The Wizarding World of Harry Potter may very well be the greatest demonstration of escapism in modern fiction, and what better time to escape reality than in a global pandemic… (Image Source: Nahum Gale)
By Nahum Gale | @NahumGale
Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, it has long been the ambition of the Harry Potter fanbase to marathon the eight-part series in its entirety.
With a total runtime of 19 hours and 40 minutes, it’s a daunting task.
I mean, who in the hell would have that kind of time on their hands?
Well, funnily enough, thanks to coronavirus-induced lockdowns and quarantines, almost everybody does.
And so, me, being me (the biggest Harry Potter nerd out there), I thought why not use this quarantine time to the best of my ability?
So, at 7pm on Sunday, March 19, 2020, I got myself super cosy and bunkered in for a night (and eventually day) of cinematic spell casting.
First things first: you may be wondering why I chose the films over the books to marathon?
Well, that’s because I have read the books an infinite amount of times and consider them pretty perfect with nothing much else to say.
The movies, on the other hand, are a whole different beast unto their own.
I am a firm believer in not judging film adaptations entirely in comparison to source material, because, honestly, the film will always come up short.
Books and films tell their stories through starkly different methods that both work for their own respective mediums.
Whereas books rely on words and literary manipulation, film utilises visuals and sound to create an atmosphere and mood that a book could never achieve.
Hence, I believe viewing and critiquing the Harry Potter films purely as adaptations of the more celebrated book series is a disservice to the filmmaking behind them.
In retrospect, after completing this marathon, I have genuinely come to believe that, despite a few faults, this decade-long filmmaking project has some immensely overlooked merits that deserve acknowledgement.
So, with that, I would like to welcome you to my Harry Potter film series retrospective and how best to view the films.
First, what you will need for this marathon is a spare 20 hours at the very least, some form of sustenance (for me it was wine, snacks, and eventually energy drinks), and hopefully someone to share it with.
Once all that is assembled, you are ready.
Of course, it all starts with the retrospectively amateur, but cute, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; a movie that never really warrants a re-watch but is light, safe family-friendly fare at its best.
With a Spielbergian atmosphere, the first instalment in the franchise boasts nothing special in terms of energy, but still claims success in its broad worldbuilding, careful castings and solid setup of the series.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets can be summarised as samey in terms of tone and mood to the first instalment, but does manage to inject some much-needed character into the series.
The second film improves on the first by giving charisma to its characters and horror to its narrative; two key components that make the Harry Potter stories exciting and ultimately classic.
However, it is not until Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that the series elevates its status from being straight adaptations to instead a series of truly, visionary and ballsy films.
Benefiting off adapting the best of the source material, the third film blurs the lines between blockbuster and arthouse to create a unique visual storytelling experience unlike anything else in the series.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the filmmakers bank on the entertainment aspect of the franchise, creating what can only be described as the series’ resident popcorn instalment.
The fourth movie simplifies its source material’s narrative to craft a more cinematic adventure which showcases the saga’s metaphorical inspections of coming-of-age and puberty at its best.
Then comes Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a film skilled in distilling its excessive novel counterpart into a more intimate story on inner turmoils and the power of love.
Although lacking any real visual style, the fifth instalment works best as a solid checkpoint in the franchise, successfully catching up or setting up audiences for what came before and what’s to come after.
In a reverse move to its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a film that favours style over substance, obtaining no real focus on the story it wants to or should be telling.
Despite being tonally shaky, the sixth film revels in its smartly drained, monochrome palette to better visually convey its placement as the saga’s darkest hour, storyline-wise.
Next may very well be the best of the series as a whole, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, a meditative slow burn of a film that exists almost entirely in the subtext.
Given the chance to break away from the previously established Harry Potter formula, the film takes the time to paint a sincere portrait of the death of innocence and the transition from childhood to adulthood, all within the calm before the storm.
That storm ends up being epic finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2; an explosive final chapter that smartly continues the earnest mood of its first part whilst bringing an additional burst of entertainment.
A well-executed culmination of all the films to have come before it, the eighth in the series never shies away from delivering ultimate satisfaction through the manipulation of the audience’s nostalgia and investment in the story.
So, as you can see, there is genuinely a lot to take away from the Harry Potter franchise, whether entertainment-wise, thematically or from a point of nostalgia.
My critiques may not align with yours, but the most important thing to remember is even in these trying times we can all still be passionate about something.
And if that something is a fantasy world with wizards and dragons, so be it.
Our world is messy, unkept and maddening, especially during the coronavirus pandemic… so why not just board a train to Hogwarts?
Harry Potter was always intended as a means of escapism; a happy place to go when the world is bearing down on you.
And maybe now more than ever we need that; all of us.
So, call me insane for watching eight movies for twenty hours straight, but for that one night and day I spent entirely in the Wizarding World, I felt the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders.
We do not all have a Time-Turner to skip the next few months of coronavirus, but we do have a train ticket for Platform 9¾; I suggest you use it.