You know the story. Poor orphaned boy gets invited to a magical wizarding school and is destined to be the main adversary for a big bad meanie who is slowly manifesting (over, like, three or four movies). What I dislike about Harry Potter, in general, is how generic it is. Author J.K. Rowling has pulled just about every imaginable concept out of humanity’s collective asshole to create her world. We’ve got dragons, goblins, trolls, unicorns, centaurs, giant spiders, invisibility cloaks, staircases and trees that move, paintings that are alive, vegetables that scream, and jellybeans that taste like boogers. If any third grader or grandmother has ever thought of it, Rowling has tossed it into her books.
What I do like about Harry Potter is Rowling’s dramatic use of archetypal characters. She dares to go where George Lucas wouldn’t with Star Wars. She digs a little deeper than he ever did, and the result – at least by the end of the series – is that you shed tears for these archetypes. You invest in them, and that investment pays off. Eventually.
The first two films in the series are directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire). I suppose his saccharine touch is appropriate for these installments, since the kids are young and the threats are relatively minor. Very little of the over-arching storyline or character relationships make their way into the first film. Instead, the first third of Sorcerer’s Stone is world-building. So you have to endure quite a bit of magical hijinks and overly-precious art direction. Esteemed British actors like Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman pop up now and then, as a sort of insurance — a subliminal message reading, ‘Hang in there, and after a while this kiddie bullshit will end and some interesting shit will hit the fan.’ Robbie Coltrane easily steals the show as Hagrid, the large, hairy school groundskeeper.
Once the cherubic trio of main characters — Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) — get settled into their wizarding school, the rest of the movie plays out like a high-gloss production of Scooby-Doo. Which professor is trying to thwart the school, and will the kids stop them in time? It’s hard to care about exactly what is happening in the first few Harry Potter movies because the actions seem so far removed from the promised climax. One gets impatient waiting for the return of this Voldemoort character — the big baddie who rumor tells is planning a comeback.
The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets are the first two films in the series, and they’re a bit of a chore to get through. Little of consequence happens in them, plot-wise. It’s best to think of them as a five-hour primer for better installments. Get to know the characters, get to know the sickly sweet world they live in, and wait for Voldemoort to come and drain some of the blood out of those rosy fucking cheeks.
Oh. And quidditch is stupid.
Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Costume Design (Judianna Makovsky), Score (John Williams)