Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why The Harry Potter Collection Isn't All It Ought To Be.

The Good: Movies get better and better, Decent effects, Good overall story
The Bad: Glaring plot and character problems, Lack of consistent effects (especially retroactively)
The Basics: Despite what legions of fans of the Harry Potter franchise might want, the Harry Potter Ultimate Collection is not the greatest cinematic triumph of all time.

I never intended to get into or watch the Harry Potter movies. Then, like magic, I fell in love and the woman I fell in love with was a big fan of the franchise. She had read all of the Harry Potter books and when we got together, the franchise wasn't quite over, so I ended up going through the movies that were out and then the new movies as they came out. The movie franchise has grossed billions of dollars and has a hugely loyal following, so I'm not exactly expecting to light the world on fire with my considerations of the Harry Potter Collection, but for those with an open mind or coming late to the party - as I did - there are some very helpful notes I can provide on the franchise.

First, it is worth noting that I have considered each of the Harry Potter films on their own. Those reviews, which are the substantive content of The Harry Potter Collection, are at:
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Furthermore, it bears repeating that I have not read the books upon which this movie franchise is based and as such, this is a very pure review of the movie franchise. I've heard innumerable times in comments to my film reviews, "well, in the book . . .": This is NOT a review of the book series, it is the film series as it stands up on its own.

Harry Potter is deposited as an infant on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle, the Dursley's, where he is raised as the lesser child. Forced to live under the stairs, he is surprised on his eleventh birthday when he is invited to go study at Hogwart's School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. Previously unaware of his family's magical talents, he is taken under the wing of Rubeus Hagrig who helps him get school supplies and sends him on his way to the private magical school. En route, he meets the poor, bumbling Ron Weasley and the brilliant, booksmart Hermione Granger. Together, the three are inducted into the same House in Hogwart's and they begin studying magic. Harry draws the attention of the school's headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, who was instrumental in saving Harry's life the night his parents were killed.

Harry begins to study magic with those around him convinced there is something special about him, more than just the scar on his forehead. Soon, it becomes clear to Harry that he is special; he is the only known survivor of an attack by the great evil, Lord Voldemort. Voldemort, it appears, was killed, but still has followers in our world. Throughout the years, clues emerge that the followers of Voldemort, the Death Eaters, are working to bring the dark lord back to Earth and that Harry Potter has a connection to him. As the forces of evil gather, Harry is tutored in magic to meet his destiny: to stop the dark lord from destroying the magical world and enslaving the human (Muggle) world.

The Harry Potter collection has all eight movies at they were originally released and the Blu-Ray version features so many bonus features, it makes the extended editions of The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy look anemic. Each of the movies, save the last two, has been released as three-disc ultimate collector's editions with additional bonus features and collectible materials and one suspects that there will be an Ultimate Collection which bundles the super-expensive, ultra-packed versions of all eight films together. But for most people, the Harry Potter Collection with the movies, deleted scenes, trailers and featurettes will be enough.

What is worth watching in the set? First, the movies do tend to get better and better, both with storytelling elements and the acting. The first film hinges more on the fact that there was a built-in audience than making a great movie, so it stands poorly on its own, even as an establishing work. Similarly, in the first sequel, were it not for the exceptionally important plot event that occurs within the Chamber Of Secrets, it would be hard to advise anyone sit through the movie. But, the Harry Potter Saga is largely a mystery wherein Harry learns more and more about his potential in each film and then has to confront the ultimate evil.

But therein lies the first strike against the cinematic franchise. The fundamental story is one of a boy being raised to take on the great evil of the age. That is a classic hero story and it could be epic. The problem with this particular epic is that how it is accomplished makes no real sense. Harry Potter is taught incrementally what he needs to know in order to fight the Dark Lord and those around him retain secrets as opposed to being as clear, direct and forthright as possible. In other words, the writer of the Harry Potter Saga was much more concerned with selling the next book than telling a story that makes sense.

