Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Overall Thoughts on the Harry Potter Books and Movies

Note – There are spoilers for various events across the series in this post, so if you have not read all the books, or at least seen all of the movies, then you may want to skip this.

I just re-read and re-watched all of the Harry Potter books and movies, then wrote posts on each.  You can find info about this and links to all related posts here. 

When I started this I was wondering if I would be able to do all seven in eight days.  I managed to read a book, watch a movie, write a review, and post a review for four straight days at the start, but then I had to slow down.  I read the fifth book over three days, the sixth over two, and the seventh over two.  I also took a day off between books 5 and 6 and books 6 and 7.  In the end, it took me two weeks to re-read the seven books, re-watch the eight movies, and then write and post the seven reviews.  As the books got longer and longer, so did my reviews.  My thanks to those people who took the time to read them.  While doing all of this I noted some things that I felt didn’t fit into any one review, but were more for the series as a whole.  Here are those observations.

Here are my rankings of the books (published order in parentheses):

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (7th)
  2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4th)
  3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (6th)
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1st)
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2nd)
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (5th)
  7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3rd)
Here are my rankings of the movies (released order in parentheses):

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (8th)
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3rd)
  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (5th)
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1st)
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2nd)
  6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4th)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (7th)
  8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (6th)
Notice that some of my lowest rated books became the highest rated movies.  In fact, starting with the third book (Prisoner of Azkaban) and continuing into the seventh movie I had an alternating pattern of “book not so good, movie pretty good; book pretty good, movie not so good”.

I found that reading the books right before watching the movies made all of the films a little better overall, and definitely made them more understandable.  As SJHoneywell noted in his comments for The Half-Blood Prince, the filmmakers sometimes assumed that people were more familiar with the books than they actually were.  There were a number of things in most movies that I would not have picked up on had I not read the books.

The consistency of the casting across the movies was terrific, even in small roles. 

The following actors/actresses appeared in all eight films:  Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Josh Herdman (Gregory Goyle), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), and Geraldine Somerville (Harry’s mother Lily Potter). 

Special Mention #1 – Warwick Davis appeared in all eight films, but as different characters.  He appeared as Professor Filius Flitwick in movies 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8.  He was credited as “wizard” in the fourth movie, but his appearance, though different from Flitwick’s in the earlier movies, was kept and he was credited as Flitwick again going forward.  He also played a goblin bank teller in the first movie and voiced the goblin named Griphook in the first movie.  In the seventh movie he actually played Griphook.  In the eighth movie he played both Griphook and Flitwick.

Special Mention #2 – the character of Albus Dumbledore appeared in all eight movies.  He was played in the first two by Richard Harris, but Harris passed away and the part was played by Michael Gambon in the other six movies.

The following actors/actresses appeared in seven of the eight movies, missing only the Deathly Hallows Part 1 movie:  Dame Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva MacGonagall), David Bradley (Hogwart’s caretaker Argus Filch), and Alfie Enoch (Gryffindor student Dean Thomas).

In addition, Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley) appeared in all of the movies except The Goblet of Fire, Mark Williams (Mr. Weasley) appeared in all of the movies except The Sorcerer's Stone, and Adrian Rawlins (Harry’s father James Potter) appeared in all of the movies except The Half-Blood Prince.

Who wasn’t in Harry Potter - With these movies becoming such a cultural icon for the U.K. the filmmakers usually had no trouble attracting big name older stars to appear in a movie.  Off the top of my head the only actors/actresses who were already big names when the films started that never ended up in a movie are Ian McKellan (turned down Dumbledore because he had already played Gandalf), Hugh Grant (scheduled to play Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets, but had to withdraw), Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Firth, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Kate Winslet (whose agent refused the role of The Grey Lady in the final film without ever even notifying her).

