Growing up, I was a Star Wars fan. I watched Friends on TV in syndication, and I played StarCraft. However, the defining pop culture phenomena of my generation was Harry Potter.
I first learned of Harry Potter in 5th grade roughly when the Prisoner of Azkaban was being released. I never purchased any of the books and wasn’t a die hard fan, but I read all of them within a month of release because you had to. Harry Potter turned everyone into readers, with public libraries and educators capitalizing on the enthusiasm to create more readers.
I’m not sure if Harry Potter enthusiasm truly continues or if my generation is just carrying it along on nostalgia. I myself got tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in SF this past April, and in preparation, Julie and I planned to read the books and watch the movies again.
I got through all of the books and five of the eight movies before the pandemic stopped the watch parties. The theater postponed the show anyways. However, Julie and I recently finished watching the movies, and along the way, I collected hot takes, which are presented below.
Of course, this post contains extensive spoilers.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I actually didn’t re-read this book in sequence: Julie and I listened to the audio book narrated by Jim Dale on a drive down to LA last summer. Dale sounds very strange when he says, “Harry…” especially in Hermione’s voice.
I’m not sure why I latched onto it, but I watched this movie on repeat during one summer in junior high. As such, I remember the movie much better than the book. Anyways, it’s much tidier.
Everyone in the movie looks really young. The actors are all about my age in real life, and Radcliffe goes through puberty before the second movie.
I enjoyed the scenes of the owls swarming the Dursley’s house. It’s surreal, vaguely frightening, and very Hitchcock.
In the book, Harry was surprising unproductive as he is constantly thwarted and pursuing dead ends. Especially compared to later books, Rowling included more throw away jokes and silly content, such as Dumbledore uttering nonsense in a speech to the entire school.
Knowing how the series ends, Rowling managed to fit an impressive number of details that foreshadow. It seems like she figured out the story ahead of time. Apparently she also told Alan Rickman so he could properly play Snape.
And of course, Rickman is excellent in this movie. Perfect casting choice.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
When Dobby and Harry are fighting over the lamp, it reminded me of this scene from Star Wars with Yoda and R2-D2 fighting over a lamp.
Dobby has another reminiscent line in the hospital when he says “Not kill you. Never kill you.” That sounded like Gollum. Also, this movie and The Two Towers came out in the same year.
The Quidditch match has more Star Wars vibes as Harry and Draco fly through the stadium scaffolding AKA the trench of the Death Star. And John Williams apparently lifted his own musical themes from Attack of the Clones, which is yet another 2002 movie.
Overall, I didn’t particularly enjoy re-reading this book. Sometimes when you know the twist, you can enjoy seeing the cookie crumbs left over the way. For me, this book took too long to reveal Tom Riddle.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
However, I really enjoyed re-reading this book to see the hints. Rowling teased the Scabbers battle and Hermione’s Time-Turner aggressively. I certainly didn’t get it when I read it as an 8 year old, and if I didn’t already know it, I might not have this time either.
I found the scene in the haunted house very frustrating. Rather than getting to the point, everyone talks in strange, cryptic ways. Sirius Black says he killed the Potters, then takes it back. This isn’t like Obi-Wan Kenobi saying Vader killed Luke’s father: that got clarified far later. Black says something misleading, then walks it back a few minutes later.
Also this solidly establishes Rowling’s technique of Harry (and the reader) being misled about the intentions of key characters. Quirrell is bad. Snape is not bad. Riddle is bad. Sirius is not bad.
This movie is also very quirky. Director Alfonso Cuaron deviates far more from the books rather than just slightly abridging the content like the first two movies.
The movie left much bigger hints about the twists than the book did. In the book, Hermione’s appearances in class were strange, and Crookshanks chasing Scabbers was weird, but they aren’t obviously the crux of the story. It is a real twist. However, in the movie, it feels like it was teased everywhere, including the explicit appearance of Peter Pettigrew earlier.
The Shrieking Shack was still frustrating though.
This movie had two homages to Jurassic Park. When the students first meet Buckbeak and go flying, the entire approach was cautious and felt like approaching dinosaurs. Later, Peter Pettigrew calls Hermione a “clever girl.”
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Starting with Goblet of Fire, the books feel long. And the plot to this book didn’t make sense to me. Voldemort needed Harry’s blood to resurrect himself. And instead of using Barty Crouch Jr. at literally any time during the entire school year (“Harry, can you come into my office and help me move this bookshelf that definitely isn’t a portkey?”), Voldemort relies on Harry getting through and winning a crazy tournament.
The movie tonally varied widely. The beginning bounces back and forth between dark and not dark, and then the middle is completely absurd with the Yule Ball and too much sexual tension and innuendo. Then the ending gets extremely dark.
This was the first movie where I felt like the CG was noticeably distracting. Especially at the Quidditch World Cup, the sets felt totally off.
The movie did do away with SPEW. That saved space and worked consistently through the rest of the movies.
Hot takes on books five through seven are coming in my next post!