Harry Potter: From Screen to Book

I have taken an unusual journey with Harry Potter. It seems that most people have read the books then seen the movies, but for me it has been the other way around. Quite simply, the books started coming out at a time in my life when the story of a boy wizard wasn't on my radar at all. As the movies eventually followed, I dutifully saw each one. I liked some of them more than others, but certainly didn't obsess over them like some of the more diehard Potter fans I know.

Kristen has long encouraged me to read the books, and I finally decided to give them a go a few months ago (I recently finished #6). After finishing each book, I have gone back and rewatched the movies, which now play a little differently with the added context. My brief, spoiler-free thoughts of each installment are as follows.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Sometimes it is easy to forget these are children's books given the dark themes of the later installments, but Harry Potter's debut has no pretenses about who its audience is—The Sorcerer's Stone is a quick, breezy read. Director Chris Columbus guides Harry Potter as he takes his first important steps into the world to film, but fails to push the first movie much beyond seviceable. Certainly this can be partially attributed to the inexperienced child actors, who have gotten much better as the series has progressed.

The Book: 7.5/10
The Movie: 6.5/10

"Can you cast a spell that will teach us how to act, Hermoine?"

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
About as enjoyable as a run on a treadmill, The Chamber of Secrets doesn't do enough to set itself apart from the first book. As for the movie, it certainly doesn't deserve to the title of longest running time in the series. There is far too much of Dobby, Gilderoy Lockhart, and sneering Malfoys.

The Book: 6.5/10
The Movie: 6/10

"Show me evil, Lucius. I feel like you're holding back."

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Featuring important new characters like Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, The Prisoner of Azkaban really starts to expand our knowledge of the wizarding world. It benefits from a higher page count, but doesn't fall prey to the excesses of the next few books. Meanwhile, new director Alfonso CuarĂ³n instills the film version with some much-needed cinematic flourishes, really raising the bar for future installments.

The Book: 8.5/10
The Movie: 8.5/10

How not to pose for your mug shot. It just makes you look more guilty.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
As the first of the longer books, The Goblet of Fire was a somewhat frustrating experience as I tried reconcile the immense detail with my desire for more efficient storytelling. The plot is so sprawling and convoluted, it takes three different characters something like 100 pages to sort everything out in the end (in what I have affectionately dubbed an "exposition dump"). The movie is a bit uneven as well, suffering from some overacting and choppy pacing, but the graveyard climax is a chilling highlight.

The Book: 7.5/10
The Movie: 7/10

"Wanna see my skin sparkle? It's really sexy."

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Even longer and more aggravating than The Goblet of Fire, it feels like nothing happens in Order of the Phoenix for hundreds of pages at a time except teenage brooding, though it rebounds in time for a satisfactory conclusion. I actually prefer the movie to the book, its chief accomplishment being that it manages to tone down Harry's incessant bouts of angst so he is still sympathetic. Director David Yates further expands the visual palette of the series, particularly with the striking scenes inside the Ministry of Magic.

The Book: 7/10
The Movie: 8/10

"I feel angry and isolated. I think I'll wander alone down an empty black corridor."

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
My favorite book of the series so far, The Half-Blood Prince combines all the best aspects of Harry Potter in a revealing, emotional, bittersweet chapter that doesn't overstay its welcome. The wit and warmth of the books has proved difficult to translate to film, but this adaptation comes the closest, thanks to generous helpings of Dumbledore, new character Horace Slughorn, and the lasting effects of "love's keen sting" on Harry and his friends.

The Book: 9/10
The Movie: 8.5/10

"Sorry about forgetting to show up for Order of the Phoenix, Harry."

I have just started reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which will be the first book where I haven't seen the movie beforehand. However, I must admit that I am not totally in the dark as to how it all ends. I now regret that I quizzed Kristen about the secrets of the final book after she originally read it. Where's Gilderoy Lockhart with a good memory charm when I need one?


Krissy said...

Since I read the books as they came out, I have read them all before seeing the movies. Because of this, the movies have bothered me with the things they chose to leave out versus what they chose to leave in. However, I agree with you that the 5th and 6th movie are a lot better about that. Maybe it is that I have finally come to grips with the reality that they have to leave things out... or maybe the movies are just getting better and keeping the right things in. Either way, the later movies don't bother me nearly as much as the earlier ones do.

I can't wait for the 7th movie and hope that it lives up to my expectations after loving the 7th book.

Anonymous said...

I watched a few of the movies then read all the books and am now watching some of the movies. Weird I know but I was reluctant to pick up a juvenile book when they came out. I have to say that the goblet of fire was by far my favorite book!! The story was interesting and attention getting and not so focused on dark confusingness (I know not a word) as the later installments. However I have not pondered them to the depth that you have. I more just ate them in a few weeks and then it was done.

Dave said...

This excerpt from Roger Ebert's review of The Half-Blood Prince really sums up how it feels to watch the movies without first reading the books:

"The middle passages spin their wheels somewhat, hurrying about to establish events and places not absolutely essential. But those scenes may be especially valued by devoted students of the Potter saga. They may also be the only ones who fully understand them; ordinary viewers may be excused for feeling baffled some of the time."