I know, I sound like a broken record every year, but this summer-movie-season sucks… not only have the previous films been average “meh” (Thor) to downright stupid (Transformers 3), there are no real bright lights on the horizon (this year’s Pixar moving having turned into a critical bomb and no movie like Inception on the horizon).
So it comes that instead of the usual “oh Harry Potter, that will be an o.k. movie” Harry Potter has turned into the flagship of this summer’s movies and especially after the formulaic and sexist Transformers 3, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of a brave wizard to show that quality storytelling pays of.
In 2001 Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint debuted as the infamous Potter-trio and it has been a journey of ten years to get to the end of the most successful movie franchise of all time.
Seeing as I am not going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows until Monday (and adding to the fact that the finale of Harry Potter no matter what quality is already critic-proof) I decided to deliver instead a list of the (in my eyes) 10 best moments of Harry Potter in this 10 year long franchise:
10. The world is not split into good and death-eaters
When Rowling announced that a friend of Harry would die in part 4 speculations rose… only to be smashed when the boy-who-was-going-to-die-at-the-end died, not much loss there seeing as Cedric never was a big character before getting into the tournament.
With part 5 the author had learned her lesson and hit the fans where it hurt, killing of the coolest and most-likable (well maybe second after Fred and George) character in the series (sadly for no reason contrary to Rowling’s resistance that he HAD to die).
But for a death to be effective we have to care for him and Sirius Black never was as big a father-figure in the movies as in the films until part 5 (part 4 reduced his presence to a CGI-face in the fireplace).
In Order of the Phoenix we finally got a lot of Sirius-attention and while the shock over his death will always be the part in Order that people will remember it wouldn’t have worked without a scene like the one where Harry looks at the family tree of house Black. The conversation about Harry’s fears is very intimate and the fact that he goes for that to Sirius speaks for their trust (then again you can’t help but trust Commissioner Gordon). But not only does it give us the conflict of the movie, it helps to introduce a very important theme of Harry Potter: that heroes are not perfect and neither are villains entirely evil (except Vodemort) and that in the end it is not important what dark things are in you but that you decide to not to succumb to them.
The fact that Sirius’s promise “when this is all over we’ll be a proper family” is like salt onto a wound seeing as he never got to fulfill that promise.
9. Slughorn’s Confession
The backstory in the Harry Potter movies has never been as important or detailed as in the books – heck going by the movies you can’t even name the four marauders. So surprisingly Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince contained one scene that furthered Lily Potter’s character probably more than the books did (come on her patronus was the female form of James’s patronus, how unimaginative and one-dimensional can you be?).
What starts as a drunken joke between Hagrid and Slughorn about “that’s life” turns into a very serious conversation when you realize that the magic spell went “poof” – how Slughorn joked – when Lily died. Not only is the scene here to show the importance of Lily’s sacrifice (a sacrifice so much greater than her eventual character) it helped to underline the theme of Half-Blood Prince: that the responsibility of the teachers is one not to be underestimated, a powerful critique on educational methods, undermined by Slughorns scared “please don’t think badly of me when you see it…” carrying the grief of misguided education within…
8. Fred and George quit school
And Peeves, who Harry had never seen take an order from a student before swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute as Fred and George wheeled about to tumultuous applause from the students below and sped out of the open front doors into the glorious sunset.
Probably my favorite scene of the Harry Potter books was bound to be less amazing than the book from the get-go seeing as there was no Peeves in the movie incarnation and therefore the payoff would never be as big. Nevertheless Fred and George’s departure is worthy of the two characters who were cruelly underdeveloped in the first two films. It wasn’t until Cuarón that Fred and George started to grow into their book-equivalents on-screen and two films later their personalities were fully fleshed for the big payoff – intensified by the fact that everyone hated Umbridge the destruction of the twins is even more delicious to watch.
And let’s say that the two would have made Gandalf pretty proud with their final attack.
7. The Dementor appears
Critical darling Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had one advantage compared to the first two movies: the director understood the language of film and tried to use it to enhance what was written on the page. While personally I think Azkaban’s narration is a bit inconsistent if you don’t know the book it is undeniably the best Harry Potter movie when it comes to visuals and unique spins.
The first appearance of the Dementors was especially haunting – seen in most trailers for the movie and for a good reason: the way Cuarón introduced the new dark elements is just great storytelling. Starting with a stopping train, lights going out, glass freezing… there is a lot of buildup until we see the shadow of a creature and just from the shadow alone we can tell that this is not a normal human being – the fact that it can open doors more efficient than a Velociraptor makes the Dementors even more mysterious until the horror element comes full circle with the dead hand grabbing the door.
In later Potter movies there are many moments where the movies clearly leave their “children’s book stigmata” and go into horror territory, but this scene while being only a few seconds opened the door for things equally (horcrux-cave) or more haunting (undead lady with snake in her back).
6. The birth of Voldemort
Speaking of horror-elements Goblet of Fire really stretched the PG-13 barrier, I mean yeah cutting of your arm might not be as horrifying if it is just a second but still, Wormtail cuts of his freaking arm in one stroke – what knive is he using and where can I buy that?
