My thoughts on the Harry Potter franchise

Following the death of Alan Rickman, I remembered how awesome he was in every film he’s been in that I’ve seen; Galaxy Quest, Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, but also the films which a lot of people mostly remember him for; the Harry Potter franchise. Before I dig deeper into this, I have to point out that I have mixed feelings for the franchise, not just the films, but the franchise in general. This also includes the novels and the games.

My early familiarisation with Harry Potter was through the books (duh!). This was way before the films came out. Many films are based on books and if there was a story which is adapted as both a book and a film, the book usually comes first (not to say that all films are based on books). Hardly have I ever heard of a book which was based on a film. I read the first five books; Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone (known in America as the Sorcerer’s Stone), The Chamber Of Secrets, The Prisoner Of Azkaban, The Goblet Of Fire and The Order Of The Phoenix (the latter which came out after the first two film versions). When I read the Philosopher’s Stone, I remember enjoying the story, though I was rather disappointed not to find any pictures inside the book.

Let’s start with the good stuff; firstly, the idea of a group of kids attending a school which teaches them magic tricks is a really creative one. Wait a minute, I’m sure I saw something similar… oh yeah, on The Worst Witch, but that was a lame TV show. As a kid, I remember being bored by that one. Actually, I’m talking about a mixed-genre school that teaches magic tricks. Wait, that was also a theme in the X-Men franchise. Hang on, let me correct myself, the X-Men’s more to do with superhero/mutant powers. Harry Potter’s more like The Sword In The Stone meets Dungeons & Dragons meets,… er… Magic The Gathering.

I also admire how Harry has dealt with the murder of his parents and attempts to know more about his family history to know who he is, through the stories. Kind of like Batman in a way, though Batman’s lived a more happier life than Harry has. The knowledge gradually increases as the stories progress.

The lessons, activities and the obstacles that the school holds are also creative. In particular, Quidditch, an enchanted sport similar to basketball, hence duelling teams, the hoops which the player throws a ball through to score points and how full of energy it is, except with broomsticks, two extra balls (or bludgers as they’re called) which the player must dodge to avoid any injuries and one particular small item which one must catch to win the game. Of course, being that the series is set in the school, JK Rowling does keep in mind the codes and conventions of a typical education establishment. One of them being that, as once said Homer from The Simpsons, each establishment gets two kinds of students; jocks and nerds. Hermione Granger (who I shall talk about later on) obviously fits in the nerd category. As for the jocks, they would include some of the Quidditch players such as Oliver Wood. I call him a jock, because he’s so dedicated to the sport, yet so dedicated that he even puts himself into danger and doesn’t think quick enough to respond. I was never educated in a boarding school in my life. When I first read the book, I wondered, “why are the students residing in a school?”. Then I remembered, “Oh wait, it’s a boarding school.” Of course, some university students reside in ‘halls of residence’. I remember I resided in one during my first year in college, so in a way, that does count as another code and convention.

If I had to pick a favourite character from the franchise, I’d have to say Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman’s character). I think Snape’s the most unique character in the series. He often appears to dislike Harry, though to be more specific, he resents him. But he truly has a heart for the protagonist and would do anything to protect him (as I briefly covered in Three Me & The Curse Of Cancer). I also admire the character’s back-story which involves the complicated relationship he had with Harry’s parents, James and Lily; Snape had the hots for Lily, but hated James for bullying him, hence his love/hate relationship with Harry. For instance, in The Philosopher’s Stone, Snape is suspected of trying to kill Harry, but then discovered that he tried to save him (‘scuse the spoiler). In the third story, Snape sneers at Harry for ‘strutting around the corridor’, but in another scene, he does his best to protect the kids from a werewolf. In other words, he’s an anti-hero with a cold personality, who despite that, is skillful and trustworthy. Another thing that stands out about Snape is his longing attempt to teach the subject of Defence Against The Dark Arts and his apparent rivalry with the Dark Arts teachers, i.e. when he duels with Gilderoy Lockhart in The Chamber Of Secrets and wonders what Professor Quirrell is up to in The Philosopher’s Stone.

Being that I was Harry’s age when the films came out, I honestly have to say, I had the hots for Hermione Granger. Unfortunately, I don’t remember admitting so at the time. I was living in the age where kids would ask or get asked immature questions about one’s love life and many of them were not ready to tolerate/understand romantic relationships. I was an exception, because I recall my elementary school years when I had a girlfriend myself. We didn’t get much of a break and were surrounded by childish lads who kept asking whether we was going to have sex and all that and reminiscing the K-I-S-S-I-N-G rhyme. That was the reason why I kept my crush on Hermione a secret. She’s my idea of a dream girlfriend; she’s smart, she obviously has a higher IQ rating than I do, she’s eager, she ain’t afraid to stand up to bullies, nor does she seem afraid to protest to something unnecessary. I remember adoring the way she smile and her heavenly voice. I too can be a bit of a know-it-all. Believe it or not, the actress, Emma Watson, is my age and, like myself, is a lefty.

