The Harry Potter Film Franchise – A Look Back

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - ©Warner Bros Pictures
By Kevin Finnerty

This past weekend Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 broke box office records worldwide. The adventures of everyone’s favorite wizard and his loyal friends has come to an end, but before we say a final goodbye to Harry, Ron and Hermione, let’s take one last look back at how the magic began.
– November 16, 2001 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opens in theatres. The story of an 11 year old orphan (Daniel Radcliffe) who discovers that he’s a wizard and enrolls in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he begins to learn about the magical world where he truly belongs and meets for the very first time the two people who will become his closest friends: Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). While studying about spell-casting, broom-flying and potion-making, the three new best friends discover an evil plot to bring the Dark Lord [Voldemort], who killed Harry’s parents when he was just a baby and tried to kill Harry but failed, back to power.
Under Chris Columbus’ direction, this first installment in the boy wizard saga wonderfully introduced the movie-going audience to a fun, colorful, engaging and at times dangerous world. The film also had an interesting mystery for the three young heroes to solve. Perhaps the best thing about the film, other than the eye-catching special effects (remember the moving staircases and Fluffy, the three headed watch dog), was the casting. Richard Harris originating the role of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was grandfatherly and subtle. Alan Rickman’s performance as Severus Snape was spot-on, keeping the audience guessing if he was behind a terrible evil plot. The key, of course, was getting the right children to portray the three main characters. It’s impossible now to imagine anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint portraying Harry, Hermione and Ron. Although not really acting in the first film, the three young children delivered their lines earnestly and with enough energy to convince us that Wizard Chess, flying ghosts, an invisibility cloak and magical wands really do exist. Grade: B

Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in Chamber of Secrets
Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in Chamber of Secrets - © Warner Bros Pictures
– November 15, 2002 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets arrives in theatres. In their second year at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron and Hermione tackle the mystery of who is leaving messages in blood at the school, what former student from years ago named Tom Riddle has to do with it, and what it is that’s threatening the students while hiding in the Chamber of Secrets.
The second film in the series is by far the least entertaining. With its running time at 2 hours and 46 minutes, the movie drags on with a fairly uninteresting mystery. When one of the three little heroes is knocked out of the action and doesn’t return until the last two scenes in the movie, the chemistry feels unbalanced and wrong. Finally, the special effects, which had been top notch in the first film comes up way short when the audience gets to see what has been hiding in the Chamber of Secrets looks like a reject from a 1960’s Godzilla film. The movie was truly a disappointing sequel for such a magical world. Grade: C-
– June 4, 2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hits theatres. The third film in the boy wizard saga has now teen Harry, Hermione, and Ron hearing about an escaped wizard named Sirius Black who is believed to be the traitor responsible for Harry’s parents’ death at the hands of Voldemort. Black is on the loose and, worse yet, may be headed to Hogwarts to try to kill Harry. In order to protect himself from such an attack, Harry’s new defense against the dark arts teacher Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) takes Harry under his wing and teaches him advanced magic, including the powerful patrones charm.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is by far one of the best in the series of films. Darker, spooky, and at times down right chilling, this adventure for Harry and his two best friends brings real fear and an interesting backstory. The addition of Gary Oldman to the franchise as Sirius Black added a depth and emotion to the Potter films that hadn’t been there before. Another plus is the fact that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint start really acting in this film and begin to show some true promise as young actors, and the very beginning of a romance that wouldn’t fully develop until the last story. Grade: B+
– November 18, 2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is released. Hogwarts hosts the Triwizard Tournament, a competition in which chosen wizards from different wizard schools compete for “eternal glory”. Due to some mysterious magic, Harry – who is under age – becomes a fourth competitor when his name is drawn from the goblet.
The fourth film in the series finally brings back the master of evil and enemy to any good wizard, Lord Voldemort. The appearance of the Dark Lord is extremely well done and wonderfully portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. The overall problem with the film is this is the first time Harry is almost on his own performing in the tournament. His pals Ron and Hermione have little to do but cheer and worry from the sidelines. The chemistry between the three actors that drives the stories and has become the heart and soul of the films is non-existent. Also, only getting to see the Dark Lord on screen for a total of 9 minutes is way too short a time after all the build-up. Grade: C
– July 11, 2007 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens on the big screen. Paranoia is running wild in the magical world. The Minister of Magic is convinced that Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is plotting to try to replace him in his role. The Minister sends one of his loyal officers, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), to Hogwarts to take over from Dumbledore and make sure the students do not learn any useful magic. Harry is trying to convince his classmates that Voldemort is back which no one wants to believe, except Ron and Hermione who know Harry would never lie to them. It’s finally Hermione who insists that they must be able to protect themselves and urges Harry to start teaching under the radar of Umbridge to any students willing to learn and keep it a secret.
This is the first time in the film series that Harry takes a leadership role and is no longer a student but now a mentor to his classmates. The three young stars are becoming seasoned actors giving touching meaningful performances as their characters start to deal with issues of first kisses, crushes and dating. The amazing, thrilling wizard battle near the end of the film delivers a much-needed and desired action punch, with a heartfelt sadness with the loss of someone close to Harry. Grade: B
– July 15, 2009 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrives in theatres. Voldemort’s dark army is growing stronger and the Dark Lord has chosen Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) for a special and secret assignment inside Hogwarts itself. While Harry tries to keep an eye on Draco to learn what he is up to, he’s also trying to get close to professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) at the request of Professor Dumbledore. It seems Slughorn holds crucial information that if revealed will help Harry in his battle with Voldemort. Meanwhile, love is blooming and hurting at Hogwarts, with Harry falling for Ron’s little sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright). Ron, being more successful than ever in sports, gets a new stalker-ish girlfriend named Lavender Brown. This leaves poor Hermione filled with jealousy and heartbreak.
The magic in this installment is not in special wizard effects but in the performances from the young stars. Emma Watson captures and displays the pain and regret of losing your first true love beautifully. Daniel Radcliffe gives a strong performance as a young man just beginning to summon up the courage to deal with the dangers and weight of saving the wizard world. He also shows the awkwardness of a young man trying to get close to the girl of his dreams. Grade: C+
– November 19, 2010 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 arrives in theaters. Lord Voldemort takes control of the Ministry of Magic and searches for a very special, powerful wand to use to kill Harry. Meanwhile, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run, avoiding Death Eaters and searching for the rest of the Horcruxes – objects in which Voldemort has hidden a part of his soul – to destroy them and make it possible to kill Voldemort.
The darkest and best acted of the Harry Potter series, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is different from the other films with most of the action and drama taking place on the road and outside of Hogwarts. Emma Watson as Hermione steals the movie by becoming the emotional centerpiece of the story. She’s trying to stay true to the quest but also struggling to keep the three friends together. She deeply loves these two men who she’s grown up with and is horrified when Harry and Ron’s friendship begins to break. Daniel Radcliffe is better than ever as the boy wizard now a young man desperate to save his world from the clutches of Voldemort, even if he means he must make the ultimate sacrifice. Grade: B+
Love, loyalty, sacrifice, selflessness and friendship. This is the true magic of the Harry Potter films. Goodbye Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Thanks for the magical memories.
Review of the final Harry Potter film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.

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