Worst to First: Ranking The Harry Potter Films
In keeping with the Halloween-y theme Lebeau has been fostering this month, I’ve decided to offer up another installment in the popular new “Worst to First” series. Although the Harry Potter series might initially seem to have a less obvious link to everyone’s favorite horror-themed holiday, if you take just a moment to tally its Halloween credentials you will likely be convinced that it is a pretty clear fit. In fact, I’d argue that any need to second think such a consideration only points to the unique and personal qualities J K Rowling’s world of wizards, witches, trolls, charms, hexes, and horcruxes possesses. After all, this is a series in which magical people wear pointy hats. That’s about as cartoon Halloween as you can get. Harry and friends became so famous of their own accord that they seem to exist outside of any reductionist genre.
The Harry Potter series began with the modest kids book Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (The American release would be switched to Sorcerer’s Stone) penned by British author Rowling, but strong word of mouth and a few excellent reviews gradually transformed the bespectacled young wizard into a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. The film series was a foregone conclusion by the time the second book in the series was setting up shop in the NY Times best-sellers list. All seven books have sold more than 50 million copies and there are plenty of people out there who will do a double take if you admit that you haven’t read them yet.
So let’s get on with ranking the film versions!
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Summary: Unknown British youngsters team with some of the most honored names in UK acting to tell the story of an orphaned and downtrodden boy who finds out he is actually a wizard. In fact, he’s not just any wizard; he’s “the boy who lived,” surviving an attack by the great evil Lord Voldemort, destroying his power and sending him into hiding when Harry was just a year old. He is whisked away into the hidden world of wizards and witches and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he makes friends and enemies and learns to ride a broomstick so he can play one of the dumbest sports ever invented.
What’s Good: When you’ve got actors like Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and Alan Rickman at your fingertips there will naturally be some stuff worth seeing. Each one of these actors, along with David Bradley (as Argus Filch), manages to inhabit their given roles first time out in a way that makes them seem entirely plausible and comfortable in their magical surroundings. Also, Columbus really nails the reveal of the Hogwarts Express, the steam engine that carries the young wizards and witches to school each year.
What’s Bad Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the magical reveals in the first movie. The stakes don’t seem nearly high enough for Harry early in the film and his adoptive aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, are not satirized with the savagery they deserve. How can a story about an abused kid finding out he is more powerful than his abusers possibly contain so little catharsis? (Oh, there’s the huge castle I’ll be living in – ho-hum). Warner Brothers hired the director of Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone, and boy that’s what they got. Also, while I hate to speak ill of the dead, the great Richard Harris did not still possess the vitality necessary to play Dumbledore, and was well aware of it, saying he didn’t wish to be obligated to all of the sequels in his senior years. He had initially intended to turn down the role, but said that his granddaughter talked him into it. This is one time where a veteran actor should have listened to his own instincts.
Verdict: Potter fans tend to give this first installment in the film series a bit of a pass because it is just that, the origin of their beloved epic. Although it is fair to say that the establishing of the huge world the coming stories would inhabit is a huge job, I’d say Columbus did it in a pretty unimaginative paint-by-numbers fashion.
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