On Saturday, Vivian and I completed a goal that at one point he didn’t think we’d ever achieve: we have now watched every single Harry Potter movie together. (The eight original ones, that is.) I’ve mentioned before that the Harry Potter book series was a huuuuge part of my childhood, but Vivian could hardly be more opposite in that regard. He’s a few years older than me anyway, but in the late 90s his preteen obsession was Star Wars, and he had an uncle who was really pushy about how he should’ve been reading Harry Potter instead, and pretty much turned him off from ever even trying the series. That is, until I came along. And wore him down over a period of several years…

Anyway, Vivian isn’t really much of a novel-reader, but he did agree to sit down and watch the movies with me, one at a time, which we’ve been doing over the past few months. And while he thought the first few were kinda boring, by the time of Order of the Phoenix he was hooked, so… success! It’s good to have him finally have some familiarity with the storyline that consumed a lot of my mid-to-late primary school nights when I was supposed to be sleeping 😉

My own opinion is that the movies are not nearly as satisfying to me as the books. I still remember when the first movie came out, and my auntie took my sister and I with our cousins to the cinema to see it, and I was just so disappointed with all the changes they made from the book (the two missing challenges from the movie’s climax, the lack of Peeves…) – and this, even though that movie is actually pretty close to the book!

This was basically how I felt after every time I saw one of the movies, at least until Deathly Hallows 1 & 2: it might’ve been OK, but they changed too much (for the worse) from the books. My feelings improved a lot when I rewatched them all as an adult. I think it really helps if you haven’t just read the book each film is based on when you go in to watch it. I still think a couple of the middle movies are a bit mediocre, but a 75% hit rate isn’t too bad 🙂

Anyway, as I have been making some quick notes after each movie night, I thought I’d write them all up here into proper “quick reviews” in a blog post. They’re more the type of review for people who’ve already read the book and seen the movie to see what my opinion is on the adaption, rather than for a total newbie to the Harry Potter franchise to see if these movies are worth watching. If you are a total newbie, well… I would just say the books are better, but the movies are fine. Now beware, there are spoilers below!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

A pretty faithful adaption of the book (despite no Peeves – apparently they did cast Rik Mayall as him, and there are deleted scenes!), and I find it really enjoyable on rewatches. I do like the original actor’s portrayal of Dum­ble­dore, who I think captures his eccentricity really well.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Also a pretty faithful adaption, even though the first time I watched it I was sad about all the funny stuff that didn’t make it into the movie (like all the Valentine’s Day shenanigans). I also kind of wished the Death­day commemoration had made it in, because I thought it gave good insight into Nearly Headless Nick and the ghosts in general, although in retrospect I can see why that got cut. Still, overall, a great movie that told its story well.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I feel like this is the movie that tried the hardest to be “artsy”, with a lot of lingering shots of landscapes or zoomed-out views of buildings, etc., which is OK, but for me it took me out of the movie. I’d just find myself thinking, “OK, and now here is where the director took some time out to just go be artsy.” I also really didn’t like the Jamaican talking head on the Knight Bus – I guess it was there as comic relief or something but why?? The movie had barely just started, we didn’t need comic relief, and it was so utterly jarring from everything else. Also, whoever made the DVD decided this stupid talking head needed pride of place on the menu, so I have bad memories of that too, haha.

Other than that, though, this isn’t a bad movie. A lot of other Harry Potter fans complain that they didn’t fully explain the Marauders, but on my most recent watch I did think they’d at least explained enough that you could follow the plot. Ron’s character got pretty hard done by at times. (That’s not unique to this movie by any means, of course.) But overall, it was full of cool Hogwarts-y shenanigans, and the last movie until Deathly Hallows (which got split into two parts) where it didn’t feel like the plot was fundamentally compromised by the short runtime.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Even on rewatches I thought this was a disappointing movie; probably my second-least favourite in the series (behind HBP). They had to cut out soooooo much to try to keep the movie to a sane length, including: the entire Quidditch World Cup, a ton of stuff about the Crouch family that explained what was going on way better, Hermione’s whole SPEW subplot (important both to highlight the oppression of non-human magical creatures in this universe, and also Hermione’s stubbornness and prickliness), all the house elves in their entirety… and I mean, individual ones out of that you could point to and be like, “Well look, a movie can’t just include every subplot” but really this movie cut out every single thing that wasn’t like: Tri­wi­z­ard Tournament starts, trial #1, Yule Ball, trial #2, trial #3, the end. And especially with the trials, so many of those scenes were so long and boring. Like Harry flying around the whole entire school for what felt like ten minutes when all he needed was to grab one dragon egg. It’s like yes yes, very nice SFX, can we please get on with the story now?

I do think there are some great parts of the movie. I liked the pre-Yule Ball shenanigans, like where they have to learn dancing with Professor Mc­Gon­a­gall, or where the boys are talking about who they’re going to take as their dates and Snape slaps them over the back of the head because they’re meant to be studying. The actual final part of the movie, once they’re teleported to the graveyard, is excellent too.

