Samuel Brace revisits the Harry Potter movie series…
I’ve never been a fan of the Harry Potter series. I watched the films growing up, like most people — especially those of my age — and they kind of just did nothing for me. I watched them but I didn’t really WATCH them. They were playing before my eyes but for whatever reason, it wasn’t hitting home or resonating in any real way. I went through life assuming I didn’t really care for them. They were just something that people really liked that didn’t work for me. I was wrong about that. Or perhaps wrong isn’t the right way to describe it. Rather, I’ve changed since first consuming these films, with my opinion changing too.
With Harry Potter and its ever-widening universe being back in the news recently with new prequel movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I somehow found myself interested in a franchise that I had never been before. People love this stuff. They adore it. I didn’t really know why. So I wanted to find out. I wanted to give it another go. But who has time for such endeavours? There is so much to watch, read and do in 2016. Who can carve out the time to binge such a mammoth set of films? Well with a bit of luck (or bad luck depending on which way you look at it), I came down with a nasty virus, a virus that seemed to be gripping half the city, a virus that rendered me helpless and pretty damn miserable. I was provided an opportunity. Suddenly I had the time and I had the desire.
So it began. I started viewing the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and was instantly aghast. “This is great” I thought to myself. And then an hour later, “Why didn’t I realise this before?” Having been so many years since viewing these movies, especially the first, it was all but foreign to me, a virtual new experience. I remembered next to nothing, and it was wonderful. The adventure, fun and macabre setting, propelled me through back to back viewings of the first two movies, and was the perfect antidote to my biological woes. Film one’s aesthetic instantly jumping out as its best quality, it became apparent this wasn’t just a fun kid’s movie, but just an excellent film period.
The first two in the franchise, quite obviously to me, are the best of the six I’ve re-watched so far, the third being a disappointing nadir but quickly forgotten by the subsequent three. Never reaching the heights of the series debut or the wonderfully glum Chamber of Secrets, what I have watched so far has none the less gripped me, confounding my previous stance. Whatever was obfuscating my enjoyment of these movies, fading away into the dark and creaky corridors of Hogwarts. The only misgiving I really have, apart from the bizarrely structured and annoyingly disparate Prisoner of Azkaban, is the aging of the characters. I find myself melancholic over the aging of our heroes. The joy at seeing these frightened but brave children battling against preposterous odds was a pleasure and the community presented during the early years at Hogwarts provided a nostalgic resonance I couldn’t help but be affected by. This sadly and slowly started to fade the further the series progressed. The more the films abandoned those dark dungeons and corridors of the school, venturing beyond to the open world, the more the aesthetic suffered.
But these are small grievances for an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable experience. Yes, the visuals changed but the story itself broadens and entices further as the series’ villain revealed himself as a more physical and present threat. I remembered Voldemort as he is most famously presented, but I didn’t remember the slow reveal to his final form — this was handled incredibly well and teased in all the right ways. By the time he arrived fully in the series most gothic of scenes during The Goblet of Fire, I was more than ready for what was to come. Events began to take up a more emotional tone, growing up along with the characters. It hit all the right spots as I coughed and spluttered under my duvet, wondering if midnight was too late to start the next instalment. It wasn’t.
In fantasy, lore and an evident history are crucial. All the great sagas have them. Harry Potter is no different and this is something I didn’t know. The world building and smaller details simply did not land before. Perhaps I was too young. Perhaps I wasn’t really paying attention. But I am paying attention now, and as I sit here looking forward to watching the seventh and penultimate film, I am incredibly happy with the decision made to begin this most random of binges. I never foresaw seeing Fantastic Beasts as an alluring prospect. That has changed as well.
These aren’t all time great movies but they are something quite special, and an appreciated antidote to the dominate franchise of today — the comic book movie. I hope things don’t dive of a cliff with the two films I have yet to watch. My memories of the ending are perhaps more clear but still nebulous enough to warrant my uncertainty. Whatever happens as my binge concludes, this has been an incredibly fun and worthwhile venture — The Philosopher’s Stone standing out above all others as a truly memorable film and moment in modern pop culture history. I am involved in this now. It sounds strange to say as I type this but it’s true, and I am pretty happy about it. Harry Potter is better than I thought it was. Considerably so. 2016 continues to surprise. Whatever next.