Welcome to two weeks of studying Harry Potter for my fantasy films class. Now playing: my identity crisis.
There was once a point in my life where Harry Potter mattered so much to me that I cried more happy tears about getting sorted into Slytherin on Pottermore than I did about getting into my dream college. I made my own butterbeer in the winter. I read Harry Potter fanfiction. I started my own Harry Potter club in high school. I was a nerd girl and everyone knew it.
Then I went to college. I made another good go of it at being a nerd girl, but a lot of Life happened during my freshman year, and I’m not saying that I had a complete personality transplant, but there are now a lot more Greek letters in my life than my 15-year-old self would have anticipated. A lot of things made the transition with me, but Harry Potter was one of those things that stayed firmly with my Ghosts of Nerd Girl Past. I used to pick up a Harry Potter book every six months. I haven’t touched one in three years. I used to sit through Harry Potter Weekend. Now I change the channel. A college friend once asked me to come to Harry Potter trivia night with her and then paused, asking, “Wait, have you even seen Harry Potter?” The Ghosts came spilling out; I admitted that I’d read every book at least four times and seen every movie just as much. I stayed away from trivia, though, and I wasn’t bummed about missing it.
So it is with obvious trepidation that I’m looking upon my fantasy films syllabus for the next two weeks. Eight films, 14 days, and 21 years of memories are waiting to knock me in the head. “Remember when you pretended that Harry and Ron were your imaginary friends, walking around your house in an Invisibility Cloak?” No, Ghosts, I’d rather not.
But for the sake of my grade, I will.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
So here’s how this is going to go: I’m going to watch each movie, share one Harry Potter-related memory, and then attempt to look critically at the film while also not completely nerding out.
Memory: We were supposed to read Sorcerer’s Stone in my second grade class, but too many parents complained (I went to private school). Some time later, I was staying with my Nana for the weekend and convinced her to let me rent Sorcerer’s Stone from Blockbuster. I don’t remember much from that viewing, but I clearly fell in love because she went out and found me my own copy of the book. I was hooked.
My Evangelical Christian neighbors soon found out that I was reading Harry Potter and warned me against the “evils” of the series. In response, I would go read the books in their front yard and taunt their children. There’s a reason I was sorted into Slytherin.
Thoughts: My professor warned us that we would probably find the visual effects in this movie to be incredibly amateurish now, but honestly? Even the worst CGI in this movie is still better than the best CGI in Twilight. This movie was an incredible technical feat for 2001, and a lot of it still holds up today.
You know what doesn’t hold up, though? The length. I understand why it’s 2.5 hours, and I’m not saying I don’t want kick-ass Quidditch scenes or that I want them to cut out characters that are later important in the fifth movie. But it takes a hell of a lot of time for them to world-build and then a hell of a lot of time for them to establish the conflict. Now that we know series like Game of Thrones can be done well, I found myself wishing for an HBO Harry Potter series – we’d get through so much more of the actual book without weighing everything down on-screen.
I’m betting that we’ll talk about how hokey this movie is at times in class, but I think it’s unfair to ask Chris Columbus for a Godfather-level adaptation – he’s the guy who wrote The Goonies, after all.
As for me returning to Harry, it’s weird. I still know every line to this movie, right down to the actor’s inflection and tone, but I don’t feel too sentimental about it. It’s going to take a lot more than a John Williams and Daniel Radcliffe’s baby face to break me down.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Memory: This was the first Harry Potter movie I saw in theaters. My parents very graciously accompanied me to the movies. My dad was not happy about the basilisk subplot – he has a fear of snakes. When the movie ended, I remember yelling at the screen, “That’s not the actual end! There’s more after Hagrid coming back!” That being said…
Thoughts: …I finally got sentimental here:
As sweet as the ending is, it doesn’t change the fact that this is the longest Harry Potter movie and I probably won’t forgive Chris Columbus anytime soon for dragging me through two hours and 41 minutes. I feel conflicted once again about the length. While less world-building needs to be done in this film, a lot of series-important plot points have to be introduced and it’s hard to power through them in a timely manner. Given that they cut out quite a bit from what I remember from the book, I won’t slam them too hard for being so literal this time around.
Y’ALL – I left the credits rolling in another tab while I started typing this and there’s an after credits scene! I had no idea!
Anyway, I feel like this is the film where Columbus’s directing style clashed the most with the tone of the book. Light and bright worked well for the first film, where Harry is at his most innocent and full of wonder. But in this film, Harry is bouncing back from an attempt on his life. Both Ron and Hermione are facing prejudice and bigotry, some of them for the very first time. Ginny is being possessed, a giant snake is slithering around the school, and no one can be bothered to seem the least bit worried about it. The darkness that the characters are facing should be somewhat reflected in the filmmaking (it would certainly prepare us more for the stylistic jump made in Prisoner of Azkaban), but we could be watching Mrs. Doubtfire for all that the cinematography and editing are willing to give us.
Regardless, I’m still impressed that the cast and crew pulled off these movies and did it in such a technically stunning manner. These movies could have so easily crashed and burned like Eragon or Percy Jackson, but when I see that CGI Hogwarts, I believe it.
I was watching the beginning of Chamber of Secrets with my mother today, and at the moment Harry opens his scrapbook from Hagrid, she commented on how sad it must be to not be loved.
As Harry turned the page from a picture of his parents to a picture of Ron and Hermione, I reminded her that Harry is still quite loved by his friends. “You’re right,” she said. “He found his family.” Her comment tugged very violently at a heartstring I forgot was there. Maybe nerd girl selves don’t need to be banished?
A few weeks ago, I asked a friend if she had heard about the new Harry Potter club on campus. My friend replied, “That’s cute.” It was condescending enough that felt that attending a meeting might not be celebrated in the way I had hoped. So the jury’s still out on whether nerd girl selves are allowed to play around here, but we’ve still got six more movies to watch. I’ll keep you posted.