Film Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series, Part I (2001-2005)

Release Date: November 4th, 2001 (Sorcerer’s Stone), November 3rd, 2002 (Chamber of Secrets), May 23rd, 2004 (Prisoner of Azkaban), November 6th, 2005 (Goblet of Fire)
Directed by: Chris Columbus (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets), Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban), Mike Newell (Goblet of Fire)
Written by: Steve Kloves
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: John Williams (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban), Patrick Doyle (Goblet of Fire)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Tom Felton, Harry Melling, David Bradley, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Robert Pattinson, Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant

1492 Pictures, Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes (Sorcerer’s Stone), 161 Minutes (Chamber of Secrets), 142 Minutes (Prisoner of Azkaban), 157 Minutes (Goblet of Fire) 

Review:

It’s the twentieth anniversary of this film franchise, so I figured I should show it the respect it deserves for being the cultural phenomenon that it was.

Full disclosure, I’m not a big fan of this franchise like everyone else seems to be. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what it’s done since the first J.K. Rowling book was published. The fact that it inspired a generation of kids to enthusiastically read is a tremendous feat. Fast-forward just a quarter of a century later and people don’t have the reading comprehension to understand something the size of a tweet but I digress.

My initial issue with this film series is that I thought it was waaay too kiddie. I saw the first one when it came out on DVD and a friend rented it. However, with this film series coming out at the same time as Peter Jackson’s original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it didn’t do this movie any favors, at least with filmgoers who were too old to have grown up with the Harry Potter novels.

Even though I’ve seen all of these movies except for the last one, and I know that they mature in tone, as the children in the story do, I still have a hard time getting through both The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. In fact, I really had to force myself to get through them and stick with this in an effort to review this series, which is probably the last major franchise that I haven’t reviewed yet, other than the Fast & Furious movies.

A lot of people seem to love the hell out of The Prisoner of Azkaban. While the series does shift into darker themes and a more mature story, it still doesn’t quite do it for me. Granted, I loved Gary Oldman in it and it helped move things forward in a more serious way.

For me, it was The Goblet of Fire where the series really started to make me care about it on a deeper level. However, it doesn’t really kick in until the tournament starts and a still very young Harry finds himself in a competition where he could actually die.

The fact that the stakes were very high and his own mortality was on the line lets you know that everything moving forward now was going to be more serious. Where everything before this was mostly full of over-the-top wholesomeness and irritating whimsy, you now knew that these kids were going to be forced to grow up before they should have to.

Additionally, at the end of The Goblet of Fire, Voldemort, in his true form, finally appears. With that, a teen a few years older than Harry and now a friend of his, is killed by the franchise’s big villain. Harry barely escapes with the body of his friend and when he does, the entire school of young wizards are punched in the gut over what just happened and what kind of danger this poses to the world. It’s a terribly sad and gut-wrenching end to this picture.

Sadly, it takes the final act of the fourth film to actually make me want to watch the rest of them. While I love fantasy stories and magic, this just isn’t something that was made for me or my generation. However, I think that they’re all pretty good movies for the audience they were intended for. Had I been born a decade later, it’s possible that Harry Potter could be my favorite franchise like it is for so many people.

I am going into the second half of this film series with a lot of enthusiasm, though. I definitely think it’ll resonate with me more and I like that I don’t remember much about them, as I never saw the conclusion and haven’t seen the other three for probably a decade.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Rating: 6.5/10

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Rating: 6.75/10

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rating: 7.5/10

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Rating: 8.75/10