Now I swear that JK Rowling picked some ideas from other media products. For instance, during the very first scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone, we see Hagrid riding a flying motorcycle. Never have I seen a two-wheel vehicle that flies before, except in ET The Extra Terrestrial. There’s a scene later on where Hagrid visits Harry and his relatives at their holiday hut. One moment, he shoots fireballs from his umbrella; similar to the Penguin using his umbrella as a machine gun in Batman Returns. In The Chamber Of Secrets, the Weasleys are flying a car, then we see where they live; in an enchanted windmill. They’re so much like the Potts family in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, except larger. And is it me or does Harry develop an Incredible Hulk style persona in the Prisoner Of Azkaban? I mean the way he snarls and literally blows up his aunt Marge for her rude and obnoxious insults on his parents. It’s like; “you won’t like me when I’m angry”.

But if there’s one thing I’d describe the Harry Potter series as, I’d say it’s a fairy-tale style retelling of the legend of King Arthur, the Sword In The Stone especially. Of course I remember growing up with the Disney version. The reason why I’m comparing the Harry Potter series to the story of King Arthur is due to certain similarities; first of all, both stories see young protagonists growing up with bad lives, until they come across something ‘enchanted’. Then they happen to win against the odds and achieve something eventually earning the public’s respect.

This means I would compare Harry Potter to King Arthur.

Harry Arthur

Both them guys are orphaned at an early age. Apparently, Arthur aka Wart appears to be the son of the fallen king, who has left the public a challenge; whoever removes a sword from an anvil is to be the next monarch. He is then raised by Sir Ector and Kay who make him do all the housework. Harry’s backstory is a little different. Both his parents are murdered (Arthur’s dad probably didn’t meet that consequence), but like Wart, Harry is raised by his other relatives. He too is treated like smeg and appears to be doing most of the cooking and waitering around the house. Both characters then receive a chance to escape the miserably ordinary world; Harry receives an invitation to Hogwarts school and fights back against Voldemort. Wart meets Merlin, receives his education and pulleths out the sword from a stone and anvil, thus making him king of Britain. In other words, both characters then receive a chance to escape the hell-holes they live in, through something enchanting and educational.

This goes neatly to my next comparison;

Albus Dumbledore and Merlin The Magician

Dumbledore Gandalf Merlin

Well it’s obvious, ain’t it. The long white beards, the pointy hats, the fact that they’re teachers and wizards simultaneously. They both train/mentor the protagonists. Merlin mentors Wart, while Dumbledore mentors Harry. If there’s one more character I’d compared both Dumbledore and Merlin to, it’s Gandalf from Lord Of The Rings, except that Gandalf doesn’t wear glasses.

Speaking of Merlin and Dumbledore, here’s my next, if minor, comparison;

Lord Voldemort and Madam Mim.

Voldemort and Mim

Okay, they’re not the same sex, but both are villains (although Mim’s more of a side character) and fear Dumbledore/Merlin. Mim once attempted to destroy Wart, but Voldemort has tried to kill Harry a lot of times, another minor difference. While Dumbledore and Merlin use magic as a form of education, Voldemort and Mim both specialise in dark magic.

Next comparison; The Dursleys and Sir Ector and Kay

Dursley Ector Kay

They’re the relatives who look after the protagonists and basically bully them. They do let the guardianees (if there is such a word) go soon enough. However, although Sir Ector and Kay accept that Arthur has become king and leave him to it, Harry still lives with The Dursleys during the summer vacations at the start of most of the Harry Potter stories. Both groups consider themselves ordinary people, but although The Dursleys often deny the existence of magic, even though they’ve witnessed some spells, Sir Ector and Kay just see a different side of Merlin’s magic and yet they are cynical of his teachings.

If you was to cross Hermione and Hedwig (Harry’s pet owl) together, who would you get?

Archimedes.

Hedwig, Hermione and Archimedes

The obvious similarity between Hedwig and Archimedes is that they’re both owls. But if you think about it, Archimedes also has the personality of a know-it-all, just like Hermione.

Surely, that makes some of Harry’s fellow Gryffindor colleagues, the Knights Of The Round Table.

knights of the gryffindor table

This includes the Weasleys, Hermione, Neville, you name it. A bit like Sirs Lancelot, Galahad, Robin and Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.

