Amazing! This is Just Like Magic!
Ah, Christmas time. No better time, as far as I’m concerned, to start my reviews of the Harry Potter series. Now that all of them are available on DVD and BluRay, I decided I should do all 8 movies back to back, in sets of two. I remember exactly when I first saw Harry Potter. I was still in college and my mother came out to visit and we decided to see a movie. She suggested that we see Harry Potter, but I was hesitant. I was just 18 and that, as I saw it, was a kid’s movie. But we saw it anyway, and I was instantly drawn in by it’s engaging story and amazing effects. From there, I was pretty well hooked. So hooked that I actually purchased a VHS copy of the second movie because it came out while I was visiting my grandma and she didn’t have a DVD player. Needless to say, I didn’t need my mom to drag me to the subsequent 7 movies, nor was her recommendation necessary to get me to buy the books (which I still haven’t read). But enough setup, let’s review some movies! Today’s review is of the first two years of Harry Potter. As with the Star Wars movies, heads up for spoilers. But if you still haven’t seen these movies by now, you never will and also are a fuck.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Year One) (2001)
Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, written for the screen by Steve Kloves, directed by Chris Columbus, and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Hart, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Tom Felton, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, Zoe Wanamaker, Sean Biggerstaff, David Bradley, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, and Matthew Lewis.
The story of Harry Potter starts long before the films, when a giant douche bag leaves his wife. In her despair, she starts writing books with such imagination and compelling stories that they turn into a series of 8 books, 8 films, numerous video games, and billions of dollars. The giant douche bag kills himself, and the world is better without his stupidity in it.
Harry’s actual story starts with him as a baby. His parents were recently murdered by He Who Shall Not Be Named (Lord Voldemort … yeah, I break the rules). Baby Harry is delivered by the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to the wizard Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and witch Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith). They leave young Harry to be raised by the only family he has left, the Dursleys: father Vernon (Richard Griffiths), mother Petunia (Fiona Shaw), and son Dudley (Harry Melling). Turns out that wasn’t the best idea, ’cause they’re super shitty to Harry. We join back up with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), now living under the stairs. He starts getting mysterious letters, delivered by owls, but Vernon refuses to let Harry have them after seeing a seal on the back of them. The letters keep coming and coming, finally forcing the Dursley’s to pick up and move. Hagrid shows up to personally deliver the letter to Harry and inform him that Harry is a wizard and he’s to go learn magic at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Entering through the wall to platform 9 3/4, Harry boards the Hogwarts Express. Here he meets, and quickly befriends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson). Once we reach the school, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are sorted into Griffindore, while the boy who makes terrible first impressions, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), is sorted into Slytherin. We also get to meet the obviously evil Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the innocent stutterer Professor Quirrell (Ian Hart), and the Charms teacher Professor Flitwick (Warwick Davis). The three kids start finding strange things around the castle that seem to be linked to something called the Sorcerer’s Stone. First, they come across a cave troll which they defeat only to realize a strange cut on Snape’s leg. Then, Harry is almost killed when his broom goes crazy during a Quidditch game and Snape is seen speaking a curse. The kids determine that Snape is trying to use the Sorcerer’s Stone to resurrect Lord Voldemort and they follow to stop him. But, it turns out it’s the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Quirrell, with Voldemort partially resurrected into the back of his head. Harry defeats Quirrelldemort with his touch, which hurts him because Harry’s mother sacrificed herself to save him, infusing Harry with her love. Thus ends Year One.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Year Two) (2002)
Written for the screen by Steve Kloves, directed by Chris Columbus, and starring the same plus Christian Coulson, Jason Isaacs, Kenneth Branagh, Shirley Henderson, Toby Jones, Mark Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones, and Julian Glover.
