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Patrick R

Ranking the Harry Potter Series

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I read the first four books as a kid, but haven't returned to them since. I never got into this film series because I thought the ones I saw (1 & 3) were kinda crappy. HOWEVER, I constantly felt culturally out of the loop with this series so I decided to watch the whole film series.


Bad mistake. I think, without the connection to the books, these films are kinda shit. Here's my definitive ranking:


1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (3) <--- Only good one

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (4)

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 1 (7)

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt. 2 (7)

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1)

6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (6)

7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2)

8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (5)


Here's my thoughts on each as I saw them:


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Chris Columbus has basically no imagination to speak of, which actually makes him a perfect choice for the film. With a pre-destined smash, the last thing Warner Brothers needed was for someone with vision and ideas getting in the way of their massive global multimedia enterprise. In that way, Columbus' work here anticipates what blockbuster filmmaking would become in the 21st century: unadventurous, rote, and preoccupied with nostalgia to the point of lethargy. The same way you can feel Marvel movies hold for applause when introducing some key piece of mythology, the setpieces here are dreary because they were iconic before they were even shot.


The downside to Columbus' lack of vision is that he's the director, and even if this film was never going to be anything but a series of foregone conclusions, we still need to watch what the director has directed. Unaccustomed to film-making on this scale, Chris Columbus is over-impressed with his access to so much CGI and one of the reasons it all looks so terrible now is because, again and again, Columbus is completely content to just point the camera at a blank space and hope what fills the screen later is wondrous and impressive. It rarely is.


Which is a problem because the whole first hour and change is mostly just hitting the "MAGIC, LOOK AT HOW MAGICAL THIS MAGICAL WORLD IS, LOOKIT ALL THAT MAGIC" button over and over again. When the film finally settles into it's story things improve a great deal and you remember why these people and this world were appealing to you in the first place. Seemingly one-note characters get more depth and there even moments with some God's honest emotional weight to them (Harry realizing he has presents on Christmas and what he sees in the mirror of eriseD), which is more than you can say about any Marvel movie.


Not sure why Harry Potter had to be super rich on top of being a star athlete and unerringly brave and kind and famous and lucky and beloved by his teachers, but between that, the greedy hook-nosed bankers and the sorting hat stuff there is some uncomfortable notes to the Harry Potter universe that I'm not down with. I would never ever send my hypothetical 11 year old child to a school that put a hat on their head and sorted them based on some half-assed interpretation of their personality. 



Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The primary actors have improved, and there's a little more darkness/weirdness between Dobby the self-harming elf, an endless sea of way-too-fast spiders, and Moaning Myrtle that is appreciated. On the other hand, most of my chief complaints remain, all exacerbated by the nearly three hour(?!?!?) run-time. 15 minutes longer than the first film, with only a fraction of the world-building required, Chamber of Secrets pulls off the not-so-neat trick of simultaneous slavish devotion to every beat of the book while still feeling incredibly arbitrarily plotted.


And calling more attention to the Slytherin backstory just makes the sorted-by-personality housing situation of Hogwarts seem even crazier. "One of our houses is named after a Nazi. We put all the Nazi kids there. It's super evil. That's probably fine."


All about Kenneth Branagh though. His performance is the only thing I've seen of his that implies his ability to play Poirot.



Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban -  

Some apologies are in order. I always dismissed the narrative that this was the good Harry Potter movie, and thought Cuarón's hand was all but undetectable. What I had never done, however, was watch this shortly after watching the first two movies. It's actually a world of difference. It opens exactly like Y Tu Mama Tambien (Harry playing with his wand under the covers wink wink nudge nudge and I can't say how jarring it was to see handheld camerawork in this context) before settling into a sort of Terry Gilliam pastiche.


Unfortunately this aggressive visual wit somewhat dissipates once they arrive at Hogwarts and the story (and massive chunks of exposition) starts proper, but the film still benefits from Cuarón's touch there as well. The CGI benefits significantly from his muted color palate (and willingness to use practical effects and puppets when possible) and, even if all the classroom scenes are pure exposition, his interstitial moments around Hogwarts showing the changing of seasons give a good sense of the passage of time that helps the film breathe a bit.


Of course, it helps that this is the most interesting story of the series (to the best of my memory) and the first one that has a properly exciting climax. And the principle actors have finally come into their own as actors. It's still a kid's movie and broader than any Cuarón film should be (even his previous kid's movie), but this mostly just works on it own merits.



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Well, my love affair with Harry Potter didn't last long. Another overstuffed exposition fest, this one so full of incident they don't actually have time to attend classes. If Hogwarts had an ombudsman they would never ever stop waving red flags.