But those are counterbalanced by some very dubious decisions, too. Like, why are all the Durm­strang students boys, and all the Beaux­ba­tons students girls? Why are the Beaux­ba­tons students sexualised so heavily when they’re teenagers in school uniform? Plus what I mentioned about dragging out boring action scenes for ten million years while skipping story. Just, eh.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The first time I saw this movie I just thought it was rushed, like each and every single scene had to have a massive, plot-upending development in it because the book it’s based on is so long that if the movie didn’t unfold at that pace, it’d never end. Aside from that rushedness, though, the movie is fine. Imelda Staunton is fantastic as Umbridge, the plotline about the Ministry’s increasingly heavy-handed oppresson as they deny that anything is amiss is done great, and there’s some interesting visual effects with the “proclamation” posters to show time passing… for the most part it’s a pretty well-made and enjoyable film.

There is a big, climactic battle at the end of the movie (setting the tone for most of this back half of the series). While I think Vivian had been softening towards the series for some time, this was the scene that made him realise he’d passed a turning point: now this series was something he was enjoying rather than something he was enduring for my sake. But for me, I thought it was yet another boring generic action scene the likes of which you’ve seen in a thousand science-fantasy movies before. The fact that they had wands and spellcasting acting more like laser guns (with characters not even uttering spells!) annoyed me (and this is something they kept up for the whole rest of the movie series, too). They dropped most of the weird stuff from the Department of Mysteries. I thought Sirius’ death was handled way better in the book. Just stuff like that. But this is clearly still the best “middle” movie (by which I mean it’s better than GOF and HBP).

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Honestly I thought this movie was a pretty bad adaption, making it my least-favourite in the series. It adds loads of random extraneous shit while also not finding the time for critically important plot points that are necessary to know in advance of Deathly Hallows. The titular “half-blood prince” is a mystery they ponder for approximately half a second before forgetting all about it, making Snape’s reveal at the end of the movie almost ludicrous – no one’s cared about the “half-blood prince” for like an hour and a half, dude! He also doesn’t explain how or why he came up with that name, just says it’s him and scampers off, which feels hollow. The book has so much more Snape backstory than this.

The most important thing that this instalment does in the book series is introduce the Horcruxes, and give more insight into Voldemort’s personal history and character to set us up for a final instalment spent seeking out these pieces of his soul. The movie does only the bare minimum of this, and spends waaaay more time on annoying love triangle bullshit. Plus there’s that whole 20-minute insertion where Bellatrix attacks the Burrow and burns it down, even though nothing like this happened in the book at all, and in the very next movie the Burrow is back and unscathed and exactly how it was and nobody ever mentions it burning to the ground six months prior, because this did not actually happen. Just so annoying!

The plotline about Malfoy and the dramatic conclusion to the movie are pretty entertaining, though. So at least it has that.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

With some breathing room now that the book’s been split across two movies, this movie is actually really slow. One of the worst things about Deathly Hallows is the sheer number of chapters that amount to, “and then they camped in the woods some more,” and this movie has that in spades.

There are still good things about it! They do a great job painting the evilness and cruelty of the new, Death Eater-run regime (even if it seems a bit unbelievable that all these major institutional changes have happened in the couple of months or whatever since the end of the last movie). There are some really impactful scenes, like the death of Hedwig (one thing that imo they did better than the book), the horror one in Godric’s Hollow, the Malfoy Manor section, and the death of Dobby (RIP).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

This is a lot more action-packed than the first movie, and in fact, I think some of the action scenes drag a bit, but overall I thought it was a huge improvement on part 1. The bulk of it takes place during the Battle of Hog­warts (after the first 20% or so which covers the break-in to Grin­gotts), and it was definitely more enjoyable to be back with a range of familiar characters, in that beloved Hog­warts setting. There were certainly parts of the battle that I didn’t love… the whole spells-as-gunshots thing continued to annoy, and there were some “character moments” that I thought were more to make audiences laugh than actually be consistent with the characters or make logical sense, but whatever. Overall the movie was fine. And Vivian, in fact, loved this movie. By the end he was just going, “Wow… wow… Why didn’t I give this a chance until now? Why didn’t you tell me earlier that this series actually got good??” (I did, but, you know.)

So, there you have it. I don’t think we’re going to continue on with the Fantastic Beasts series, because a) we already did watch the first movie years ago and neither of us liked it, and b) nothing I have read about the second movie makes me think it’s any better than the first. A large part of me feels like every single Harry Potter thing released post-Deathly Hallows has just been a cash-grab (whether knowingly or not) and not matched the quality of the original books at all. Plus, you know, J.K. seems to have gone off the deep end. Still, the original series is a pretty intricately-weaved tale and will always be a deeply nostalgic thing for me. And compared to some other popular book series that got movie adaptions, Harry Potter was pretty fortunate…