Well, the end is near. The eighth and final Harry Potter movie comes out in less than a month. My love-hate relationship with these movies makes me feel love-hatey things. It’ll all be over soon! But is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I’m rewatching all the previous movies to mentally prepare, but also because I’ve been meaning to anyway. I’ve only seen each movie only once, and the routine had been thus: I’d reread the corresponding the book within a month of the movie’s release, and then I’d see the movie opening night, and gradually, I grew into one of those crazy purists. It’ll be fun to see how those opinions hold up though; after all, it’s been just about a decade since the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hit theatres, and I won’t be rereading each book prior to the viewings this time. I have kind of a crappy memory, so maybe this matters.
[This post contains no explicit spoilers for any book or movie, though I suppose you might consider the implied existence of certain characters, events, and later plot developments as spoilers if you're really hardcore about that stuff.]
Not gonna lie — it was pretty exciting watching the first movie again. It was like reading the first book again, and as many times as I’ve read that book by now, it hasn’t lost its magic yet, and I hope it never does. The movie opens on a puzzling note, but slowly, all the endearing little quirks of J.K. Rowling’s amazing world make their way in. Actually, my dislike of the films didn’t start until the third movie, which is predictable because the third book was, and still is, my favorite. I remember thinking that the first two movies were pretty all right — probably because first two book are comparatively short, so a lot of the later movies’ issues with pacing, clarity, and continuity shouldn’t apply.
Indeed, the pacing throughout the Philospher’s Stone is pretty decent, though even this early on, there seem to be a number of awkward scene transitions, such the shift from Hagrid showing up on Harry’s birthday to the pair of them walking around London. I think what bothered me the most about that was the Dursleys’ abrupt departure though. I realize that even canonically, it takes a while for the family to grow out of their fairy tale “wicked stepfamily” trope, but I do still wish it was more obvious that they’re actual characters and not just a background element meant to emphasize Harry’s unfortunate childhood. Later jumps to and from Harry’s various trials, especially at the end, were also a little jarring, but I suppose there’s only so much a movie can do in lieu of a chapter break?
The visuals do well to distract you from these things anyway, though it’s a lot easier to pick out the CG bits ten years later. The bricks parting to reveal Diagon Alley? Running through the wall for Platform 9 ¾? And all of those owls? It’s so obvious now! But seriously, it is the high point of all the movies to be able to see such a careful rendering of this rich fantasy world. Chris Columbus did a beautiful job in this regard — who doesn’t want to wander through and explore Diagon Alley? The ceiling of the Great Hall looked beautiful, as did all those floating candles. The ghosts were a little cheesy, but hey, that’s canon.
I really, really wish they had kept the Hogwarts uniforms through the later movies. They did so much to separate the magic from the mundane, and dammit, they looked good! …Except for certain details, namely those ridiculous little dunce cap hats. Those were just stupid. They should have at least had brims like Dumbledore’s or McGonagall’s hats! But no! They’re stupid little dunce caps!
You know what else was great about the first movie? The trio’s acting was pretty good! Young Daniel Radcliffe’s Boy Who Lived is innocent, curious and relatively easy to relate to. Might I suggest that he’s actually a little endearing? Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley is a huge loser and has hilarious expressions of exasperation and incredulousness. I don’t think this changes much in later films, actually. But best of all, Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger has the most incredibly annoying introductory lines and it is awesome.
“Are you sure that’s a REAL spell? Well, it’s not very GOOD, is it?” Oh my god, Hermione, I just want to smack you. It is wonderful.
And I miss Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Sorry, Michael Gambon, but in addition to not having the perfect long, white beard, you just don’t exude the same… serenity? Harris is the Dumbledore that’s in my head. His way of speaking — especially at the end of the movie as he is recounting his experiences with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans — is just flawless in portraying Dumbledore’s confident quirkiness. I wish I could see how he would have portrayed Dumbledore in later movies, when he becomes more severe and morally ambiguous as a character.
On the flip side, it would seem that Alan Rickman as Severus Snape has never impressed me. He looks the part, absolutely, but the way… Rickman has Snape… pause awkwardly in the middle of… all his… sentences… doesn’t do it… for me. He comes off as more mentally handicapped and confused than creepy or menacing or evil. Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy is also pretty laughable, but this could be as much thoughtless scripting as it is bad acting. Malfoy is nothing more than a schoolyard bully, and Felton’s acting accentuates the bland over-exaggeration of the stereotype. Honestly though, even considering canon, I would be hard-pressed to say that Malfoy as a character ever amounts to much else. (Burnnnn.)
But hey, Quirrel was pretty good? Even if the CG effects of Voldemort’s head are pretty hilarious.
I noticed the music a lot more watching this movie a second time. I have always liked John Williams and the main leitmotif for the series, but I don’t think I ever noticed how similar some of the other tracks were to music Williams composed for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. In particular, a lot of the music in scenes introducing a new magical area or thing — like Diagon Alley — reminded me of music in similar scenes in Home Alone — such as when Kevin enters the gigantic toy store for the first time. After I made the connection, I kept noticing it. I think both movies’ soundtracks are fantastic and very fitting, and similarities are bound to happen when you’ve composed as many soundtracks as Williams, but it’s still a little… weird? Disappointing? I dunno. Maybe it was a just side effect of working alongside Chris Columbus again?
In the end, I did enjoy this first movie quite a bit. Ten years later, nostalgia probably factors in a lot, hey, it’s also the first movie — who knew what they were doing? The acting wasn’t bad. The pacing wasn’t bad. I feel it’s hard to criticize most storytelling and staging choices because they couldn’t take later installments into account, but we’ll see how much my nostalgia buffers the blow on the rest of the movies though. …I can’t say I’m looking forward to rewatching the third movie.
Miscellaneous nitpicky bits:
- James and Lily Potter died at age 21, but in the Mirror of Erised shows them in their thirties at the very least! I was going to let this go as they would have been in their thirties had they lived, but at the end of the movie, Hagrid gifts Harry a photo album… which depicts them at the same age they were in the mirror. Bah and humbug!
- Snape’s contribution to the various enchantments protecting the Stone was kind of relevant. I’m not sure why they felt the need to axe this, especially since it also axes Hermione’s equal contribution to helping Harry along. C’mon, Columbus, we need to establish that the boys are screwed without Hermione! This is a repeating theme! (I suppose the Devil’s Snare kind of established this too though…meh.)
- Charlie Weasley is mentioned, but is never physically introduced because the Norbert subplot was very abbreviated. This is understandable, but it does also mean that Charlie never appears properly in any of the movies. He might get a cameo in the last movie, but I’m still not sure how they’re gonna awkwardly shove in Percy, if at all, and contending with one forgotten Weasley might be less embarrassing than dealing with two? No clue.
- I was kinda sad that Hagrid didn’t drop Sirius Black’s name at the beginning of the movie. I remember it being a point of “omg, awesome! Foreshadowing! Continuity and stuff!” when I got to flip back to the first book for that mention after reading the third book. Oh, well. Continuity in movies is hard!
- It bothered me ten years ago and it bothers me now: Harry never mentions Hedwig’s name, despite having two whole scenes where it’s just the two of them.
Harry also doesn’t have green eyes.
This is so going to turn into a Harry Potter blog for the next month. Deal with it.