Newell's direction feels particularly uninspired, even compared to Columbus, and while he commits largely the same sins they feel much more serious the fourth time around. We've spent nearly 8 hours in the wizarding world by the time this film starts, do we really need more moments where Harry Potter goes "Gee whiz, wow, a magical thing is happening"? There's a moment where Harry-fucking-sorcerer-adventurer-Potter walks into a tent that's larger on the inside than the outside and we're given a full 10 seconds to register his awe. YES. MAGIC. UNDERSTOOD.


On the other hand, Pretty In Pink but with wizards is pretty much all I could ask for from a movie like this and even if the prom sequence comes and goes too quickly it is pretty great. And if Brendan Gleason can show up as a wacky side character and deliver some real outstanding work, well, I guess I can cut this some slack. And even if I stopped reading the books once the focus left the actual schooling in favor of Good Vs. Evil wizard wars, Ralph Fiennes' voice and the Voldemort make-up design is so good I'm kind of on board for what comes next, even if I'm positive I won't like it.


Also, Moaning Myrtle takes a good long gawk at Harry Potter's penis and that's why this is PG-13. The MPAA didn't have the guts to put "dick-looking" on the rating description, but we all know what's going on.



Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The first Harry Potter movie I've gone into not knowing how it ends. My parents bought this for me before a long road trip but I quit reading it before the vacation was over because I was starting to grow out of young adult fiction and it was such an angsty bummer.


Still an angsty bummer! The War On Terror subtext of the previous films basically just becomes text, with this movie addressing government cover-ups, torture, and even No Child Left Behind. This movie is basically nothing but terrible things happening to Harry Potter, both directly and by process of turning Hogwarts, his source of warmth and love, into a sort of prison lead by Imelda Staunton playing the demonic counterpart to her angelic Vera Drake. The series continues to disappoint by showing that all people with bad qualities are bared out to be bad to their core: even mere grumpy groundskeepers are shown to be a card-carrying fascists given the opportunity. Sirius Black gives a speech that no one is all good or all bad, but none of these filmmakers believe it. They have too much exposition to rush through to risk any ambiguity.


Doesn't help that David Yates delivers the absolute worst directing job of the series thus far. The film is loaded with the kind of cheap-looking CGI flying towards the screen that I associate with the 3D era (which I'm pretty sure this predates by a couple years) but the real problem is his basic film syntax. I lost count of times shots didn't edit together properly, the geography was incomprehensible, or one scene would become the next without any clarity. Chris Columbus was a hack, but he was a hack who at least had a basic understanding of how to tell a story on film. Yates' work here is so unbelievaby shoddy that I can't help but wonder if he was forced to cut this down (at 2 hours and 18 minutes it's the shortest Potter film yet) late into production. At any rate, knowing he helmed the rest of the series gives me no hope for the final installments.


If I hadn't committed to watching this whole series and if I didn't really like the idea of Harry Potter being forced into a John Connor role I might throw in the towel right now. I refuse to watch Yates' Fantastic Beasts, though. You can't make me.



Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've already surrendered to the fact that the plots to these things will be arbitrary and impossible to follow, but this is exacerbated by the fact that Yates still has no clue how to tell a story. See Luna & Harry arriving at Hogwarts for the first time, the assault on the Weasley house, and the wand fight between Harry and Draco for just a few examples. At this point I almost wonder if, with the knowledge that everyone knows the story already, Yates decided to just go experimental and shoot every moment for maximum abstract beauty.


It seems less likely than basic incompetence, but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, if only because I have to watch two more of these things and have started to look for silver linings. Also, I hope it's not important that I know what a Horcrux is going forward because all that shit made about as much sense as the Prophecy stuff the last movie.


Most of this movie is just about romantic lust, and I am so on board with that, but it makes the ending that much more painful to endure. There's so much of what this series should have been (basic adolescent growing pains supercharged by fantasy adventure) in between the reheated Star Wars bullshit. Don't know if Harry and Ginny have had a single actual human interaction in this series before it's decided that they are True Loves, but whatever, everything in this series is arbitrary.


This world's sense of right and wrong continues the simplistic "everyone who is bad is bad forever, from the very beginning" with Snape and little Voldemort joining the Shitheads Forever Club. Really, JK? Even George Lucas could visualize a tragic fall from grace. Weird that six movies in they started to show events happening outside of Potter's experience, but at this point I'll take anything to break the tedium.



