Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Harry Potter and the Ranking of the Books and Movies

In honour of Fantastic Beasts coming out later this week, I thought I would rank the Harry Potter books and movies in order of which ones I most enjoy. This is my own opinion on which books/movies I liked best, not a definitive ranking on which one is better. There will be spoilers, as it is hard for me to write a review on this series without spoiling parts of them. I am one of those people who would watch an 18 hour movie with every scene in the books left in, and am very picky with the movies. Also, this turned out long, so enjoy!

Books: 5>1>4>3>7>2>6

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I really like this one, and I know it is an unusual choice for first. As you’ll see later, I rank it highest out of all the movies, too. Umbridge is a great villain, in many ways she can be scarier then Voldemort since she is someone you are more likely to encounter in your everyday life. I love the whole concept of the DA, a group of students getting together to teach themselves what they aren’t being taught, things that might save their lives. Harry really comes into his own as their teacher, giving him something else to focus on since Quidditch was taken from him. He goes through a lot in this book and just before, and his anger that no-one will believe him about something that threatens the whole world is understandable. He does take it out on the wrong people a lot in this book, but his reaction is closer to PTSD then teenage angst. I like how Harry and Cho’s relationship feels much like realistically awkward teenagers in love. I love the entirety of the scenes in St. Mungo’s and when Rita writes her column. Seeing the Ministry for the first time is also fantastic. And it brings back Lupin, and introduces amazing new characters like Luna and Tonks. This is also where Ron also starts to grow in confidence in this book after winning the Quidditch cup for Gryffindor. For the person who has been so often overshadowed by others, it’s a nice moment. I also think I like the fact that a lot of this one revolved around exam stress, and who can’t relate to that? This is the book that took me through tough exam seasons, and will always hold a special place in my heart because of it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: for me, nothing can compare to seeing JKR’s world for the first time. When Harry first walked into Diagon Alley, went to Hogwarts in the boats, you could see it in your mind’s eye, as clear as if on film, right? That is a testament to the evocative power of Rowling’s world. It also shows us why Harry, in such a unique position, is a fantastic protagonist to such a world. Since he has no knowledge of it, he has to be told, which then informs us about these concepts. But as he is also “The Boy Who Lived” it gives him a personal stake in the conflicts already. Then he slowly gets drawn further in, by making friends and joining the Quidditch team. And as he discovers more, we discover the world with him. This is actually relevant to the core concept that, I think, made the books so successful – they grew alongside us. As Harry grows up, so did we. The books are as much a Bildungsroman as they are a fantasy tale about the Hero’s Journey.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: this was actually the first one I ever read, by which I mean I read about half of it before buying the first one and beginning to read them in the proper order. I’m actually surprised I rate this one so high! The mystery is highly complex but it all fits together. It’s also the first time we are made aware of the full plight of the house-elves. Before, it would be easy to think Dobby’s situation was because of the Malfoy’s, but here you find out it goes deeper than that. We also get to learn about the expanded Wizarding World outside of the UK for the first time. As Harry says “He’d never even thought about other Wizarding schools… must have been stupid to assume Hogwarts was the only one.” Remember what I said about us learning through him and with him? Also, it’s the first book that really starts to address love interests within the trio. The characters, and the books themselves, really start to come of age.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I'm always surprised by how high this one is in my list. It was my first book, so that might help. But it has a deep and very complex mystery at it's heart, it really does take some figuring out. And it was the first one to really develop the world overall, and where we first got the idea of a wizarding world outside Britain. The book is also fast-paced, hurtling from one plot point to another, which makes those over 600 pages fly past faster than they have any right to.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I really like this one for introducing the Marauders and fleshing out James’s backstory. Many people have this as their favourite, and the point where the books really hit their turning point. However, my favourite thing in this book is JKR’s use of time travel*. You can’t go back and change the past, because you already changed it. So things that don’t happen (like someone going back in time to kill Voldemort) never have a chance of happening, because it’s obvious something would go wrong along the way. And if Voldemort was never there, then you had no reason to go back to kill him. Harry and Hermione didn’t need to change events that happened, they just needed more time to rescue Sirius. So they also save Buckbeak, which annoys the executioner so much that he swings his axe into the pumpkins, scaring the birds, which accounts for the flock of crows they saw earlier, which they thought meant Buckbeak was dead. Harry knows he can save himself because he’d already seen himself do it. It wasn’t really “meddling” because he’d already done it, right?

