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updated: 7/8/2011 7:58 AM

How the Potter movies cast a decade-long spell

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  • Over the past decade, fans have watched Harry Potter -- and star Daniel Radcliffe -- grow from a boy to a young man.

      Over the past decade, fans have watched Harry Potter -- and star Daniel Radcliffe -- grow from a boy to a young man.

  • Over the past decade, fans have watched Harry Potter -- and star Daniel Radcliffe -- grow from a boy to a young man.

      Over the past decade, fans have watched Harry Potter -- and star Daniel Radcliffe -- grow from a boy to a young man.

  • Keeping the cast together has been key to the success of the Harry Potter films. That's especially true in the case of the three young stars playing Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint).

      Keeping the cast together has been key to the success of the Harry Potter films. That's especially true in the case of the three young stars playing Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint).

  • Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, left) must confront Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

      Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, left) must confront Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

  • Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) finally faces his destiny in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

      Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) finally faces his destiny in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

  • A boy no more, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) faces Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

      A boy no more, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) faces Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

  • Video: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2"

 
 

The best of the seven "Harry Potter" movies thus far remains No. 3, "The Prisoner of Azkaban," ironically, one in which the nasty Lord Voldemort barely gets a mention.

So, can the eighth movie in the series match or eclipse the quality, imagination and power of Alfonso Cuaron's "Azkaban"?

We will all know when "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" opens July 15.

Meanwhile, legions of Potterites will be waiting with their breath bated to see how director David Yates stages the wizard's cinematic swan song and the highly anticipated battle for Hogwarts.

The British-born Yates has directed four of the eight "Potter" films, more than his three peers. His contributions include last year's drawn-out "Deathly Hallows Part 1," the most disappointing film in the series.

It wasn't his fault.

Although "Part 1" pushed the emerging sex envelope by having Ron suffer a hallucinatory, erotic, jealous fit, it simply set the stage for "Part 2."

That's 146 minutes of stage-setting. I contend that J.K. Rowling's seventh and final book "The Deathly Hallows" could have been condensed into a single, kick-Voldemort's-butt film.

Despite "Part 1" being the weakest link in the Potter cinematic chain, the film series has maintained a remarkable level of consistent quality.

To put it another way: There's never been a bad Harry Potter movie.

Think about it. Seven movies so far from four directors and not a single rotten apple.

The "Star Trek" movies can't say that. ("The Final Frontier" should have been that: final.)

The James Bond movies can't say that. ("Moonraker" should be given the moon.)

The Rocky movies, Pink Panther comedies, Friday the 13th films and most other major movie series have at least one embarrassing entry.

The trouble with Harry? None.

Why has the movies' appeal lasted so long?

Here are five reasons.

1. Love has kept them together. If not love, then money. Whatever. The Potter family has stayed together without any cast members suffering a Charlie Sheen meltdown or using Potter as a springboard for something perceived to be better or bigger.

Actors' loyalty to this project has been impressive. Not a single cast member has been replaced in 10 years, except, of course, for the late Richard Harris, who played Hogwarts' beloved Professor Dumbledore until his death in 2002.

Respected actor Michael Gambon took over the role, but it now lacks the serene gentleness and wisdom of the ages that Harris brought to it.

2. Chris Columbus bailed at just the right time.Columbus directed the first two Potters with the same kidlike sense of amazement he brought to his films "Home Alone," "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Mrs. Doubtfire." (He also wrote "Gremlins" and "The Goonies.")

Had he continued, the franchise would have never evolved into the darker, scarier and more psychologically complex areas demanded by Rowling's stories.

3. Consistent production quality. No matter who sat in the director's chair, the Potter films have always been a guaranteed source of excellent special effects, top-shelf cast members, tight dialogue and other high production values.

A chunk of credit should go to screenwriter Steve Kloves, whose ability to distill and translate the essence of a Rowling novel into a smart, tight screenplay has been the cornerstone of the series' quality. Kloves wrote all but one Harry screenplay, "Order of the Phoenix," written by Michael Goldenberg.

4. Constant stream of new characters joining the originals. Just as in the books, new characters come into the storyline as original ones come and go as needed, keeping the series fresh and new.

5. John Williams' theme spins magic. The 2001 original Potter, "The Sorcerer's Stone," began with 13 musical notes that instantly captured the mystery, magic and amazement of Harry Potter's world.

Williams only scored three Potter movies in full. But his theme has been the unifying element that stitches all the episodes together.

Noted composer Alexandre Desplat has the honor of supplying the music for the final Potter adventure.

I predict the most memorable part of the music will still be those 13 magical notes.

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