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1

Conventional wisdom always stated that these last two HP movies got nerfed because their bisection turned one full story into two incomplete stories. But I'll be honest: I watched 6 "full stories" before this one and they were all pretty terrible and arbitrary. At least HP:DH:P1:2010 gives the characters a little breathing room for once. And, with such a simple story that mostly takes place outdoors, Yates' tendency to value iconic imagery above all else finally serves the film a bit. Easily the best direction he's done up to this point.


I think I like "kids at a boarding school have a magical adventure" Harry Potter (in theory, if rarely in practice) and I am OK with "young adults must go on grand quest to fight wizard Nazis" Harry Potter, but the awkward blending of the two in HP:OotP:2007 and HP:THBP:2009 really turned me off. Now, without having to pretend it's anything other than Star Wars-lite, Harry Potter is able to fulfill it's destiny: becoming a mediocre fantasy action multimedia corporate franchise machine. With no hints of the better more interesting story it could tell, I'm finally able to settle in and appreciate it on it's dubious charms.


How about those CGI Watson and Radcliffes, getting all sexy and rubbing on each other. Way to earn your PG-13 for sensuality, Yates! Somewhere some impish animator has rendered a threesome of those two with CGI Peter Cushing.



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

On the one hand this is the Harry Potter Yates (and Warner Brothers) had clearly been itching to make since Pheonix, all fantasy epic posturing and prophecies and big battles. There's a lot of awkward nonsense in this series because these have needed to be big blockbuster tentpoles without corresponding storylines. This is just Star Warsin' it up, so it's all good. Well, good as as 21st century cynical Hollywood franchises ever are.


On the other hand, this is where all the storylines I only half understood in the previous 7 movies all come together to wrap up, so every ten minutes I was completely baffled by a plot twist or character motivation or even spells that I didn't know of before. Mrs. Weaslely completely disintergrates Helena Bonham Carter's character in this and, as far as I can tell, it's the only time it appears. Why are all these evil wizards bothering with spells that don't completely disintergrate their enemies if that is an option? How are good guys in this series constantly walking away with cuts and broken bones if the option to DISINTERGRATE was always there? It's like the laser ninja that shows up in the final moments of American Ninja.


So, as arbitrary and baffling as the plots to these films has always been to me, this is the one where it sincerely felt they were making up the script as they were going along except I know the exact opposite is true. Bizarre. Anyway, this series is dirt and I'm glad Daniel Radcliffe escaped it in one piece because I enjoy his work in What If more than all these other movies combined. I hope (completely naively, I know) he never gets dragged back into whatever future sequel series inevitably awaits us.





So anyway, I'd assume most people like this series a lot more than I do, whether or not they read the books. I am curious how these films are viewed by fans and if I'm the only one who gets beleaguered by the onslaught of high-fantasy Proper Nouns this turns into and if to everyone else these plots are very easy to follow. 

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I read all the books but after the 2nd movie I quit the series. They just did nothing for me. Wizard People, Dear Reader is obviously the best entry in the series. I'm totally with you on 5 being an angsty bummer (based on my memories of the book)

I very much enjoyed your write-ups : ) 

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I was born in 1990 and was well into Harry Potter. That means I was 11, 12, and 14 for the first three movies, and had them on DVD and probably re-watched them a decent number of times.


The rest of the movies I saw as they came out, and remember enjoying on at very least the straightforward level of recognizing something I already knew I liked. But I have not revisited any of them, and don't have much of a desire to. Your reviews certainly re-enforce this attitude.


Wizard People, however, I have seen countless times. Truly, it would be very difficult to guess an accurate number.

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Man this is hard. Mostly because I have trouble remembering which is which, they all sorta blend together. I read the first book when I was in primary school and didn't like it.


3 would be at the top, 2 and 1 at the bottom. 

 Three pals go camping together is alright too. I remember going to see the 5th(?) one with a bunch of school pals and I thought it was fuckin shite and they all got the hump with me because they were pretty much one step away from going to the cinema in a cloak and hat. So that's way down there too. 


I remember quite liking the bits with the Snape flash backs.



Azgaban( the good one)

Goblet ( Everyone suddenly has shit hair for some reason )

Last one part 1

Last one part 2

The Other one


Philosopher's stone

Secrets ( "Of course phoenix tears have healing powers")

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I agree with your rankings, Patrick, except I'd probably move Phoenix up a bit.

I read all the books, loved the first four (especially 2 and 3) and was disappointed by the rest.

The films are mostly crap. It's frustrating to see the stories mangled and obfuscated even when I know what's going on from having read the books. Lots of great actors, physical effects, design, music etc though.

