Harry Potter: Looking Back

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Amelia Ramstead

My son just turned 11 this weekend. Sadly, no owl arrived to welcome him to Hogwarts and we remain nothing more than muggles. However, thanks to the Harry Potter movies, we are muggles who are fully aware of all the magic that is in the world.

I was introduced to Harry Potter, not through the books, but through the first movie: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” My sister took me to see it. “You’re going to love this one,” she promised. And she was correct. I spent the entire time in that theater with my jaw attached firmly to my chest. I quickly borrowed the first two books from her and devoured them over the next two days. It was official: I was now a Harry Potter junkie.

We have the first seven movies in the series on DVD, and hardly a day goes by when one of them isn’t viewed. My son adores them, and even my 3-year-old daughter request “Hay Potta.” And I have no qualms about putting them in. Every single one of them is high quality entertainment with messages that kids need to hear.

It’s amazing to me, now, to watch the first two movies in the series, “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets.” The kids look so young. Watching them grow and develop throughout the series of movies has been a treat – I feel like they are family.

From the very beginning, J.K. Rowling was involved in the creation of the movies, guiding the screenwriters and the directors. Although, as often happens in movie adaptations, certain elements from the books were cut to make room (and keep them from becoming 5 hour behemoths), she was able to whisper in the ears of those involved, letting them know which plot points they were going to need later, and telling the actors involved tidbits about their character’s motivations, to allow them to show the greater depth in their performances.

As the movies began to get darker, and Chris Columbus stepped away from his directorial role, more subtle shifts became apparent. Although the first two movies had elements of darkness and some fairly frightening themes, “The Prisoner of Azkaban” took those themes and ran with them. The dementors still frighten me; I believe them to be one of the creepiest elements of all the movies I have seen. The twist at the end still stands out to me as one of the best “Gotcha!” moments in storytelling, hands down.

In “The Goblet of Fire,” when Cedric Diggory met his untimely end, it was clear that at that point all bets were off, and nobody was safe anymore. The stories were no longer children’s tales, and the feel of the movies changed as well, to reflect that. These were now stories about things that are bigger than all of us: death, betrayal, love, hope, sacrifice, redemption.

As the movies continued, they incorporated within them a who’s who of Britain’s acting royalty. Although Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson still held most scenes, their teachers and family and friends gave thrilling performances, as we were treated to the likes of Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Kenneth Branagh, David Thewlis, Jim Broadbent, Ralph Fiennes … and, of course, the incomparable Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman.

In “The Order of the Phoenix,” when we lost Sirius, played by Oldman, how could you help but feel Harry’s pain? Oldman was the perfect godfather to Harry, and he portrayed Sirius with a sensitivity and intelligence that is hard to find in movies.

Helena Bonham Carter was the perfect Bellatrix LeStrange. I cannot imagine anyone taking on the role and being as completely evil and frightening as she was, yet still, somehow, such a joy to watch. She captured the insanity of the character perfectly, as she cavorted about the screen, shrieking, howling, and hissing.

Although Alan Rickman was a perfect Snape from day one, it was “The Half-Blood Prince,” where he was revealed to be the complicated creature he truly was. Throughout the series of films, he was equal parts entertaining and terrifying, as he alternated between Harry’s nemesis and savior. The secret revealed at the end, and the force that drove Snape’s every action, makes him one of the most complex literary characters of, in my opinion, all time.

With a thrilling cliff-hanger at the end, “The Deathly Hallows: Part One” was the perfect set-up for the grand finale. As many times as I have seen it, I still spend half the movie in tears. It is my hope that, “Lord of the Rings” style, the awards are being saved for the end. I believe several of these fine actors deserve to take home statuettes, with Alan Rickman leading the charge.

Most people tend to rate movies based on books as “better than” or “worse than.” The “Harry Potter” series falls into that complicated and difficult to define category that is neither of these. They transcend the books; become their own entity, something “more,” something “other.” Other movies that have managed to achieve this kind of status include “The Lord of the Rings” series and “The Princess Bride.” The combination of the performances, the settings, the writing… everything about it is the absolute definition of movie magic.

I have been friends with Harry Potter since my son was the age Harry was when he first defeated Lord Voldemort. I have a hard time believing there will no longer be another Harry Potter movie to anticipate. You can laugh, but I actually get choked up writing those words. It cheers me a bit to know that I can still open a book or toss a movie into the player to be transported back, and each time is just as good as the first.

Check out Amelia's review of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II here!

Amelia Ramstead has been playing games since her family first received an Atari 2600, lo these many years ago. She continues to play, primarily on PC these days. An avid World of Warcraft player, Amelia writes about WoW topics for her blog and as a guest poster on WoW Insider. Especially interested in how gamer culture reflects in family dynamics, Amelia herself has two kids, one of whom has two WoW characters and can barely keep his nose out of his DS. Amelia is excited to join the staff of Comics Bulletin and is looking forward to the chance to converse with others on one of her favorite topics! Find Amelia on Steam as ameeramstead.

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