I remember being excited when The Philosopher’s Stone (or The Sorcerer’s Stone as it’s also known) came out, I remember being excited and interested in who played which character. It was quite popular on the first time we saw it. When we did, it was an enjoyable movie. Hell, I remember many of my mates being obsessed with the film and as soon as it came out on video, it was shown at our school for occasional viewings. And then The Chamber Of Secrets followed and I liked that film better. It is in fact my favourite one from the franchise, despite the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rip-off. I admire it for its intelligent writing, interesting plot points and occasional darkness. Sometime after, JK Rowling released her fifth book The Order Of The Phoenix, I read it and it was pleasant.

Though by the time we saw The Prisoner Of Azkaban, I started to get cynical. It was like watching a feature length version of Charmed (still, an okay show) or a remake of Hocus Pocus (which I only saw bits of). I never cared much for teen movies, even though I was 14 at the time. I can’t even compare my life to any of them movies/shows (I have a history). Plus I found it rather confusing. However I recently re-watched it and it’s better than I remember it. And of course, Snape still makes a badass impact in that one. But at the time of my first viewing of the third film, this led me to not watch the next film; The Goblet Of Fire, until some of our relatives showed it to us on DVD. That film, I enjoyed the least. I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on and how many random plot points were being tossed in. At that point, I thought, after Prisoner Of Azkaban, the Harry Potter films were going downhill. Ironically, I thought the book was better. I was disappointed not to see the Dursleys in it at all and see Dudley throw a PlayStation out of a window (as it was in the book). As for the Order Of The Phoenix, I didn’t see that one until it was broadcast on ITV and I liked that one better than the fourth film, but I didn’t think it was anywhere near as good as the first three, apart from Snape’s bits. As the third, fourth and fifth films dragged me out of my interest in the series, I dodged the last three films and books as a result. But since I remember the series leading an impact on me, I guess I should cut them films some slack.

I don’t remember the books as well as I remember the films. I was always more of a film viewer. I do read, but mainly non-fiction. I do remember certain parts of the books, but it’s mainly just text and no pictures whatsoever. And I do remember feeling disappointed when I saw The Goblet Of Fire and it didn’t include certain bits I remember from the novel.

Although the franchise an interesting mix of characters; some plain awesome, i.e. Snape (well duh!), the Defence Against The Dark Arts Teachers (Quirrell, Lockhart, Moody), Hagrid, Argus Filch, Hermione and the Dursleys, I even give credits to the creatures i.e. Buckbeak the griffin (or hypogriff as he’s known), certain other characters contribute to my negative points on the franchise. For instance, I hate Professor Trelawney. I didn’t think she was an interesting character and thought she was one thing I didn’t like about the third and fifth films. I saw her as just plain psychotic for the sake of being psychotic. Her scenes went totally nowhere in the film. As harsh as it sounds, I was waiting for her to be killed off. Professor Umbridge, I though was the least memorable DATDA teacher in the series. I preferred Albus Dumbledore when he was portrayed by Richard Harris. Though I still give credit for his appearance and the impact he makes, I liked Richard Harris better than Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore. Richard had more of a personality and voice of a bloke who looks over 100 years old. Michael Gambon sounded a bit like the character was reversing puberty and sounded more gruff. I liked how he had his beard tied in a ponytail, but why does he act more violent towards Harry, i.e. in The Goblet Of Fire? To me, he was less likeable compared to Richard’s portrayal. Ron Weasley’s a bit of a weasel (though I guess the surname says it all, lol), but he’d be less interesting if he was as brave and courageous as Harry, so I do give him credit. Draco Malfoy, I thought, was just a cliched school-bully to start off with, though he is more interesting in the next two films. After that, I can’t remember much about him. I remember wanting to see more of the Dursleys in the films, especially Vernon, for I know they mark an essential point to the stories and Harry’s life, but we mainly only saw them near the start of most films. Each time afterwards, we never see them again. Imagine if Dudley met Malfoy, since both of them bully Harry. Malfoy would introduce himself as an ‘enemy of Harry Potter. Dudley would brighten up and be like “cool!” and add “maybe you’d like to join my gang.” and Malfoy would be like; “sorry, I don’t associate myself with mud-bloods.”

So most of my negative points relate to certain plot points, certain characters and some forgettable scenes. But on the other hand, the positives; other characters, plot points, scenes and the awesome scenery all give the series a great sense of balance, so the series can’t be all bad. After all, I do also give credit for the impact it’s led.

I shall be reviewing each movie separately for some of the next few posts, in chronological order. Which means I shall start with The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, then The Chamber Of Secrets and so on. This’ll be for Alan Rickman, and considering that he would’ve turned 70 this month.