In Lieu of Critique, Here’s Some Frivolous Surveying of the Harry Potter Film Series

I can’t write a proper critique of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II yet.

See, I’m not ready for it to be over. I don’t like this utter lack of fresh, new Potterverse adventures. This is a series I’ve dearly loved for many years, ever since my mother handed me Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone and told a hesitant 16-year-old me to “just try the first chapter.” My resistance stemmed from a distaste for anything that was exceedingly popular. And yet, I’d always trusted my mom’s taste in novels. If she was giving in, then I might as well, too. So I conceded. And I never looked back. And I still don’t want to.

But before I get too sentimental, I’m going to sidetrack myself and move on to the real purpose of this post: a quiptastic 8-part list ranking my level of affection for each individual Harry Potter film adaptation, from least loved to most adored.

8. Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, or, “The Cutting Room Floor Is Shockingly Clean Right Now.”

First, I want to mention some of the good things about the first film in the Harry Potter series. One, John Williams wrote “Hedwig’s Theme” for it, and it never died, although Hedwig did. (Cue sad trombone.) Two, Alan Rickman is a perfect Severus Snape from his first moment onscreen. And I tried for a while to think of a third thing, but all I came up with was how round Neville Longbottom’s (Matthew Lewis) face was back then. I do enjoy this movie, but it suffers from lack of editing and slow pacing–slower than the book, which is a problem that both screenwriter Steve Kloves (for seven of eight films–more on that later) and a cadre of later directors did solve. But more on that later.

7. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, or, “It’s Getting Dark in Here. Dark and Wildly Inconsistent.”

I love Movie Three. It’s substantially more mature than the two films before it, and it captures some of the book’s best moments in entertaining ways. In fact, were I writing about which entry in the series works best as a standalone film, I’d be hard pressed to put anything above it. However, Movie Three all but erases the whimsy that gives the first two films their redemptive quality. And even the addition of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) can’t make me love it any more than…

6. Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, or, “Just Wait for the Last 20 Minutes, We Promise It’s Worth It!”

Christopher Columbus never really got the chance to get into the Harry Potter groove. This is no tragedy; Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates all had a better handle on it. HOWEVER, the last 20-odd minutes of Movie Two convince me that Columbus had the potential for adaptational greatness. The image of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) stabbing what we’ll later come to define as a horcrux reminds me of every well-executed black and white horror film I’ve ever seen, and the moment when Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) returns to the castle is still an emotional one for me. Brilliance exists here. You just have to look for it.

5. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, or, “Half of a Really Great Movie.”

This film, based on what remains my favorite book in the Harry Potter series, premiered during my freshman year of college. I saw it four times in the theater, not because it was fantastic, but because it was entertainingly, comfortingly, dazzlingly there. Never mind the fact that the first half is rushed and unsatisfying. The second half is everything a popcorn movie should be, fun and fast-paced and involving. That was good enough for me then, and it’s good enough for me now.

4. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I, or, “Harry and Co. Go Camping for a Couple Hours, But Really, It’s Not That Bad.”

I love the final book in the Harry Potter series. That said, it was inevitable that I would like the film based on the book’s first half less than the film based on its second. The camping-heavy beginning of the book just doesn’t translate to film as well as the chaos that follows in the suitably epic conclusion. That said, I still loved this movie. The cinematography is stunning, the performances are top notch, and to me, it never really feels like half a film. This is a prequel, and a damn fine one at that.

3. Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince, or, “Pincers.”

This isn’t Yates’ best take on the Potterverse, but Movie Six is still remarkable. It works on just about every level, a suspenseful, fantastical drama with spot-on humor (with the help of Radcliffe and Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, both doing the best comedic work done throughout the entire series). Sure, the movie skews a bit too much toward teenage romance here and there. But so does the book, and so do 16-year-olds. And hey, how often are teenage romances interrupted by the death of one of the most iconic figures in children’s literature?

2. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II, or, “On a Scale of 1 to ‘Appa’s Lost Days,’ That Was the Part When You Figured Out Appa Wasn’t Going to Rejoin Team Avatar Yet. But, You Know, Happier. At Least, Selectively So.”

It gets off to a rocky start. I’ll admit that. But once Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) get out of Gringotts and on their way to where it all began, Movie Eight becomes everything fans wanted it to be. As I said, I don’t have a proper critique for this film yet. All I know is I loved it. I’ll elaborate when I get over the melancholy over the finality of it all.

1. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix.

David Yates’ take on the world Rowling created is alternately dark and humorous, and his handle on the characters and their motivations rings so much truer than anything anyone else offered. Though Movie Five was the first time he tried his hand at bringing the story from book to film, it’s the best he ever did. Cutting through the fat of an exhaustively long book had to be difficult, but the transition feels seamless. (I realize screenwriter Michael Goldenberg had a lot to do with that, too–so kudos to him for handling the material just as expertly as Kloves, if not more so.) The performances from the younger actors are commanding. The effects are more convincing and impressive than ever before. The atmosphere is strong, the soundtrack is memorable, and there isn’t a single thing I don’t like about the film, from end to end.

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