*I know Cursed Child put a wrench into this, but as far as time travel in PoA goes, that’s how it works. One of my big dislikes with Cursed Child (which, overall, I did enjoy) is how it messed with how time travel works in the universe.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: the final conclusion is a worthy result to all the build-up. The camping around outside of Hogwarts means the book loses a little structure, it’s also nice to see something a little different. We also see the inside of some interesting places, like Shell Cottage and Malfoy Manor. The Ministry infiltration manages to be both suspenseful and a patch of much-needed comic lightness. Potterwatch is an awesome concept, and I wish we’d got to hear more than one broadcast. And the battle for Hogwarts, with almost every good-aligned character fighting alongside Harry, has its place in my heart as the most epic battle in the series. The other big thing about this book that I have to mention, is receiving the backstory on Snape. My personal feeling on Snape is that he was a good person, but not a nice one. And that’s okay! There are people like that in real life with multiple shades of grey. However, his love for Lily does not justify all his actions in the series. He once threatened to poison a child’s pet because the child couldn’t get his potion quite right. There is no excuse for how he treated Neville, but maybe there doesn’t have to be.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: this one feels like Philosopher’s Stone Part 2 to me. It isn’t bad, there is just very little that makes it stand out. It has its fantastic moments, like introducing us to The Burrow, the Flying car, the Deathday Party scene, and the Polyjuice potion. This book also has more set-up then people realise, showing us our first Horcrux before we know what they are. A lot of events in this book come back in an interesting way, like Ginny calling him out on taking instructions from a book, or on forgetting that she herself had been possessed by Voldemort. Lockhart’s next appearance is decidedly less comic – on the Spell Damage ward at St. Mungo’s, showing the result of his spell is still effecting him years later, and he still is one of the lighter things about that scene. Remember what I said about how these books grew with their readers? It also touches on some of the slightly more grown-up subjects that will come back up later, such as House-Elves and Muggle-born discrimination.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: I don’t hate it, by any stretch. It’s still very high up on my list of favourite books of all time, by virtue of being a Harry Potter book! However, this one feels to me much like the set-up it is. Much of the information is given to us through pensieve-based infodumps. We find out a lot of backstory on Lord Voldemort, back when he was called Tom Riddle. We also find out the secret as to how to defeat him, once and for all. The Pensieve is a fantastic device that allows JKR to show us rather than tell us information like this. I just feel like in this book, it was overused. Because of this, it feels like the entire other half of this book is teenage romance. I like a romance, I like young adult romance, and I like romance in other genres, too. However, I feel that if I’m reading a not-a-romance with a love story, it needs to get the balance right, and I sort of feel like HBP missed the mark there. Although, it does have what I personally feel is Harry’s best moment in all the books when he tricks Ron with the Felix Felices.

