Like the books that inspired it, the “Harry Potter” film franchise started off with a fair dose of whimsy, but by the time the final credits roll on the last film, Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron and their friends will have faced dangers that changed the tone of the series from whimsical to dark and deadly.
Although J.K. Rowling penned all seven “Harry Potter” books, four different men have occupied the director’s chair over the last 10 years, each of whom added their own special touches:
In the Beginning: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
Being asked to direct the first “Harry Potter” movie must feel like being handed a live hand grenade. If the director gets anything wrong, the legions of fans will tear the film and the director to pieces. Fortunately, Chris Columbus, a known quantity, took the reins on Harry’s first big screen adventure.
Columbus, the director of “Home Alone” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” knows how to balance the dangerous and absurd with the whimsical, which made him perfect for life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Columbus also does a nice job showing Harry’s aunt, uncle and cousin as the nasty, condescending Muggles that they were in the original book.
Love, Death, and Giant Snakes: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”
Year 2 for young Mr. Potter brought both welcome and deadly changes. Harry learns for the first time that Ginny Weasley, Ron’s sister, has a crush on him, one that finally blossoms into love as the series continues. Harry also gets his own personal fan in over-eager, first year student Colin Creevey. Dobby, the house elf who tries to protect Harry, also makes his first appearance here.
With the first film under his belt, Chris Columbus was set to handle the changing landscape of Harry’s world. Mr. Potter and his friends must face a deadly threat, one that hasn’t been seen at Hogwarts for almost 50 years. Columbus doesn’t forget the whimsy, though, including the flying car that Ron and Harry use after they miss the Hogwarts Express.
Hippogriffs and Chocolate: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban“
As the balance shifts from whimsy to mortal danger, Alfonso Cuaron arrived to take over directing duties. With “The Little Princess” and “Great Expectations” on his list of film credits, director Alfonso Cuaron showed he had the right literary stuff to direct “Prisoner of Azkaban,” especially with all the painful insights that Harry learns about the betrayal of his family.
Cuaron still keeps things light at times, especially with Harry’s first flight on Buckbeak, a winged Hippogriff. Harry also meets Professor Remus Lupin, a man who helps him properly learn how to defend himself against dark magic. Professor Lupin aids Harry after an unfortunate encounter with the Dementors, creatures that can suck the soul from a living person.
Face-to-Face with Death: “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
Depending on your point-of-view, Mike Newell was fortunate or cursed to direct “Goblet of Fire.” At this point in the series, author J.K. Rowling’s books were becoming epics, which made it nearly impossible to cram everything into 150 minutes.
Newell jettisoned quite a bit from the book, including appearances by Dobby the Elf, but he kept the essential elements of the Tri-Wizard Tournament,especially some naughtiness with Harry and Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom. Newell devotes more than enough time to the challenges Harry and the other competitors have to face.
The War at Home: “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix“:
This film marks a definite shift in the storyline as director David Yates enters Harry Potter’s world. As a result of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Harry lost some essential protection against Lord Voldemort as well as the respect of his classmates.
Where Harry could normally find some solace at Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is determined to disgrace and discredit the young wizard at every turn. Yates skillfully balances the danger with more emotional moments, such as Harry bonding with his godfather Sirius Black.
Life Lessons: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
If there ever was a normal time in Harry Potter’s life, this film marked the end of it. David Yates returns to the director’s chair at a time when Harry is undergoing training for his inevitable death duel with Lord Voldemort. Through flashbacks, Yates shows the evolution of young Tom Riddle, Voldemort’s alter ego, from a mean-spirited child to the twisted dark wizard he becomes.
Harry finds love with Ginny, but he also loses more of his extended family at Hogwarts. Jim Broadbent adds much needed comic relief as Professor Slughorn, a teacher who loves collectingtop students as much as he enjoys eating crystallized pineapple.
On the Run: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1”
Somebody at Warner Brothers wisely decided to break the final “Harry Potter” book into two separate movies; it’s just too bad that they didn’t decide to do this a few movies earlier. Closing out the franchise, David Yates sets up the action, which takes Harry and his closest friends away from campus on a mission that could help them defeat Lord Voldemort.
In the first half of the finale, Yates handles a few things that have been brewing, namely Ron and Hermione’s unspoken love for each other. Having lost his own father and two other father figures, Harry is becoming colder and more determined, especially after he must leave Ginny behind to find the remaining pieces of Voldemort’s soul.
No One is Safe: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2”
This one is for all the wizard’s chess pieces. With an entire film to devote to the final battle, director David Yates is sure to blow everyone away with the action and emotional turmoil. Yates reportedly included the beautiful epilogue that J.K. Rowling added to the final book as well.