate tone of child-like wonder in this first film. The look of the Harry Potter universe that he establishes — Hogwarts Castle, Diagon Alley — is fantastic fun, though it is marred a bit by some spectacularly bad special effects (the troll battle, the Quidditch match). The three stars are *sooo* ickle, and all very good.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
A visit from Dobby the House Elf makes life with the Dursley’s even more miserable, but no sooner does Harry finally make it back to Hogwarts then odd and scary things start happening. Harry hears threatening voices in the walls, ominous messages about the mysterious Chamber of Secrets appear written in blood, and students start turning up petrified.
Harry finds the diary of Tom Riddle, a former student who was at Hogwarts the last time the Chamber was opened. When Ron’s sister Ginny is abducted, Harry and Ron go in search of the Chamber, where Harry confronts the memory of Tom Riddle, the boy who became Lord Voldemort. Riddle has been using Ginny to do his bidding; as Ginny grows weaker, Voldemort grows stronger. Harry defeats the monster in the Chamber, destroys the diary, saves Ginny, and again thwarts Voldemort’s attempts to return to his full strength.
The Best Bit
Harry takes on the basilisk with the sword of Griffyndor and is saved by Fawkes the phoenix after being pierced by the snake’s poisonous fangs.
This second installment — much like the three young stars — feels a little stuck between the child-like innocence of the first film and the darker themes and look of the later films. Rupert Grint’s Ron starts to slide into hammy mugging, but Kenneth Branaugh as the inept and vain Professor Lockhart is inspired.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
When Harry blows up his Aunt Marge and storms out of the Dursley’s house, his runaway routine alarms his friends, as there’s a dangerous murderer on the loose. The dementors of Azkaban are searching everywhere for the escaped Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather and the man who betrayed his parents to Lord Voldemort.
After comforting Hagrid over the death of his hippogriff Buckbeak, Ron’s rat Scabbers escapes and Ron is attacked by a large dog and dragged under the Womping Willow. Harry and Hermione follow and discover that the dog is not a dog, but Sirius Black. What’s more, Ron’s rat is not a rat, but Peter Pettigrew, a friend of James Potter and Sirius Black who is soon revealed to be the true betrayer of Harry’s parents. With the help of new professor Remus Lupin, the group nearly succeed in clearing Black’s name, but Lupin turns into a werewolf and the dementors capture Black. It is up to Harry and Hermione to turn back time and save both Sirius and Buckbeak from a terrible fate.
The Best Bit
The whole mind-bending scene in the Shrieking Shack. Honorable mentions to the stormy Quidditch match … the encounter with the dementors on the Hogwarts Express … the moment Harry first learns of Sirius Black’s betrayal.
The look is darker, less colorful. The actors are taller. The story much more mature and complicated. I was annoyed at the movie when I first saw it because the protagonists suddenly looked, well, cool. Chunky haircuts, hoodies: what the hell?! Turns out this is a minor quibble in what is otherwise an excellent bit of storytelling.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This year, Hogwarts is playing host to the Triwizard Tournament, an event that selects one Champion from each of three schools to compete in a series of magical contests. Though no one under the age of 17 is allowed to enter, Harry’s name is mysteriously called by the Goblet of Fire as the fourth Champion.
Harry makes it past the dragons and the merpeople, and enters the final task — a magical maze — tied for the lead. Cedric Diggory and Harry overcome many obstacles, grab the Twizard Cup together, and are whisked to a mysterious graveyard where Cedric is killed by Peter Pettigrew and Lord Voldemort returns to his full form. Harry and Voldemort do battle, their wands linked together, until — aided by the remnants of his parents — Harry escapes back to Hogwarts.
The Best Bit
The return of Lord Voldemort and the battle in the graveyard. Honorable mention to the bit when Harry and a jealous Ron make up. The best special effect award goes to the scence where the dragon crawls across the castle roof.
Mike Newell of Four Wedings and a Funeral fame does a wonderful job mixing the first stirrings of young love with the darkest of tales. This is the movie that turns a corner — the first good character is killed and things will only get darker from here.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
When dementors show up in Little Winging, Harry saves his cousin Dudley from their clutches and is then whisked away from the Dursleys by members of the Order of the Phoenix who are organizing to fight Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Magic does not believe that Voldemort has returned. Even worse, they’ve planted the evil Professor Umbridge at Hogwarts. Since Umbridge refuses to teach them to defend themselves, Harry and his friends take matters into their own hands, forming “Dumbledore’s Army” with Harry as their leader and teacher.
Harry’s visions into the mind of Voldemort grow stronger until he sees Sirius being tortured by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. Members of Dumbledore’s Army deal with Professor Umbridge and escape to the Ministry, where they find the prophecy linking Harry to Lord Voldemort. But it’s a trap; Sirius isn’t there, but the Death Eaters are. The Order of the Phoenix turns up, and Siruis is killed. Dumbledore and Voldemort do battle, and the Ministry is finally forced to admit that Voldemort is back.
The Best Bit
When the prophecies in their glass spheres crash to the ground in the Department of Mysteries.
My favorite of the films so far, I love the 1930s modernist look of the Ministry of Magic and the moody, adolescent tone.
Whew! OK, now I think I’m ready. Bring onHalf-Blood Prince!