After getting rid of the worlds worst vampire-imposter a truly creepy scene followed. The creation of Lord Voldemort was impressive, stylish and worthy of a villain like Voldemort and I am sure not everyone was left cold by the shrieking thing that hung in the atmosphere after the cauldron had burned away before the smoke turned into Voldemort’s robe and voila Ralph Fiennes set foot into the Harry Potter universe.
5. The Deathly Hallows
There is a lot of nothing-happening and exposition happening in the seventh Harry Potter movie and sometimes it seemed more like the setup movie it was than a self-contained story. But when all staring and standing and doing nothing was finally over we got some pretty exquisite exposition in the form of an animated story about three brothers trying to cheat death.
The scene transitions are creative and the story portrayed is a nice touch (try watching the scene without sound and see how much of the story – not everything of course – gets translated into this piece).
4. Dumbledore, Voldemort, Harry
In 2002 there was an event that many minds had pictured in their minds for over 20 years, an epic battle with the greatest fighter on earth and we couldn’t wait to see it happen – until said fighter turned into a CGI-gummibear that was.
Showing a master in action is always tricky and the more powerful they are, the better that they never go to battle – the awesomeness we wanted to see on screen never matched with what happened. Instead of greatness and awesinspiring majesty we saw an old man swinging his saber somewhere where CGI-artists would later render a green blob.
A similar task was the face-off between the two greatest wizards in the fifth installment of Harry Potter, but contrary to Yoda and Dooku Voldemort and Dumbledore gave us a spectacle that left us with one question: how the hell would Harry be able to compete with this. Showing the two wizards at their peak blasting with complex maneuvers and using everything around them, wreaking havoc to the government.
And like every good battle there was the emotional payoff, when the fight shifted and Harry got possessed by Voldemort.
Although this was not a direct confrontation with wands, this battle between Voldemort and Harry was much more personal. Where Harry just lucked out in part IV he was now deliberately making a choice. Voldemort tried to break him, but in the end Harry found the strength to resist him, the first time Harry Potter won a battle without a plotdevice or dumb luck (see Deathly Hallows default by lucky wand).
3. The Attack on the Burrow
In what is the most hated scene in all Harry Potter movies by Purists (read: people wanting movies to be a companionpiece to the books instead of actual movies) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince took a page from Peter Jackon in adapting the essence of a book on-screen.
Where in the book there were a lot of mentions of abductions and other stuff, this would not have translated well onto the screen, so to still communicate the sense of dread it was decided to have a scene where the deatheaters attack the burrow to really show us that nowhere was safe. The scene featured some nice suspense in a corn-field where Greyback and Bellatrix were messing with Harry (thereby reminding us of the fact that Bellatrix killed Sirius) and culminating into the picture of the Weasley family standing infront of their burning home.
If you want to put “no safety” into images there are fewer more striking and relatable than a burning homestead, as seen in other movies:
Critics of the scene complained that since the deatheaters didn’t kill anyone it reduced the threat and made them look ridiculously ineffective… well if you want to argue like that, the deatheaters lost their credibility when they spent 10 minutes chasing children instead of overwhelming them.
2. Dumbledore’s Farewell
Snape kills Dumbledore!
What was probably the biggest surprise in the entire series (the killer, not the victim) was Hans Gruber’s apparent betrayal of Dumbledore. The death worked so well in the book because of it’s surprising timing but on film it left me a little cold, feeling more like a “yeah everyone knows what’s going to happen, just put it on screen”. But after Dumbledore died there was a scene, again not in the book and again capturing the essence of Harry Potter:
While Harry grieved over the corpse Professor McGonagall took out her wand and raised it to the sky, causing a bright spot in the skull-like dark mark of the deatheaters. Soon students and teachers alike raise their wand both in salute to Dumbledore and to make the dark mark vanish.
And here you have it – without any dialog this scene more or less captures the very core of the entire story (and makes you wish the entire series would have had less creative restrictions): the theme of hope in the darkest times, the tiny spark that ignites a fire that burns so bright no darkness can consume it. The towering dark mark, signaling the victory of evil has to vanish under the bright light and basically this is what Deathly Hallows is all about. Just from a sheer number’s point of view our heroes can’t win. They are a minor group that would never have a chance, but their example will inspire others and their perseverance will make it possible to overcome evil.
With the ongoing series and Rowling being a lot in touch with her faithful (and sometimes overthinking) readers there sometimes were those moments in later books where it seemed more as if Rowling was trying to fix possible plotholes while writing the book – such as dressing a ghul up in a pyjama to pose as Ron (a scene the movie thankfully ignored) to protect his family. While this idea was 1) tedious 2) idiotic 3) contrived 4) unneeded and 5) boring there was another story of protecting your loved ones: Hermione Granger wiping out the memories of her parents to protect them.
Served as the introduction to our trio in Deathly Hallows Part 1 this scene is the perfect stake-setter for a finale. The Dursleys (useless as ever) leave because it is not save, Ron is thinking about his own family and Hermione has to erase herself from her parents’s life to protect them showing how much this franchise has matured and how much the characters have to sacrifice to achieve their goals, because contrary to propagandistic porn (cough Transformers cough) war is not jolly in the world of Harry Potter and it always comes with loss.
Walking down the street alone (and leaving her parents with a lot of pictures of kitchen chairs and beds) the stage is set, for a grand and emotional finale.