Harry gets locked in his room and told that he cannot go back to Hogwarts for the minor offense of dropping a cake on the head of Vernon Dursley’s guests. But it wasn’t even him! It was a house elf named Dobby (Toby Jones), trying to keep Harry Potter from going back to Hogwarts. Ron, with the help of his mischievous twin brothers Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps), rescues Harry and takes him back to the Weasley house. Here (only because I had no place to introduce them in the last description) we re-meet mother Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), father Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams), and youngest daughter, starting this year to Hogwarts, Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). Back to Hogwarts we go! Again, strange things are happening at Hogwarts, this time surrounding something called the Chamber of Secrets and someone called the Heir of Slytherin. Also there’s a new Defense Against the Dark Arts, a pompous buffoon by the name of Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh). These strange events take the form of people (and one cat) being found petrified all over the school. Harry finds an empty diary in a bathroom haunted by a ghost named Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson). As Harry writes questions in the book, the ink disappears and answers his questions, and then shows Harry what happened. The vision implicates Hagrid in the death of Myrtle because he brought a giant spider into the school, named Aragog. When Hermoine gets petrified as well, they find out from a note in her hand that it is a creature called a Basilisk. Harry goes down to face the Basilisk alone, but first finds an unconscious Ginny Weasley and a guy Harry had seen in the diary’s vision, the diary’s owner Tom Marvolo Riddle (Christian Coulson). By rearranging the letters of his name in the air, he reveals that he’s a projection of the teenager that would later become Lord Voldemort.I.Am. Riddle sics the Basilisk on Harry as he continues to draw the life force out of Ginny, but then Dumbledore’s bird brings Harry a hat. Oh come on, Dumbledore! It would’ve been nice if you put something useful like a sword in the damned thing. OH WAIT! YOU DID! STAB! Basilisk dead, Harry stabs the diary with a Basilisk fang, killing the book and Riddle. Then it ends with Harry tricking Draco’s father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), into giving Dobby a sock, setting him free.
There is so much damned typing involved in writing a synopsis for multiple movies. Although, I did manage to compress two novels into under 1000 words, so I guess that’s pretty good. And speaking of pretty good: these movies! Perhaps slightly better than pretty good, actually. The story of these movies is very entertaining with only a few hiccups. I understand that Harry needs a reason to not want to be with the Dursleys anymore, but they go pretty far over the top with their amount of abuse towards him. He’s living under the stairs, tortured by a fatty, may or may not be fed with any regularity, and plenty of other things. It also got on my nerves how people kept getting surprised that Harry didn’t know anything about the magic world in the first movie, even though he had just found out about it. There was one part when Snape was quizzing Harry about different things in potions class just to show how little Harry knew. I would’ve said “I just found out that magic was real (and that I could do it) like three days ago, so why don’t you step off my nuts!” These people let magic go way to their heads anyways, like when the Broom Flying teacher Madame Hooch told them to step up to their brooms and command it with “Up”. How about walk up to your broom, lean over, and pick it “Up”. Yelling at it wasn’t doing that well for most of them. This movie sets up a couple of staples that these movies go back to a few times. 1) The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher will range from douche bag (Lockhart) to evil (Quirrell), and 2) The movie will try to mislead you with the obvious evil person (Snape or Malfoy) and it will actually be the person you should expect least (Quirrell or Ginny). I caught on to these things pretty quick, but it didn’t ruin any of the other movies for me. I also found that the movies do a lot of misdirection throughout, which causes them to have to do a lot of tying together of loose ends at the very end of the movie, and some of the things that wrote you into a corner can be easily explained away with “Magic did it”. For a couple other things that got to me, if Platform 9 3/4 is between Platforms 9 and 10, that makes it Platform 9 1/2. When McGonagall calls the kids up to get sorted into their houses, what order is this list in? It was like Ron, Draco, random girl, Hermoine, Harry, the end. I guess that makes it in order of importance to the movie with a random girl thrown in, then to Hell with the rest of the students. Also, with owls delivering the mail over the table, how man times has that hall heard the statement “Aww, man! The mail pooped in my breakfast!”? When the kids defeat the giant troll, why did Hermoine take the blame for it? She said that she decided to try to fight the troll and Ron and Harry rescued her. How is that better than “I was in the bathroom, they came to warn me because I wasn’t there for the announcement, and they saved me.”? It also made me laugh when Harry got a package that was shaped like a broom and everyone crowded around to see him open it to find out what it was.
