Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Definitive Harry Potter Movie Rankings

The night after I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I started the Harry Potter movies. I watched one movie per day, and it was great. Because I had just read the books, I got a lot more out of it, and also noticed when things were different. Because of the differences, the rankings of the movies are very different to those of the books.

The reasons for this are clear: there were different directors for the movies (four different directors, to be exact), different music composers, and different screenwriters bringing their own visions to the Harry Potter universe. Thankfully, the differences were not due to the actors. We could have had the worst series ever if the actors were wooden and didn't bring anything to the table. But the veteran British actors complemented the young adult actors very well, and made for a very good series of eight movies - a very hard feat to accomplish.

Let's look at these rankings, shall we?

8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Director: Chris Columbus

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: John Williams

Cast MVP: Alan Rickman perfectly takes on the role of Severus Snape in the very first outing - that's like hitting a home run in your first at-bat of the season. If anyone had any ideas about who Snape was or what he looked like from the books, Rickman matched it. Although I always had the impression he looked like Gargamel from The Smurfs.

Thoughts: Once again, the first movie in the series is the weakest one, because it needs to introduce so much information for veterans of the books and people just looking for a nice movie to watch. I found my mind wandering a lot more as I watched it. The movies is filled with warm colors - the red of the Hogwarts Express and the fire glow from the Great Hall - colors which become more muted as the series progresses.

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Director: Mike Newell

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: Patrick Doyle

Cast MVP: Ralph Fiennes. We were all kind of wondering how Lord Voldemort would look and act, and although Fiennes gets little screentime at the end of the movie, he does his time well. He also makes sure not to underestimate Daniel Radcliffe, even though his character underestimated Harry.

Thoughts: One of my favorite books turned into one of my least favorite movies due to unnecessary plot twists (something that my older brother never lets us forget when this movie comes up) and too much additional material. Barty Crouch Junior was in too much of the movie (a huge complaint for me, since I love David Tennant). He wasn't supposed to be in Little Hangelton at the beginning of the movie (it spoils the surprise of him being alive at the end). He was supposed to be under an Invisibility Cloak when he set off the Dark Mark. He was supposed to be a scared, shrieking teenager when convicted of being a Death Eater. And while everyone else's voices stayed the same for the Polyjuice Potion (in the movies - something I never understood), Moody's voice turned into Brendan Gleeson!

Another issue is the direction of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. While he does incredibly well in his first foray into Harry Potter (Prisoner of Azkaban), he turns into someone completely different (and unlikable) in this movie. I hate him during the Goblet of Fire scene, and I hate him at the end when he's sitting on his chair talking to the students. Not cool.

I did finally see the age difference between Harry and Cedric, Krum, and Fleur - it's clear they are more experienced and older. I did also like the teenage drama. The fact that Harry and dead Cedric come back from the graveyard and the crowd cheers with a happy tune is so sad because none of them are aware of the horrors that took place, and they just think everything is peachy.

6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Director: Chris Columbus

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: John Williams

Cast MVP: Jason Isaac playing Lucius Malfoy. Even without the long flowing white hair, you can definitely see where Draco's selfish, righteous manner comes from. Playing the villain must be so much fun.

Thoughts: This movie introduces a lot of stuff pretty well. Dobby was animated relatively well, and his innocence is played very well by of Toby Jones. The Chamber of Secrets was far more elaborate than I had envisioned in my head, and the basilisk battle was very good, and mostly the same as the book. We don't get to see too much of Ginny's fear.

5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: John Williams

Cast MVP: Gary Oldman plays creepy convict incredibly well here, and if you don't know the story, you are genuinely scared about Sirius Black.

Thoughts: I had high hopes for this installment of the series. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. A few things from the first two movies were changed in this one (the layout of Hogwarts, the Fat Lady painting, Professor Flitwick) and I should have appreciated the change in tone, but I actually didn't like that sudden change in so many things.

There were also too many artsy shots - hands hovering over something for a bunch of seconds, actors surveying the grand scenery, etc.

However, I did appreciate a few things. One is the "immaturation" of the kids. They wear their school robes for class, but outside of class they are running around with their ties askew and their shirts untucked and their outfits aren't all the same (some have cardigans, some have vests, etc.). On weekends they just wear normal clothes. They also act a lot more like kids instead of actors - I especially liked the scene after the Great Hall scene where the Third-Year boys in Gryffindor are eating random food and making all sorts of noises and just goofing off. That was nice.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Director: David Yates (note: You'll find that the top four movies are also the four that David Yates directed. Coincidence? I think not. Great job David Yates.)

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: Nicholas Hooper

Cast MVP: Tom Felton finally gets some substance to work with as he takes Draco Malfoy from a snob to someone forced to eat his words and be genuinely scared. Because we look through Harry's eyes in the book, we don't get as much in character development outside of Harry's world. In the movie, we get to see Malfoy working on the vanishing cabinet, and feel the worry and fear about what he is being forced to do.

