Harry Potter (Philosophers Stone/Chamber of Secrets/Prisoner of Azkaban) - Columbus is a Muggle but Cuarón is a Wiz!
| I have to admit that I wasn’t much of a Harry Potter fan when I first was exposed to the books. The first film didn't convert me either. Eventually, due to some limited selection at the Dorval Airport Bookstore I picked up a copy of the 3rd book and suddenly I got it.
The movies work that way too. The first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone as the Americans inexplicably translate it), is all set up. We are introduced to the wonderful world of Hogsworth, Muggles and all things Potter. The characters are introduced and, very novel like, there are a series of episodes which help us to understand these people. However, in terms of story development, there really isn't that much there.
Plus, the film, by Director Chris Columbus of Home Alone fame, is pedestrian in the worst way. There is so much plot that he really just jumps along from one incident to the next. The acting, despite a range of the best the Brits have to offer, is flat. It's all cute and cuddly but if this had been it I would have dismissed Potter as a trend with no future.
However it isn't the end. It's all only set up.
Unfortunately, the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets suffers from the worst source of all the films. The novel is a bore and reads much like a retread of the first. This is the kind of sequel for people who are looking for the exact same film again. Okay there is a little further exposition, some certain facts are introduced which will become very important later, but over all it's a snoozefest.
Columbus is at the helm again and he offers us nothing new. At least the cast seems to come alive a little more including the returning players and the wonderful introduction of Kenneth Branagh and Jason Isaacs as the deliciously evil blonde Lucius Malfoy. The kids each start to inhabit their roles a little more too. Still, the whole plot about a memory of the one who shall not be named is ridiculous.
The special effects in the first two films are really sub par. Remember, these films came out at the same time as The Lord of the Rings trilogy and have none of the same professionalism. They look like cheap, made for video projects in comparison.
That's why Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is such a miracle. Alfonso Cuarón, who directed the incredible Y Tu Mama Tambien and the equally magical A Little Princess takes over and transforms the series from common to incredible.
Sure, he is working with the best story in the series so far and the young actors are finally coming into their own. Still, he did something that Columbus was unable to do, make the film magical.
You see, that's the whole secret to the Harry Potter films. Magic. I never really believed in the first two films. Azkaban made me a believer.
If you haven't seen the films, rent the first two to get the backstory. Philosopher's Stone gets 3 reels but Chamber of Secrets only gets 2. Azkaban gets four and is worth repeat viewings so pick up a copy of the DVD so you can enjoy the magic again and again.