Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Power Rankings: Harry Potter

It has been almost a month since the final Harry Potter film was released. The chaos and pandemonium are starting to settle as the "Decade of Potter" has come to an end, and I thought it was time for some perspective. I have viewed all eight of the Harry Potter (properly pronounced "Pah-uh" according to every cast member) films in the last year for the first time. Having never read the books, I can provide an unbiased opinion on the quality of the films alone without comparing them, unfairly as always, to the source material.

8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The first thing you need to know about this list is that I didn't not like any of the eight Harry Potter films. They are all incredible. However, if I were to pick a least favorite, this would have to be it. That doesn't mean this third installment in the series didn't have some things going for it. It was the only Potter flick directed by Alfonso Cuaron, which brought a darker, edgier feel to Hogwarts. It also brought about the first appearance of Gary Oldman as the title character (not Harry Potter, the other one). What made this one a little lower than the others has to do more with circumstance than anything else. First, Azkaban brought us a new Dumbledore in Michael Gambon after the passing of the great Richard Harris. Although Gambon filled the shoes admirably, it was hard to fully appreciate his performance with Harris's brilliant interpretation of the Hogwarts headmaster still fresh in the mind. Another drawback to Azkaban was the age of the three main characters. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were starting to grow up, the film felt a little darker, but it also felt like they were acting more like children than the rest of the film deserved. It was a transition film in many ways.

7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Just like Prisoner of Azkaban, this was a transition film as it started to set up all the madness that would come in the final three parts. In Order of the Phoenix, we see Helena Bonham Carter and Imelda Staunton join the Harry Potter ranks for the first time on the evil side, as well as the unforgettable Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) on the good side. All three characters end up playing major roles in the finale of the saga. In this plot, Staunton's Delores Umbridge tries to take over Hogwarts while not teaching the children what they need. This brings about secret training sessions with Harry as the guest teacher. The training sessions are a lot of fun as you see Harry start to show some confidence in his superior skills as a wizard. However, like I said, the primary purpose of this film is to set the stage for the final three. This leaves us with a solid story, but not quite as exciting as the others higher on the list.

6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
One thing I love about Harry Potter is how every film is connected. They aren't completely disconnected stories that just happen to involve the same characters like many other franchises. In Harry Potter, each film builds on the last almost as if it is one story just split into 8 parts. However, out of all the Harry Potter installments, Goblet of Fire is the one that stands the best on its own. If someone were to pick a Potter film to watch with no background to the plot line (other than the first one), this would be the film. It's primary story line has the least to do with the films that came before, however it has a LOT to do with the films that come after. In this story, we see Harry competing in what can best be described as a wizard decathlon with the champion gaining the Goblet of Fire. One of his competitors is fellow student Cedric Diggory, played by a young, not so blood thirsty (or pale), Robert Pattinson. The competition brings a lot of fun throughout the movie, but some other important events happen as well. It is the first time Harry and his friends start to notice the opposite sex. The kids are starting to grow up. The most important event of Goblet of Fire is the arriving of Lord Voldemort, played to perfection by the great Ralph Fiennes. For a film that focuses so much on a game, it turns out containing one of the main turning points of the whole series.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
The numbers don't really mean much from here on out. The first three films were a definite 8, 7, and 6. The last five films on the list might as well be 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, and 1E. They are that close in quality. However, they are ranked the way they are for a reason. At number five, we have the penultimate installment to the series. As Voldemort's army starts to attack, the Harry Triumvirate go into hiding and regroup. Out of all the Harry Potter installments, this is the first that is allowed to breathe. For the first time in the series, we get extended periods of time where the characters sit and talk. This was obviously a result of splitting the last book into two movies which really benefited both installments. Although this also is a transition film, setting up the grand finale, this film is so great because of these rare moments of stillness that occur throughout the movie. It allows for characterization of the Big Three, and also gives a chance for Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson to show how talented they have become. Also, I love a good cliffhanger that perfectly sets up a dramatic conclusion.

4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
In the second installment of the franchise, we see some of the first developments of the primary conflict of the series between Harry and Voldemort. We also see Kenneth Branagh make his appearance in the world of Harry Potter as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, a famous hero of the wizard world that turns out to be more phony than not. We also see the emergence of one of my favorite characters, Dobby the House Elf. The first few films, this being one of those, I found so fun and amazing. At the beginning, when the main characters were younger, so much of the story is filled with wonder and magic. They are kid stories with a little edge to them, which appeals to me. They also featured the more laid back Richard Harris as opposed to the serious Michael Gambon in the role of Dumbledore. This was a great example of the early years of Potter as they searched for the Chamber of Secrets.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Who is the Half-Blood Prince? Harry tries to figure this out as he also starts to learn more about Voldemort. What makes this simple plot line stand out among the rest is the development of the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore. Michael Gambon really shines as Dumbledore in this film as he and Harry travel together. Their travels culminate in the outstanding and shocking ending as the characters are forced to pick their sides for the final battle.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
If a franchise is a success, then it is usually pretty hard to get better than the film that started it all. Sorcerer's Stone sets the stage so well for everything else that happens in the series. What can make or break a series like this is how well the first film draws you into the world it creates. That is actually the strength of this film. Being someone who never read a Harry Potter book and knew nothing about the plot other than a few characters names, I never felt confused or out of the loop to what was going on. It sets the magical world in motion with many memorable characters that are with you from start to finish. We get to know and love Richard Harris's Dumbledore, as well as start to crack the wonderful mystery that is Alan Rickman's Severus Snape. It's hard to argue with the beginning, unless . . .

1. Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
. . . you are talking about the end. The only thing that could top such an outstanding start to this landmark series is its unforgettable finish. There were so many unanswered questions going into the final installment that I had serious doubts to how well it would be able to tie up all the loose ends it created in the previous 7 films. Not only did it tie up all these loose ends, but it threw some curveballs and plot twists into the mix that really enhanced the finish instead of draw away from it, which it easily could have done and very often does. Unlike Part 1, this film moves very fast as it races to finish off the remarkable story. Although this film seemed to be the first time the story felt rushed, it did not seem to matter much due to the fact that everything was being thrown into the chaos of the final battle and ending. It fit the tone of the film, and brought about a finale that was pretty much . . . perfect.

1 comment:

  1. Now that I have finally completed watching the movies that I have long put off, here are my official rankings along with my 4 star rating for each film:

    1. Goblet of Fire (***1/2)
    2. Prisoner of Azkaban (***)
    3. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (***)
    4. Half-Blood Prince (***)
    5. Chamber of Secrets (***)
    6. Sorcerer's Stone (**1/2)
    7. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (**1/2)
    8. Order of the Phoenix (**)

    Terry, clearly, we do not really agree on anything as it comes to this series.

    I was slightly underwhelmed by the saga as a whole, but they are rather enjoyable and sometimes intelligent fantasy movies. I wouldn't be opposed to watching them again, especially Goblet of Fire, which is sensational and a clear #1 film in the series for me.