Thoughts: I find this one to be very uneven. I loved a lot of stuff, and I didn't like a bunch of stuff. I wish there had been more flashbacks, but it wasn't hugely necessary to the movie's plot. I didn't like Ginny in this movie - as has been said before, the Ginny in the books had a great personality and you could see Harry falling for her. Here, she just kind of gives nothing. I didn't like the unnecessary Christmas-burrow Death Eaters scene, either - especially since the Burrow is completely repaired by the seventh movie.

Luna, however, is given a lot more here, and it's great. I almost wish they'd changed from the book and had Harry be with Luna instead!

If any scene is spot on with the books, it's the Felix Felicis scene. Harry is so positive and upbeat, and he knows everything is right. Everything he does turns out great!

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Director: David Yates

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Cast MVP: Rupert Grint and Emma Watson show that the producers chose wisely when they were cast in the roles of Ron and Hermione. Watson has consistently showed that she was perfect for the role, but in this film Grint gets to be splinched, show jealousy over his friends supposed "love-relationship," and save the day. The argument between Harry and Ron is so great, with a lot of tension finally bubbling over, and then Harry and Hermione's dance is great, too - he's not trying to be romantic; he's just trying to cheer her up, for a minute.

Thoughts: I could really have a three-way tie for first place, because these last three movies are great. There are some changes I could do without, but the difference between these movies and the others are that there are things in the movies that I like better than the books. Shocking, right? They also take things that I didn't like in the books and make them so I don't mind them in the movies. I didn't like the hundreds of pages with Harry, Ron, and Hermione camping. In the movies, I really liked those scenes, because they did a great job of character development, too.

The opening scene of the kids is great. It really sets the tone of the movie. Another improvement is that Hedwig dies trying to save Harry - she knows which one is the real one. How sad is that?

The Ministry break-in is much better here - I like that Harry got to utter another "must not tell lies" statement to Umbridge. And wasn't it great how they used such an unsettling, high-pitched sound when the Horcruxes were near? So creepy.

2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Director: David Yates

Screenwriter(s): Michael Goldenberg (the only movie with a different screenwriter!)

Composer: Nicholas Hooper (I LOVE his work here. It's finally the perfect music for the series.)

Cast MVP: Imelda Staunton. She didn't look like a toad, but she embodied everything else about Dolores Umbridge to a "t." She was easy to hate. The best part was a line not in the book, when she tells Harry to tell the centaurs that she means no harm. Harry replies, "I can't Professor. I mustn't tell lies."

Thoughts: Crazy, huh? One of my least favorite books is one of my favorite movies in the series. Michael Goldenberg wrote something that perfectly embodies a Harry Potter novel. While there is danger, there is also a lot of fun and adventure. There are many more "DA" scenes here than in the book, which is great, because I always wished there had been more of those in the book.

More improvements are the introduction (and use) of Gwarp, and the use of flashbacks to scenes from the fourth (and especially first) movies. Did anyone think they'd see 11-year-old Harry in this movie?

We get to see a proper wizard fight for the first time, and it's AWESOME. I wish it had been longer.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Director: David Yates

Screenwriter(s): Steve Kloves

Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Cast MVP: He could be the "most improved player" of the entire series, but Daniel Radcliffe does great work with Harry here. Starting from the second movie on, he gets better every time showing the struggles Harry deals with.

Thoughts: When I looked back on the first time I saw this movie, I remember being picky about all the things not there from the book. But when I rewatched it this time, after a Harry Potter movie marathon, I liked it a whole lot more. The Battle of Hogwarts is different from the book in many respects, but I'm okay with that. The book could explain stuff with its words, but the movie could explain stuff with actions much better than just long scenes of people talking.

Seamus' tendency to make stuff explode has been hinted at in other movies, but Professor McGonagall actually makes a blunt statement of it when she sends him and Neville to blow up the bridge. I didn't get that part the first time, but after seeing all the movies, it was pretty neat.

Maggie Smith gets another great scene when she basically owns Snape and sends him out of Hogwarts with everyone watching. They only mention Snape's escape in the books - I liked this better.

During the Battle of Hogwarts, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are going to the boathouse (much better than going to the Shrieking Shack), the scene plays out so well. There's no dialogue; there's only music and sound effects as they avoid the giant, the spiders, and the dementors. You can sense the chaos all around them and genuine fear that they might not make it out alive.

One last thing: If you watch carefully over the last two movies, whenever Lucius tries to get Draco to do something, he hesitates or doesn't do it. But when Narcissa tells Draco to do something, he does it without question. Even at the end, when Voldemort calls for recruits, it's only after Narcissa asks Draco to come that he does, and she's the one that takes him away from Hogwarts even before the battle is over, while Lucius is still unsure of what to do (another scene better than the book!).


So there you have it - all my thoughts on the Harry Potter movies. What do you think? Do you disagree with me on anything? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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