Reading the play is crap (perhaps the live spectacle distracts)

Wizard People Dear Reader is crap.

I have not watched or read the Magical Creatures stuff.

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My curiosity lead me to look up Wizard People, Dear Reader and holy cow was that unbearable. There's little that annoys me more than self-consciously wacky narration. It's simple math: if the words are funny, the voice should be serious. One of the reasons Welcome to Nightvale always bothered me is the "I'm reading this in a koooooky way" narration ruining the genuinely good writing.

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45 minutes ago, Patrick R said:

My curiosity lead me to look up Wizard People, Dear Reader and holy cow was that unbearable. There's little that annoys me more than self-consciously wacky narration. It's simple math: if the words are funny, the voice should be serious. One of the reasons Welcome to Nightvale always bothered me is the "I'm reading this in a koooooky way" narration ruining the genuinely good writing.


I also found the style of narration in Wizard People, Dear Reader nearly impossible to stomach, and I like Brad Neely's other stuff. I don't know why it bugs me with this one thing of his...

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4 hours ago, Patrick R said:

One of the reasons Welcome to Nightvale always bothered me is the "I'm reading this in a koooooky way" narration ruining the genuinely good writing.


I have nothing to add to Harry Potter, but I had to comment because this is exactly how I felt about Nightvale.  I tried for so long to get into it because the idea seemed too good (I've listened to A Prairie Home Companion basically my entire life and Nightvale is essentially News From Lake Woebegone, but weird).  I listened to maybe 30 episodes hoping it would get better, but eventually I just accepted that I could not get over how much I hated the narration.


Actually regarding Harry Potter I'll say this:  I enjoyed the books as a kid, I enjoyed the movies as a kid up until 5 at which point I decided I was done and haven't seen the last three.  I watched Chamber of Secrets a few weeks ago with my sister who is currently re-reading all the books and watching the movies after each book she reads.  The best I can say is that of the movies I watched with her that weekend (Chamber of Secrets, the live action Tarzan movie with Christoph Waltz, and Beginners) I liked Harry Potter the most.  Also I do (did) genuinely enjoy the third movie which is definitely my favorite book as well, and it also has the honor of being the last movie I saw at the late great Century 21 dome (which closed a decade after Prisoner of Azkaban came out).

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On 4/5/2017 at 9:41 PM, Patrick R said:

I refuse to watch Yates' Fantastic Beasts, though. You can't make me.


Good call - what a dreary, bloated, franchise-builder of a film. And they've announced they're now making FOUR more! There were two good moments in the whole film:

  • where Newt Scamander takes the muggle into his suitcase which contains a huge animal sanctuary with loads of different climates and weird creatures interacting with each other. (I sat there thinking "this would be an amazing VR experience", which I guess is the new version of watching an action sequence and thinking "this would be an amazing video game level")
  • when the muggle who has seen all this amazing stuff and been a good ally is told at the end of the film he has to be obliviated because rules. It's a clever rearrangement of a standard Potter trope that garners a lot of pathos.

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I watched Fantastic Beasts twice in a desperate attempt to make sense of it and absolutely could not. Yates did a decent job with the later Harry Potter movies, successfully bringing them over to more "adult" films, but he really failed with Beasts. That movie has a lot of set ups that don't lead to anything. Katherine Waterson's character has such devotion to Credence Barebone, I thought the movie was suggesting that maybe he is her child. Instead, I guess he is just a kid she had previously met (off-screen, of course) for some reason we just accept that she has a strong bond with him, even though we never see them interact. At one point, Waterson and Redmayne are sentenced to death that will be carried out by Waterson's co-workers. They escape, and later Waterson is back working with those same co-workers who nearly executed her. This is not addressed by the movie, which is confusing to watch, since you'd expect any normal person to be a little cross about those events. Believable characterization sacrificed for having a "tense" set piece in the middle of the movie.


But the worst part of the movie is the ending


So the set up is Grindelwald is in hiding. The opening of the movie is him murdering wizards and all we see is the back of his head and his very, very distinct haircut. Cut to Colin Farrell's character, who essentially has the same haircut, just in a different character. And it's supposed to be a mystery that they're the same character?? It's like if Hitler were trying to hide in a different body, but insisted on keeping his very recognizable mustache. At the very least, you'd think Farrell would be shunned for having the Wizard equivalent of a Hitler mustache. 


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No matter how you personally choose to order the seven Harry Potter books and eight films, beneath that list is an infinitely deep well, at the bottom of which you can find Fantastic Beasts and the Cursed Child. 


I bet both of those things would have been way better if Rowling had wanted to write them as novels. :/

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