Some thoughts on the overall story:

  1. Rowling is not a cat lover – Filch’s cat spies on the students and reports back to him; Slytherins tend to own cats, especially Pansy Parkinson; Hermione suffers a terrible fate when she accidentally transforms into a human cat in Chamber of Secrets; the evil Dolores Umbridge has “horrible kitten plates” in her office and her patronus is a cat; even Hermione’s cat Crookshanks spends most of Prisoner of Azkaban trying to kill Ron’s beloved rat Scabbers.  Yes, MacGonagall transforms into a cat in the first book, but it is barely mentioned after that.
  2. Snape being ambiguous was a great lesson for kids – While many of Rowling’s characters were cartoonish, especially in the earlier books (i.e. Harry’s adoptive family), Snape was not black and white evil.  Even though he disliked Harry and treated him poorly, he was trusted by Dumbledore and protected Harry on multiple occasions.  We finally find out that he was on the right side all along and that he was doing it because of his love for Harry’s mother.
  3. The stories evolved – The overall story, mythos, and tone took a huge leap forward with the fourth book The Goblet of Fire.  This was a great move by Rowling and shifted the books into ones more for adults than for children.
  4. Rowling kept upping the ante – The danger of Voldemort and his followers was illustrated by the increasing importance of the deaths that occurred.  In the fourth book Hogwart’s student Cedric Diggory was killed by Voldemort follower Peter Pettigrew (and not Voldemort himself as later books and movies kept saying.)  This showed that there were real stakes for not stopping Voldemort.  In the fifth book Rowling killed off Sirius Black, who she expected would be sorely missed by her fans, but that turned out to not be the case.  He was seen as evil for most of book 3, only appeared briefly in book 4, and then was kind of surly and maybe not always thinking of Harry’s best interests in book 5 when he died.  After this, Rowling really decided to kill off a big character and got rid of Dumbledore.  This death really did make people sit up and take notice.  How can you get bigger than that?  Well, she sort of kills Harry in the seventh book.  To go along with it she kills off a ton of other good characters.
  5. Harry’s “death” makes no sense – I’ve read the final book twice and I’ve seen the movie twice, and Harry’s “sort of” death still doesn’t make much sense.  It’s one of the few times where Rowling didn’t come up with at least a passable explanation for having her cake and eating it too.  She wanted to have the stakes be the very highest by Harry sacrificing himself so that others could stop Voldemort, but at the same time she wanted to keep the character alive.  Having Voldemort sort of kill Harry just comes off as weak.
  6. I wished for a different death – Also speaking of death, before books 5 and 6 Rowling announced that major characters were going to die in them.  I can’t remember for which one, but I was kind of hoping it would be Hagrid.  Now don’t get me wrong; I liked the Hagrid character a lot.  The problem was that he belonged more in the earlier books where the running joke of him liking dangerous creatures was funny.  As the stories got more serious, this repeated joke just didn’t fit anymore and I was only hoping for his character to be the one who dies because I was tired of the same storyline appearing in every book for Hagrid.  As it turns out, Rowling mostly dropped that joke for the last couple of books.
  7. Speaking of running jokes – The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor being new every year became a running gag not unlike Spinal Tap drummers or Murphy Brown’s secretaries.  Something bad seemed to happen to all of them (Quirrel was possessed by Voldemort and died, Lockhart had his memory wiped and ended up in an insane asylum, Lupin was found out to be a werewolf, Moody was kept prisoner for a year while someone else impersonated him, Umbridge was evil and got carried off by angry centaurs, and Snape had to kill Dumbledore and appear to be a traitor).  In book 6 we find out the reason for this – Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort) applied for the position, but was turned down by Dumbledore.  He cursed the position and ever since no DADA professor has lasted more than one year.
  8. Fat people are stupid and ugly people are evil – Rowling moderated this in later books, but in the early ones, if you were fat that meant you were stupid (i.e. Harry’s adoptive family) and if you were ugly that meant you were evil (i.e. the Slytherins.)  Of course, this is an old cliché from the earliest days of visual entertainment, so having it in books aimed at younger readers is not surprising.
[January 11th update – I meant to include the following:] 