Moving on to the second movie, it’s also great. Once you’ve watched more than one of the movies, you can already see them slowly begin to head down dark paths. The first one was pretty light throughout, with a couple moments of darkness. The second movie gets a little bit darker, having a lot of people (including major characters) nearly die. This movie had another big “tie things up for the audience” thing at the end. I also noticed in this movie that our three little detective kids get a lot of their information from people (mainly Hagrid) outright saying it and then saying “I shouldn’t have said that.” It kind of takes the impressiveness away from it because they’re kind of just getting aimed and being used for the footwork by Dumbledore. For a couple things about this movie that stopped me: I understand telling broken-wand Ron not to try to stop the rogue bludger from attacking Harry, but why was the World’s Greatest Wizard Albus Dumbledore just sitting there watching his student get attacked by a lead ball? I also didn’t understand the character of Lockhart. I understand he was not meant to be a likeable character and that he was not as good at fighting as he acted like, but why does he volunteer himself for all of these fights when he knows he’s so bad at it? He volunteers to take out the pixies and fails, he signs up to fight Snape and loses, he decides to take out the snake Malfoy conjured but only serves to piss it off. Why not just let the other people do the stuff you can’t instead of showing everyone you suck? The biggest thing that got me was at the very end. Harry puts his sock in a book that he gives to Lucius Malfoy, who then gives that book to Dobby, freeing the elf from his slavery because that only happens when the master gives clothing to the elf. Malfoy’s reaction? He starts to cast the killing curse at Harry right outside of Dumbledore’s office, but is stopped by Dobby. Fer reals? The proper reaction to putting a sock in a book is to kill him?
The effects on these movies is another huge reason to come see them, but the first movie does sort of show the movie’s age. The sets are all huge and beautiful, and the CG creatures even worked very well, but I found that some of the CG effects involving people were noticeable. This was most clear in the broom-riding scenes. The people could tend to look a little fakey. The goblin creatures from the beginning of the movie were pretty convincing except for their hands. The way they would grab things really caught my attention with how obviously they were gloves. But those are two minor gripes in a typically extraordinary movie effects roster. The sets alone are reason enough to forget the few under par spots. I loved Nearly Headless Nick though, mostly because he was John Cleese, but when he showed how he got his name, that’s when I first started getting confused about these movies. They are clearly movies that are great for kids, but there are also some bloody and (as in this case) gruesome parts that seem a bit dark for kids movies. They get away with it though. By the second film, the CG effects have improved. Not drastically because they were already so great, but the parts that caught my attention as being a little fakey had improved significantly.
The performances are hit and miss, but excusably. The kids of the movies weren’t that convincing in parts of the first movie, but they had improved some by the second. I give them a pass on this because they were all around 11 to 13 years old in the first movie and most of them had never been in a movie before, and certainly none had been in a movie of this size before, and the main kids had some pretty heavy acting on their plates. But they had already started to improve by the second movie, and they get better with each passing movie. The biggest thing I got to thinking about was that (knowing what I know now), how did the people that did the casting for this movie know that these 11 year old kids were going to be hot when they grew up? The main characters all got to be pretty good lookin by this point in their life, but how do you look at an 11 year old and say “They’ll be hot one day”. And, if you think that, are you a pervert? The adults were all pretty phenomenal too, but that’s also to be expected because they are a collection of some of England’s best. I really liked Maggie Smith. She’s such a motherly type in the movie. She’s obviously looking out for the kids, but also has to get mean and strict on them from time to time. Alan Rickman is so evil in the movie that it makes you pretty sure he’s the main bad guy, then he turns out not to be. This would be novel if they didn’t go for this same thing with him in every subsequent movie, even though he’s never really a bad guy. John Cleese doesn’t do much in the movies, but I’m just glad he’s there. I’m happy any time that guy is around. Robbie Coltrane is great as Hagrid too. He’s this big, tough guy with a really warm and emotional side to contrast it. You don’t see much, if any, of the Weasley parents in the first one, but when you get to hang out with them in the second one they’re great. Julie Walters plays it super sweet to Harry, but really strict with her kids. Mark Williams was just funny. Jason Isaacs was great as Lucius Malfoy because every word out of his mouth was just spit at people with such disdain. That dude doesn’t seem to like anybody. Moaning Myrtle kinda worked the nerves a bit in the second one, and she was a pretty decent sized part. The same could be said about Toby Jones as Dobby.
No surprises here, I’m recommending these movies. I love the whole series so you won’t be getting any surprises in that regard. They get a little predictable in the story, and try so hard to misdirect you that they need long parts at the end to explain it all, but overall they are just great fantasy stories with a lot of imagination and emotion. The graphics in the first one got a little spotty, but I probably won’t be able to say that about any of the other movies in the series. The cast was awesome, but the kids are doing a lot of catch up to their heavy hitting adult counterparts. I already said I own all these movies on BluRay, and I think you should too, even if you don’t have a BluRay player. Time to get with the technology already, people. Harry Potter, years one and two, get “It’s LeviOsa, not LeviosA” out of “If you die down there, you’re welcome to share my toilet.”
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