Movies: 5>1>7>8>2>3>6>4

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I really do like the basic plot of Order of the Phoenix, which might be why it ranks so highly for me. It’s to this movie’s credit that it misses out many of my favourite scenes, but the changes manage to not annoy me. I guess because it didn’t add in too many of what I consider unnecessary scenes (scenes which weren’t in the books and also don’t serve to move the plot along or develop characters) so much of what was left in had a point. Umbridge also adapted very well on screen and they made one of their best young actor finds in Evanna Lynch. Many of the grown-up actors got more of a chance to shine in this film, playing alongside Umbridge.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: seeing JKR’s world on screen for the first time was amazing when I was younger, and I feel I may hold this one in higher regard then it deserves because of nostalgia reasons. Because it was shorter, they missed less out, too. I am struggling to come up with a scene I like above all, since in this one more than any other all scenes feel equally enjoyable, but I’ll have to give it to Quidditch. That being said, the scene where Wood tells Harry about the rules of Quidditch goes on a bit long for the movie, and is the sort of thing that works better in the medium of text. Even on re-watches, I get excited to see JKR’s world again, and I attribute that to how well Harry works as a protagonist. You’re seeing it through his eyes, and his sense of wonder and excitement was the same as ours back in the day!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1: I tend to watch this one and Part 2 together, and as such find it hard to separate them, really. I actually think being a calmer movie works for a break point. It also has the single saddest scene in the whole franchise, in the graveyard at Godric’s Hollow. In fact, this movie also contains some of the saddest deaths. You know the ones I mean. I think the reason I do think this one works is because Malfoy Manor works well enough as a climatic finish. I can never decide if I like the scene of Harry and Hermione dancing or not. Two friends letting off steam or one final attempt to push a perception of them as a couple?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: I always found this an odd one an odd one. I was either overjoyed and absolutely loving it, or cringing at some of the weirder parts. It has the biggest instance of the ongoing movie issue of Hermione taking the awesome moments of other characters. She comes up with the idea to use the dragon to fly out of Gringotts, instead of Harry. Hermione is good at planning, but not too good at altering things on the fly. Harry is the one who is better at coming up with ideas on the spur of the moment. However, for just about the whole of the battle of Hogwarts, I am cheering with tears running down my face. This movie had a huge weight on its shoulders, and I feel like it delivered. It had to tie together some incomplete plot threads from previous movies and close out the franchise that, to lots of people were their childhoods. But I can’t not mention the make-up on the actors during the final scene. I’m sure they could have made them look older than that.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: CoS struggles with a lot of the same points as the book. I give it points for trying to fit in so much from the book. Lockhart, like Umbridge, is cast to perfection, with Kenneth Branagh giving a legendary performance. It also gives us the casting of Lucius Malfoy, adding another fantastic grown-up actor to the ranks. The flying car scene was expanded to obviously make it seem more dramatic, but it ends up dragging on a bit, with too much of them flailing around in the air. I never liked that Hermione cried when Draco called her Mudblood – not only is she not supposed to know what it means, when she does find out, she doesn’t ever let it bother her.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Harry starts this one out by using magic in his bedroom. As we know from the previous film, and what will be a plotline in this one, this is highly illegal. There was a lot more to risk then Uncle Vernon catching Harry using magic. I think the fact that it started with a scene that made such little sense turned me away from the rest of the movie. I dislike like how Lupin looked as a werewolf – I saw them as looking almost identical to a normal wolf, since there are only “several small differences” between them. And it has my personal least favourite line in the entire series – “hey, is that really what my hair looks like from the back?” said by Hermione during an important situation. It also has an odd moment where Harry wanders the castle after dark without his father’s invisibility cloak, which he never does. However, getting to see a new location on film, in this case Hogsmeade, for the first time is amazing. I know a lot of people really like this one, and I do enjoy it on a rewatch, but it’s not my favourite.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: my biggest complaint here is one specific scene – the scene with the Burrow on fire. Not in the book at all and takes time that could easily be used for, oh I don’t know, Dumbledore’s funeral? Everyone stands around watching it burn, rather than conjuring water or going after the known Death Eaters that appeared in their midst? You are all magical, and this particular group includes members of the Order, and highly trained Aurors? They stand around looking like it was a tragedy when most of it could be fixed by magic – and is, by the time of the next movie, completely fixed and never bought up again. Also, Ginny gets separated and winds up with a Death Eater coming at her – surely Ginny, inventor of the Bat-Bogey Hex, is going to try something, at least? Nope, she just stands there until someone else saves her. I’m not mad that she had to have a man save her, I’m mad that she didn’t even try. Since this scene is very action heavy, it feels climatic, which in the middle of the movie completely breaks up the pacing. HBP avoids being my least favourite due to the inclusion of a few good scenes – Harry’s Felix Felices moment with Ron, Harry’s Felix Felices moment with Slughorn, Ron with love potion and getting to see the inside of Arthur Weasley’s shed.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: this one suffers a lot from pacing issues. No scene leads directly into the next, and there is little to tie one scene to the next, too. It ends up feeling jolty and disjointed. Scene changes feel abrupt, and it even starts with a jolt of Harry being woken up from a dream. It never seems to explain anything until after the scene had happened, either. The mystery in this one is so convoluted that it would be hard to tell in the medium of film, and I understand that, but not explaining enough leaves us with an awful lot of plotholes. Rita Skeeter’s part of the story got no conclusion, and felt like it was left unfinished. I didn’t like how when Fred and George took their aging potion, they had a fight rather than just laughing it off. Also, I feel like the Maze was rather oddly represented, in that it made people go insane rather than having them defeat obstacles inside the maze. I disliked the Prefects’ bathroom scene – I hyped myself up to see all those amazing types of bubbles on film, looking like someone had dumped the whole contents of Lush in there, and we got a swimming pool with a bit of washing powder? And then the weird part of the scene where Myrtle makes Harry feel very uncomfortable? I disliked the fact that the made the other wizarding schools same-sex, at least in regards to who they took to Hogwarts. This is also the one that gives us the infamously out of character Dumbledore moment. But, like HBP, my single biggest gripe of this movie boils down to one scene – the Yule Ball scene. I always pictured dress robes having a robe-like component, as Harry states “they were exactly the same as his school robes, but bottle-green instead of black.” However, the girls’ dresses appeared to be ordinary Muggle formal robes. Then they made Hermione’s robes pink instead of blue (a petty complaint if I have one, but it still bothers me). I don’t like how at the end, Hermione cries on the stairs in front of everybody – she would do that later, alone in her room, but not in public. Harry and Ron did have a good time, even if they didn’t dance, since they talked to a lot of people and found out much about the mystery of GoF. Parvati and Padma didn’t just wait around, they found other people to dance with. The colour scheme on their sari’s wasn’t good, and also incorrect – Parvati wore shocking pink, and Padma wore turquoise. 

So, there’s my rankings. What are yours? How do you feel about Snape?

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