What the 19 years later epilogue tells us:  We learn that Harry and Ginny have three children: second year James Sirius, first year Albus Severus, and a nine year old daughter Lily Luna.  (James’ and Lily’s middle names are not mentioned in the book, but are given in the movie credits.)  Ron and Hermione have a first year daughter Rose and a younger son Hugo.  Draco Malfoy is married and has a first year son Scorpius.  His wife’s name is not mentioned in the book, but is given as Astoria Malfoy in the movie credits, so he did not marry Pansy Parkinson.  He and Harry acknowledge each other, but still appear to be estranged.  The son of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks (Teddy) is now out of school and apparently dating the daughter of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour.  Her name is Victoire and she still goes to Hogwarts.  Neville Longbottom is the Professor of Herbology at Hogwarts.  Hagrid is still at Hogwarts.  Percy Weasley is there at the train, so perhaps he has a child going to Hogwarts, too.  (I’m assuming Victoire, mentioned as a cousin to Ron’s and Ginny’s kids, is Bill’s child and not Percy’s because her name is French for “victory” and Bill and Fleur would be more likely to have a child born within a year or so of Voldemort’s defeat.)

Thoughts on the 19 years later epilogue:  It was a nice touch to have Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione now as parents seeing their own children off on the Hogwarts Express.  We learned Neville’s occupation, but not Harry’s, Ron’s, Hermione’s, or Ginny’s, other than none are teaching at Hogwarts.  We can probably figure after all that Harry accomplished he was able to become an Auror like he wanted.  Apparently his wife Ginny didn’t get a say in naming any of the kids since they are all named after Harry’s parents and heroes.  Maybe Ginny would have wanted to honor her dead brother Fred by naming one of her sons after him.  If I was Harry’s son Albus, I’d be worried about getting put into Slytherin House, too.  “Albus Severus Potter” = “A.S.P.” = “asp”.  The symbol for Slytherin is a snake.

[End January 11th update]

Thoughts on the Blu-ray set of all eight movies:  I didn’t own any of the movies on Blu-ray, so this was a good deal for me.  It contains eight disks, one for each movie.  While this is fine for the earlier movies, whose disks contained a ton of extras, when it comes to movies 6, 7, and 8 it means you miss some extras.  By the time these last movies came out the studios were shifting extras to a second disk so they had an excuse to charge people more for the same movie.  When you start to play the eighth movie one of the pre-menu ads announces “You just bought the 8 disk Harry Potter set we rushed to market when there’s going to be a MUCH better set coming some time in 2012.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Suckers!”  Okay, so maybe I paraphrased some of that, but that’s pretty much how it came across when I saw that ad right after buying the set.  I’ve looked online and there’s nothing really definitive on even what is coming, let alone if it will be in 2012.  It might be delayed to a later year.  If you don’t feel like waiting for it, or if fancy special editions are not that important to you, then I have included a link for the 8 movie Blu-ray set below.

On the aging of the kids:  I mentioned in my post on The Sorcerer’s Stone that the kids all looked so young in that movie.  Here are a couple of pictures showing the changes that 10 years or so can make:

First, Emma Watson (Hermione Granger):

And here is the male version of it with Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom):

You can find a lot more then and now pictures here and here.

I also realized I have a bunch of Harry Potter related joke pictures on my computer, so I am going to put them in a separate humor post following this one.

As promised, here are the links for all eight movies in one set.  I also found and included a set of all seven books in paperback.  The books are not available for the Kindle.

           DVD                      Blu-ray                    Paperback


  1. Fantastic post, very insightful! I was surprised to see Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows 1 so low on your favorite movies list, but hey, it's your opinion. From my point of view DH1 was stronger then HP 1 or 2 movies!

  2. @Aziza - the reason to make a list is to give people a common point from which to disagree. I knew when I did it that I would probably get some agreement and some disagreement, and I was curious to see what it would be.

    Deathly Hallows 1 was so low primarily because I don't think it should exist as a separate movie and that much of the middle of it dragged and would have been cut for a single movie. I still like it well enough to recommend it, though.

    Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire were toss ups for me. I could have listed them the other way around.

  3. To all - I just edited this post to include my thoughts on the 19 years later epilog. I had intended this to be part of the post and I forgot. I'm not sure how the feeds work, but I am assuming that changes to a post do not generate a new feed, and therefore some people who might be interested in this would not know about it. That is why I am writing a new comment - to communicate this update. (If I am wrong, and any change to a post generates a new feed, my apologies for the multiple feeds you get when I sometimes tweak a word or punctuation in something I already posted.)