Movie Review 2007 #65-68: Harry Potter and…

In anticipation of the release of the fifth HP film and the last HP book, I decided to, over a period of days, watch the four movies extant.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
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Its difficult to separate the experience of the books from the experience of the movies. One informs the other, and the cross pollination, conflicting visions, missing material and other changes makes watching the movies a complex experience.
I tried to pay attention to some more details these times and let myself decide what I liked and didn’t like about the decisions in the movies.
The first movie, I think, works well in introducing the wonder of magic and the magical world to us. Harry’s eyes are wide as he discovers the hidden world of wizards and witches, and so we are, too. The cinematography supports this, and its a strong vision for it.
The second movie, though, falls down. The movie and world are supposed to be darker, with kidnapping, more peril, more danger, and more subtleties in the world we have been shown. The visuals, though, don’t quite match that, it feels a bit off, in my opinion. Its possibly also an example of Rowling’s Sophomore slump as she began to realize “I’m writing a real series here”.
Prisoner of Azkaban brings in a new director who reinvents Hogwarts visuals entirely. Cuaron (who later directed Children of Men) is probably the best technical director of the quartet. The visuals and imagery range from the blatant to the subtle…watch the changes of seasons shown by the Whomping Willow scenes, for example. He’s also well positioned to handle the time travel elements seen in the movie as well. Where the movie lacks, and its not Cuaron’s fault entirely, is that by this point, large chunks of the novel had to be jettisoned to fit into a reasonably long movie. It’s clear, though, on the screen that we are simply missing things, again and again. There’s information on backstory and characters that seem to inform the present but we never get a good dose of it for ourselves.
Goblet of Fire does a little better in choosing what to cut, even if the losses do make it a lesser experience than the novel itself. However, here, the director is not as technically competent as Cuaron and I think it could have been handled a bit better. Sure, there are some really good action scenes here, but I kept thinking when I watched this that I would have had someone else directing it. The epilogue feels somewhat weak, too. It doesn’t convey the urgency of the situation that the novel clearly lays out for us.
So, in my opinion, Sorcerer’s Stone is strong on the wonder and introduction to the Wizarding World. Azkaban has the best technical direction. Goblet of Fire does the best it can with a long novel’s many threads in choosing what to eliminate. Chamber of Secrets, in my view, is the weakest of the four. It’s not a bad movie, mind you, but I think Stone is a much stronger movie out of Columbus than Chamber.
I look forward to the new movie although I am nervous with yet another new director, one who doesn’t have a large body of work behind him.