Getting ready for the last Harry Potter movie, Jenny and I re-watched the first five. If we’d had a few more days, we probably would have gotten all caught up, but this was a nice review. A few thoughts about them, in no particular order:
- 1 and 2 aren’t as bad as I remembered them being. But when you see the next one, you realize how good they could have been. 3 (Prisoner of Azkaban) is still my favorite. It has the most verve. But the David Yeates movies have all been great, IMO. 5 (Order of the Phoenix) is excellent. It builds the best balance between the chaotic awesomeness of 3 and the steady character development of 4. Plus, the ministry of magic scenes toward the end of the film are awesome.
- I noticed a lot of small details this time around that I hadn’t remembered: the barkeep at Diagon Alley makes a bottle disappear while he’s cleaning, the girls of Beaux Batons do the macarena while they wait for the end of the Tri-Wizard tournament, the typography on the Ministry of Magic Educational degrees kicks ass.
- I reflected a lot on how poorly designed quidditch is, as a game. I can’t find the particular comment right now, but I know that I read someone who thought this was just a design flaw aimed at helping Harry look awesome. Soren Johnson makes the apt point, too, that the game doesn’t end until the snitch is caught, meaning that the Seeker on a team losing by more than 150 points guarantees a loss for her team if she does her job.
- Watching the movies again made me realize how many small things they left out that they needn’t have. The biggest detail stuck in my craw is the bit about the names Moony, Prongs, Padfoot, and Wormtail. A single line or two would have been enough to explain that these people are Lupin, Harry’s dad, Sirius, and Pettigrew. This would also have helped explain Harry’s hart-shaped patronus. But no, they left that out.
- Having read the whole series now, Jenny and I spent a lot of the last week going “He dies, right? Yep. She survives.” I was reminded of the audio commentary on This Is Spinal Tap, in which the tap members (in character) discuss filming the movie. They keep mentioning that nearly every minor player in the film has since died.
- Watching Prisoner of Azkaban was kinda strange, as we visited Alcatraz when we were in San Francisco, and among the names scrawled on the chapel wall (in red-dripping letters) is Pettigrew. Coincidence? I think so. But it seems clear that Azkaban is modeled on Alcatraz. They’re both maximum security prisons, supposedly unbreak-out-able, they’re both islands, and both saw their only breakouts happen via animaguses. (It’s a well-known fact that Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers spent their time not building a lifeboat out of raincoats, but learning to turn into pigeons.)
- I spent much of these viewings enjoying David Bradley as the squib (non-magical child of wizard parents), Argus Filch. If nothing else, his inspired choice to run with an hilarious knees-up gait steals every scene in which it appears. Eternally loyal to Hogwarts itself, he serves masters good and bad (but despite his delight in Umbridge’s tyrannical ways, does not join Lord Voldemort’s forces) with equal vigor. Order of the Phoenix had the particularly amusing imagery of him taking down all the paintings in the stairwell and hanging hundreds of educational decrees from ever-taller ladders. Then, at the end of the movie, we see him exhaustedly hanging all the paintings back up.
- Rowling never really explains why the wizarding world does not have any modern technology. They still use quill pens and torches/ lamps to light things. Two possibilities: 1) wizards, having magic, would never have bothered to learn how electricity works, or the prohibitive cost of building high-tech infrastructure would not be worth it. That said, muggle-born wizards would have a distinct advantage from the information side of things if they were to build a secret wizard internet, since computers would be very confusing for most magical folk. 2) Perhaps, as in Dan Butcher’s Dresden books, magical power interferes with technology, and thus is unreliable in magic society. Rowling never suggests this, and Harry’s life in Muggle world implies it is not so, but there it could be.
Favorite moments from each of the first five movies (leaving 6 and 7.1 out since I haven’t re-watched them lately):
- Hagrid’s visit to the Dursleys on Harry’s birthday. The scene in the remote, wave-swept cabin has the most flair of the early sequences, and Hagrid is hilarious.
- Gilderoy Lockheart’s scenes, scenery chewing and fantastic.
- The whole movie, but if I had to pick one scene, the Knight Bus. The rastafarian shrunken head owns the movie.
- The underwater sequence, particularly Harry’s encounter with the mer-people and the shark-headed Krum.
- The fight in the room with the prophecies.
We’re seeing the last segment today, so you’ll see a review next week some time, I’m sure.