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A Look Back At The Harry Potter Movies

Written by: Niall Browne, Special to CC2K

CC2K's Niall Browne revisits the popular franchise through its region 2 DVD releases.

ImageSince its launch almost ten years ago, the Harry Potter franchise has become one of the most popular film series of all time. In fact, with six films currently made and two more on the way, it’s hard to think of a recent film franchise that has lasted for so long without a remake or a reboot. Audiences keep showing up, meaning that all the films in the series are immensely popular around the globe. 

Packed with a host of well known British stars (and some not so well known) the Potter films reach out to adults and children alike, with each film growing considerably darker – giving the target audience of children something to cling on to.

I have to admit to not being a fan of the Harry Potter films. In fact when I first saw Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I was under-whelmed to say the least. In the intervening years I managed to watch The Chamber of Secrets and half of The Prisoner of Azkaban before I’d reached my fill of the boy wizard and friends.

Now nearly a decade on, the first five Potter films arrived at my doorstep. I’ll admit to being wary of reviewing them – but when I did watch them I was immediately hooked on the franchise and enjoyed every film. However, it has to be said that like every reviewer (at least the one I know) I enjoyed the films more and more as the series progressed.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone

Following young Harry Potter in his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he meets bumbling Ron and super-smart Hermione as they learn how to become junior wizards and witches. The film stars a who’s who of British thespians including Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and Richard Griffith’s amongst others.

Christopher Columbus’ first Potter film sets the franchise up nicely. While ultimately the film is the weakest in the series, he was the man behind most of the major casting choices (notably Alan Rickman’s Snape) and visual motifs that continue in the series.

The main problem with this first instalment of the series is the special effects. Even in 2001 they were slightly sub-par and they don’t hold up well at all. The Quidditch game in particular, which may be fun for younger viewers is filled with “digital stuntmen” and backgrounds that look suitable for a computer game but not a $150 million film.

Having said that, the film is perfectly suited to the young audience for which it is intended. Filled with magic and wizardry (not surprising considering the film is about a wizard) The Philosophers Stone will enchant children and it won’t bore the adults.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chris Columbus’ second and his final Harry Potter film improves on the first by having better pacing and less of the wizard world to set up. The special effects are still a bit “wonky” at times, and again Columbus’ fascination with Quidditch slows the proceedings down. Thankfully the film has Kenneth Branagh as Harry and co.’s new Defence Against The Black Arts teacher. Branagh is charismatic and witty in the role (he should do more comedy) and it’s a shame that he doesn’t have more screen time. However, this second Potter film is slightly more menacing as Voldemort moves closer to Hogwarts.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Alfonso Cuarón takes the helm as Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts for their third year. Darker and more brooding than Columbus’ films, Azkaban ups the fear factor and the impressive credits by introducing Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black.

With better effects and a more mature storyline, this third chapter in the Potter saga has more scares than the previous films with David Thewlis starring as Professor Remus Lupin, Harry’s new Defense Against The Black Arts teacher. Lupin has a dark secret (the clue is in the name) but he’s the only one who can protect Harry when Black escapes Azkaban prison.

The film continues to add to the mythology and build on what has gone on in the previous two films while the child actors continue to grow into their roles.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

All the films in the series improve on those which have gone before and Goblet of Fire is no exception. Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell takes up directing duties this time around and again things turn darker at Hogwarts.

Brendan Gleeson stars as "Mad Eye" Moody, Harry’s new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (are you seeing a pattern?) while Twilight’s Robert Pattinson and Doctor Who himself, David Tennant, join the cast as Harry enters the Tri-wizard Tournament, (a prestigious event which is taking place at Hogwarts.) Love is in the air for the three leads while the danger factor is upped considerably as the film reaches its downbeat climax.

Finally Voldemort arrives in the form of a bald and nose-free Ralph Fiennes for some one on one wand action with Mr Potter.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

2007’s Order of the Phoenix saw State of Play’s (the BBC series not the film) David Yates take the helm of the Potter franchise. The Ministry of Magic don’t believe Harry when he tells them that Voldemort is back and he is soon the outcast of Hogwarts – as is Dumbledore as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge takes er…umbrage at his leadership.

The Order of the Phoenix are soon on the case – they are an organization sworn to fight Voldemort. Harry himself forming Dumbledore’s Army (a faction of pupils at Hogwarts who intend to fight Voldemort.)

The action packed finale is the best yet in the film series history and again there will be tears before the end credits roll. Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter shows up looking like she has just woken up from a night of heavy partying with Tim Burton.

Final Analysis

Five great children’s films that won’t bore adults. While the earlier films are more ‘kiddie friendly’ the later films in the series are as good as any adult oriented fantasy films out there.

Fun for all the family!

The Extras

Harry Potter Years 1-4 are pretty much bare bones DVD’s with just a few trailers to keep the movies company. However the Order of the Phoenix DVD is double disc affair that featured 10 minutes of deleted scenes; a 45 minute documentary that follows the history of the films and the story of Order of the Phoenix. The disc also includes Harry Potter and the Magic of Editing – a five minute documentary that shows skills behind editing a film narrated by director David Yates. There’s also a fun interactive section which lets you try it out for yourself. An excellent little package.