What do I mean by this? Harry Potter is seen by Dumbledore, Hagrid, Serius Black, Minerva McGonagall and virtually everyone else in Hogwart's (and the adversaries fighting on the side of Lord Voldemort) as the one chance the magical world has to take down and destroy the evil of the age. Rather than groom the boy and have him prepared to confront the Deatheaters and Voldemort, the forces of good are scattered and only intimate to Harry what he needs to know. This would be most analogous to Obi-Wan and Yoda only telling Luke Skywalker about one or two aspects of the Force in the Star Wars Trilogy or only training him to use a lightsaber, without ever informing him of the Dark Side, the nature of the Force or that Darth Vader was someone he would have to confront. Or, from the fantasy realm, this would be like Gandalf discovering the nature of the One Ring, finding it with Bilbo and then having Frodo wander around with the ring without ever telling him where to go or what to do with it. Despite what fans of the Harry Potter franchise might want to believe, the mechanisms of the storytelling are ridiculous in that it is not until the sixth year and in the wake of the resurrection of Voldemort that the existence and nature of the Horcruxes are revealed. It's pretty shoddy storytelling to have a small army of people who claim to be good who refuse to tell their soldiers how they can actually take on the enemy. Even a "hey, if you ever see, hear about or encounter this thing, let us know," would be better than the ignorance with which Dumbledore keeps his followers. And while some might say that Dumbledore didn't want to insight a panic or scare Harry, I respectfully submit that the time to stop evil is before it materializes, has legions of followers and takes over the world.

Moreover, the Harry Potter Saga become muddied by time travel elements and interpersonal elements that do not flow organically in the films. So, while viewers can clearly see the arc by which Hermione and Ron Weasley overcome obstacles to develop an eventual romantic relationship, the development of a relationship between Harry Potter and Ron's sister is much less organic in the films.

The real strike against the ultimate Harry Potter Collection is the fidelity to the original as opposed to creating a unified Saga. The eight films were directed by four different directors and, truth be told, they didn't know exactly what they were doing all along. The technology exists now to fix up the technical issues in the making of the films and it would do a great service to the fans to do that. I'm not talking about rewriting the movies or even replacing Richard Harris, who unfortunately died between the second and third films, with Michael Gambon who played the part for the rest of the franchise. But, Griphook in the first film and the goblins look nothing at all like what they do near the end of the franchise and unlike the changes George Lucas made to the Star Wars Saga, changes like replacing characters who appear late in the movie series by inserting the refined look to the character types in the early films would lend a greater sense of continuity. When I was reviewing this year's Golden Snitch ornament (that's here!), I noticed even practical effects like the Golden Snitch were redesigned. How is this problematic? Well, Harry receives that magical object in the penultimate film and viewers are asked to recognize it as an identical object to the one in the first film when it is not.

Despite the storytelling problems - and it was only as I wrote this consideration of the entire story that it truly hit me how woefully unprepared Harry is for no good reason other than to drag the story out for more movies - and a few niggling character issues, the Harry Potter Saga tells an interesting story. And, despite the gripe, it is a more engaging story than it might have been had Harry simply been tutored at the very beginning with all he needed to know. The characters do get developed, though it takes several films.

What the Harry Potter Saga does exceptionally well is develop the acting talents of three young actors who grow into the iconic roles as their characters grow. Teamed up with established great actors like Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith and Kenneth Brannagh, actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson hone their talents from painfully awkward children into powerhouse adult actors who can take on virtually any role that is given to them.

On DVD and Blu-Ray, the Harry Potter Collection includes all eight films, their trailers and limited bonus features. Warner Brothers, which produced the Harry Potter Saga, has shown a complete willingness to exploit its audience. With Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, over half a dozen different exclusive packages were developed to get fans to rebuy the same source material for the exclusive bonus features. By that logic, there will come a time when Warner Brothers sees the point in investing to do refurbished editions of each film wherein the Saga is corrected for effects continuity. Will it be worth the buy? Not if you already have the current Saga. Will it be a better film series? Yes. I say hold out, at least, until all of the Ultimate Editions are bundled together in an exclusive, space-saving package!

For other epic fantasy or science fiction series', be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Star Wars Saga
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
The Indiana Jones Trilogy


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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