With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I in December 2010, it is a good time to look back over the Harry Potter movie series and reflect how much has changed since the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001.
The first and second movies in the series differed in many ways from the later movies, as J.K. Rowling’s original books differed over the period of their publication. Directed by Chris Columbus, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was clearly children’s entertainment that could be enjoyed by adults. The humour was painted in broad brushstrokes, the look of the movie was far lighter (in the literal sense) and the three main actors – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – were all fresh faced, engagingly cute, little newcomers.
The dire details of Harry’s life before Hogwart’s School of Wizardry were given a broadly comic, almost slapstick feel. His cupboard under the stairs, his cousin Dudley’s method of waking him up by stomping on the stairs, and his uncle Vernon’s increasingly paranoid reactions to the flood of letters from Hogwarts – even to the extent of taking the whole family to a remote lighthouse – were comedy at its broadest and most British.
You weren’t meant to take any of this seriously, it was simply entertainment, meant to make kids and adults laugh at the silliness of the Dursleys and the clumsiness of Hagrid, the Giant groundskeeper.
“Sorry about that,” he remarks as he bursts into the lighthouse and crashes down the door. In this first appearance as Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane forever sealed himself in the hearts and minds of fans as a lovable buffoon. But even that was to change.
The sweet young faces of the three child stars in that first movie continued to enchant in the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as did the bright world of Hogwarts. Hagrid’s cottage had charm set amongst the greenery of the grounds and forest. The Great Hall, with its ever changing ceiling, celebratory air and fabulous magical food, always looked fun, and presiding over all was the benevolent presence of Richard Harris as Dumbledore, a role he seemed born to play.
But by the third movie, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, things were already beginning to darken. New director Alfonso Cuaron brought a darker look to the series, and Hagrid’s cottage no longer looks as friendly and picturesque. The kids are growing older and looking less innocent, and most importantly, the late Richard Harris has been replaced by Michael Gambon, bringing a whole new ambience to both the character of Dumbledore and the movies. The addition of Gary Oldman to the cast as Sirius Black also adds an edgy touch.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, all the innocence is gone. The Weasley twins, Fred and George, are still fun, but they provide the only light relief. Even Hagrid is no longer quite the comic character he used to be, although his burgeoning romance with the head mistress of a French school for witches proves amusing. But Harry and his friends are growing up, and going through the usual changes of puberty as well as battling the threat of the Dark Lord Voldemort. Hermione becomes attracted to a dark browed Quidditch champion, Ron gets jealous, and Harry is dissed by his first love in favour of the golden boy, Cedric Diggory. This movie also features the return of Voldemort, whose first act is to kill an innocent character, setting the scene for the dark years that lie ahead for Harry and his friends.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix shows a surly Harry with a chip on his shoulder because no one believes him about Voldemort’s return, and his confusion over his feelings for Cho Chang, the girl who preferred Cedric Diggory. Now we are in the midst of teenage angst as well as mounting magical terror. The nasty new character Dolores Umbridge has none of the broad comic buffoonery of Vernon Dursley in her mistreatment of Harry – she is simply vicious, and her abuse is genuinely cruel. The reporter Rita Skeeter reflects Rowling’s experiences with the gutter press, and the kids we have grown to love now look really frightened and downtrodden, and not in a funny way. Harry forms Dumbledore’s Army to teach them self defence against the dark arts and we move further away from the innocent of the early movies.
In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry becomes obsessed with another book (the first was Tom Riddle’s diary in The Chamber of Secrets) but by now he is a young man with none of the innocence of his early years. The book, a book of charms annotated by its previous owner, contains a nasty spell called the Septum Sempra which the younger Harry would never have used, but this one does. A new character called Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) makes a memorably creepy appearance as a teacher who cultivates exceptional young witches and wizards.
In the seventh and final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we leave Hogwarts behind forever. Harry doesn’t even get to finish is education there as the might of the Dark Lord Voldemort is no longer hidden. The book is huge, so long that the movie has been made in two parts, with the second part due for release in 2011.
All grown up now, our three heroes have left childhood cuteness and innocence far behind. Their strained faces and personal relationships show the suffering that has taken place since Harry first entered Hogwarts, and the happy world we were first introduced to has gone. The series is nearing its climactic end, with more tragedy and terror ahead.
For Potter fans, it has been a long journey. But thanks to the magic of DVD, we can still go back to the beginning, and once again enjoy the light and innocence of the early movies, before the darkness started closing in.
Harry Potter Book Gift Set:
Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)
The Official Harry Potter Cookbook:
The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory--More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards