Movie News & Reviews

The legacy of boy wizard Harry Potter

Ten years, eight movies, four directors, two screenwriters, four composers, two Dumbledores, countless broomsticks and one — just one — Harry Potter. The Chosen One. The Boy Who Lived. The Kid with the Lightning Bolt Scar.

Whatever you call him, he is making his final appearance on the silver screen in, let's see, forever — unless J.K. Rowling writes more novels set in her well-imagined wizarding universe, which has lately gone from an outright impossibility to a vague unlikelihood. ("I feel I am done, but you never know," she told Oprah Winfrey last fall.) It's also possible that some day, maybe half a century ahead, filmmakers will remake the entire Potter saga with the latest in 6-D holographic huge-o-rama technology.

As we say good-bye to Harry, let's talk about his lasting legacy. Some films age more gracefully than others. One of cinema's great joys is its flickering ability to survive the years — to shimmer and fade in an instant, yes, but to reappear, its power undiminished, in another era before another generation of audiences. Certain movies are always waiting to be rediscovered; all it takes is a decent print and a fresh pair of eyeballs.

What awaits them, exactly? A rich and well-realized fantasy other-verse. Witness the pert, faithful opener, Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which whisks 11-year-old Harry off to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and introduces all the important folks: Ron and Hermione, Harry's best buds and comrades in the fight against evil; Dumbledore, Hogwarts' kindly head of school; and the villainous, nebulous Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents and tried to kill him.

The second film, Columbus' Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, pits Harry against a 60-foot snake and a smooth teen Voldemort sprung from a diary. The third film is the best: Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a nail-biting mystery- thriller that comes equipped with soul-sucking security guards called Dementors, a werewolf, some nifty time travel and the rat who ratted out Harry's parents. The fourth is Mike Newell's sprawling, sporting Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which reanimates Voldemort in human form (well, sort of) and whacks a significant character — the first of many deaths.

As for the last four, all directed by David Yates: The Order of the Phoenix introduces the candy-coated malevolence of Dolores Umbridge; The Half-Blood Prince has bottle-blond bad boy Draco Malfoy in a plot to murder Dumbledore; the camping-intensive Deathly Hallows, Part 1 follows The Big Three as they bicker and search for magical thingamabobs that hold Horcruxes, which are bits of Voldemort's soul; and the upcoming capper, Deathly Hallows, Part 2, should bring the entire story to a fiery conclusion.

Some of the films are unquestionably finer than others, although you'll probably get seven different rankings from seven fans, depending on their fondness for elves. And the films are unquestionably better when consumed in sequence. But in order or out of order, elves or no elves, the Harry Potter franchise should age quite well through the coming years. Here's why.

They don't date themselves (chronologically or stylistically). Despite a few errant hair and fashion choices, HP is mostly free of zeitgeist-y cultural markers. It exists in a realm unto its own, running parallel with — but far removed from — the Muggle world and its ever-shifting preoccupations with politics, technology and celebrity culture. You won't find any Brangelina references or lame Kardashian jokes in a Potter movie, and you won't find iPads or cellphones, either. This will lengthen their shelf life.

First-rate orchestral scores. John Williams set the mood — Gothic, romantic, lilting and timeless — with his work for the first three films, and his motifs appear in all of them. The ear-wormy Hedwig's Theme is arguably the most recognizable piece of movie music in the past 20 years. Can you even imagine a Potter flick with a crunchy indie soundtrack? Maybe you can, if you recall that awkward interlude in Deathly Hallows, Part 1, when Harry and Hermione slow-dance to a song by Nick Cave. (We'll wait and see how well that ages.)

Eternal themes. Good. Evil. Life. Death. Love. Hate. Orphans. Plus: redemption, romantic quests, apocalyptic battles and hormones. What else is there, really?

Non-trendy filmmaking techniques. Few things date a movie more than modish camera work; check out those camera zooms in 1968's Planet of the Apes. With the exception of occasional shaky-cam (this means you, Deathly Hallows, Part 1), the Potter realm employs classic, well-framed cinematography with just enough magisterial swoop.

Solid characters and story. Despite the prevalence of cutting-edge visual effects — which might look awfully cheesy in a couple of decades — the HP movies are rooted in the basics. As well they should be. All the computerized firepower in the world pales next to believable heroes and a gripping plot fraught with emotion.

Hagrid. Hairy Scottish half-giants only improve with age.

They're pretty good movies. "Good" is a relative term — especially when applied to pop-cultural phenomena of the Now — but the Potter oeuvre ranks a far sight better as art and entertainment than, say, the entirety of Twilight (sorry, Twi-hards). And they have a far better chance of gaining new fans, even those who never crack open or download one of Rowling's books.