I’ll be seeing Fantastic Beasts later in the week, so every day before I’ll be looking back on the films/books it has to live up to (1-3 today, 4 and 5 tomorrow and 6 and 7 on Tuesday).
Not putting a spoiler warning on these reviews. If you haven’t watched/read them by now: 1. That’s your problem. 2. What the hell?!? 3. Why not???
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The one that started it all. I re-read all the books over the summer and they’re still as much of a joy as ever. The first book is both the shortest and has the simplest plotline, but is still fun to read simply due to nostalgia’s sake. The characters are for the most part instantly memorable and leap off the page at you, Professor Quirrell being an unfortunate exception (quite possibly one of the least notable characters in the series, his lack of notoriety was probably to avoid making it too guessable that he was the real villain, not Snape, who gets a much more expansive role), while the various magic concepts of Hogwarts, Quidditch, Platform 9 3/4 etc. are all described in vivid detail.
The stand out sections in the film have to be the Quidditch match (vividly brought to life) and the sequences with the Devil’s Snare, Flying Keys and the Chess Game while the trio attempt to find the Philosophers Stone (which surpass their equivalent sections in the book). John Williams’ score is instantly memorable and Emma Watson and Tom Felton get their characters spot-on first try, while Radcliffe and Grint are both adorable even if their acting at times could use a bit of polish. The adult cast are all perfect as well, particularly Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane as Snape and Hagrid. The only criticism I have of the film is that’s there’s a very safe feel to proceedings, there isn’t a lot of ambition here yet, as shown by how rigid Chris Columbus is in reproducing his source material (only really cutting three bits from the book that I can think of)
Book Rating: 3 out of 5, Film Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The second book improves upon the first’s plot and tone while being just as fun to read, with the mystery of the Heir of Slytherin and the terrifying Basilisk making this a significantly darker entry, to its advantage in my opinion. Harry faces a far rougher time of it in book 2, which only makes us root for the character more, while Voldemort’s younger self Riddle manages somehow to be even more creepy and hateful than the shattered remnant that possessed Quirrell in the first book. The additional focus on Voldemort, Hagrid and Dumbledore is welcome, while Gilderoy Lockhart makes for a more memorable Defence against the Dark Arts teacher than Quirrell (even though looking back its hard to swallow that Dumbledore would have been taken in by such an obvious fraudster enough to hire him).
Overall I think the film has come in for more than it’s fair share of criticism – yes it’s overly long but tbh, I’m not sure what they could have cut without losing some of what made the book memorable. Both the book and the film are a darker, more ambitious adventure than their predecessor but for me, the film comes to life just that bit more easily. The most memorable sequences have to be (again) the Quidditch match, the spiders in the Forbidden Forest, the confrontation between Harry and Riddle and the whole Polyjuice potion sequence, which manages to be both tense and hilarious. Ultimately it’s a step up from the first film, but again things are played too safe to be truly great. The acting remains of a very high standard, with Snape and Malfoy again proving deliciously evil as characters and a nice (and regrettably final) turn from Richard Harris as Dumbledore while the additions to the cast such as Mark Williams as Mr. Weasley and Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy are memorable. Solid work again from John Williams, Fawkes’ theme and ‘Reunion of Friends’ are some of the best pieces in the series.
Book Rating: 3.5 out of 5, Film Rating: 4 out of 5
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Both this book and the film adaptation is where most people place the point where the series truly took off. The book is a joy from start to finish, with the best Quidditch sequences in the series, one of the most memorable (and my personal favourite) characters in Remus Lupin, a villain who exudes menace despite not appearing in the flesh till the final few chapters in Sirius Black, and a joyous tone throughout juxtaposed against a slightly bittersweet ending. The Marauder’s Map, Hogsmeade, the awful Professor Trelawney, Hermione punching Malfoy, this book has basically everything, and the Dementors are arguably one of Rowling’s scariest creations. If by some miracle you haven’t guessed already, I bloody love this book and genuinely can’t think of a flaw with it, so I’ll move on to the film adaptation.
The three leads are all at their best in this film, Watson clearly relishes Hermione’s character development, and Grint and Radcliffe’s improvement from the first two films is very welcome (not that either were bad, but they both come into their own here). The film’s adult casting remains faultless, with Michael Gambon giving us a memorable take on Dumbledore that remains true to the book version while not mimicking Richard Harris’ take on the character. Gary Oldman shines as Sirius Black, being both menacing in his turn as the apparent villain and instantly likeable once his true personality is revealed. The greatest praise however, must go to David Thewlis as an endearing and memorable Lupin, given the success of the film was always going to rest on Lupin and Harry’s bond, which is one of the strongest parts of the novel. The visuals are more striking than ever this time, from the Night Bus to the Dementors to the Whomping Willow, largely in part to the wonderful work of director Alfonso Cuaron, who easily surpasses Columbus. John Williams is also on stellar form, delivering his most memorable and inventive score (no mean feat given how good the first two were!). My only problem with the film (ironically, given that I criticise the first two films for the opposite reason) is it isn’t faithful enough to the novel. The Quidditch bits in particular really shouldn’t have been dropped – I’d have happily stayed another 15 mins if those were included. Most of the changes are fine for time reasons, but I feel like some of them just aren’t necessary.
Book Rating: 5 out of 5!, Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next up: Goblet of Fire’s impressive action sequences and Order of the Phoenix’s somewhat downbeat plotline…