My world has been forever changed since J.K. Rowling introduced me to “The Boy Who Lived” back in 1998. It is through Harry Potter that I’ve discovered witches and wizards and learned of a special academy that trained them. Like many, after finishing the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — or “Philosopher’s Stone,” as it is so rightly named in the U.K. — I became immediately transfixed with the World of Wizardry. “Chamber of Secrets” couldn’t have been written fast enough and although I found it to be the weakest of the series, I still enjoyed it. Then came “The Prizoner of Azkaban”; different in tone, it alluded to the dark times ahead for Harry.
It was during this time I learned these series of magical books would be transferred to film. J.K. Rowling had struck a monumental deal with Warner Bros and by 2001, the film adaptation for the first novel premiered respectfully in London first then the U.S.
I was both excited and apprehensive, as film adaptations often fail to encompass the essence of the source material. However, with Chris Columbus at the helm, I was slightly relieved. But what of the kids? Who would play Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and, most importantly, Harry Potter? Understandably, casting was extensive. Columbus and President Alan Horn of Warner Bros. understood the importance of finding the perfect actors since much of their young lives would be consumed by this role.
Interesting enough, Daniel Radcliffe’s parents turned down the role of Harry Potter from fear such a major undertaking would ruin his childhood. Little did they know then it would do the opposite. Having found the ideal Hermione in a studious Emma Watson and the perfect Ron in a playful Rupert Grint, producer David Heyman still needed the perfect Potter. Thankfully, Heyman was able to convince Radcliffe’s parents to allow their son to screen test for the part, which, of course, the then 11-year-old landed.
J.K. Rowling, upon watching the screen test, told Columbus, “That’s how I always imagined Harry Potter.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was not only a commercial success but also a critical one and filming for “Chamber of Secrets” was well under way. It was crucial to film each installment back to back because young actors, as they often do, grow rather quickly.
Yet, by the time the third film began production, the Potter family suffered a great loss in the death of Richard Harris, who lost his battle with Hodgkins Disease. Who could possibly replace him? After circling Christopher Lee, Ian McKellan and Peter O’ Toole, Sir Michael Gambon was chosen. Not a bad choice by any means, although some die-hard fans feel Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore lacked warmth.
In “The Prisoner of Azkaban” — the most critically-acclaimed film of the series — Radcliffe, Watson and Grint were noticeably more confident as actors. This fact proved challenging at times to director Alfonso Cuaron, a newcomer to the Potter -verse. But he welcomed the trio’s questions because who knew the characters better than themselves? Incidentally, it was with Cuaron’s direction along with an assignment, which required the three to write a paper about themselves in character, that further assisted with character development. True to form, Emma Watson turned in a 30-page paper, Radcliffe’s was about half that. Grint didn’t bother to do it at all. When asked why, Rupert said that Ron wouldn’t have done it. Ah, yes, perfect casting.
“Goblet of Fire,” helmed by Mike Newell, another newbie, is where we encounter the death of a student. By now, the kids are no longer kids but teen-agers and their skills have strengthened considerably. The acting is impressive and the chemistry between Radcliffe, Watson and Grint is undeniable.
The precedent for new directors was well established, but David Yates broke the pattern by “Order of the Phoenix,” as he remained on board for “Half-Blood Prince” and both parts of “Deathly Hallows.” As each book became darker and bleaker, so did each film, and under Yates’ direction, the movies stayed true to Rowling’s work … for the most part. Some fans voiced distress with the condensing of “Half-Blood Prince.” But with “Deathly Hallows” broken up into two parts, followers of Potter needn’t feel alarmed.
Watching Radcliffe, Watson and Grint grow over the past decade has been almost as moving and exciting as watching the films. Thankfully, none have fallen to the pressures of Hollywood and have kept out of trouble. As for future projects for the trio, Radcliffe is continuing to act in film and onstage. The stage production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying” opens next spring and “The Woman In Black” will hit theaters some time next year. Watson is attending Brown University and is enjoying a normal life away from Harry Potter. Rupert Grint just finished “Eddie The Eagle,” a film about England’s first ski-jumper to enter the Winter Olympics.
This recap wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the composers who have worked on each film. Out of them all, John Williams is the most recognizable and his brilliant “Hedwig’s Theme” happens to be my ringtone. Patrick Doyle, Nicolas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat deserve a mention because their great work is on par with Williams and helps to further engross the viewer into the magical realm J.K. Rowling created.
The success of the “Harry Potter” films and books can easily be attributed to the bit of realism interwoven into fantasy. From the very beginning, you are rooting for Harry. He’s easy to relate too and so are his best friends Hermione and Ron. It is because of this relatability that millions will flock to theaters world wide to see how their story ends.
I will be one of them.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” opens today. Be sure to catch it.
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