For too long of a time, I would feel like the only person in a room who had not seen the Harry Potter movies. Every time my secret would come out people would be shocked by such a travesty. My profession is centered around movies. I've been to the Wizarding World sections of Universal parks both in California and Florida. I have even been to the Warner Bros. lot in London where much of these movies were filmed. Yet, I confess, I had not seen these movies. It almost became a dumb badge of honor of sorts: "Yes, I am the one person left who really doesn't know anything about Harry Potter!"
Finally, though, I have watched every single Harry Potter movie, and I'm almost glad I was so late to the party.
Warning: spoilers for the Harry Potter movies follow. Major spoilers! This is a courtesy warning for anyone who has somehow made it this far without having the story ruined, which I am living proof is possible.
Back in elementary school (nearly 20 years ago) I read the first few Harry Potter books from J.K. Rowling. My parents could not get me to read much but these books had me hooked for a short while. I never went on to complete the series and I don't really remember much at all that which I did. Keywords like "Snape," "Voldemort," and "Dumbledore," were lodged in my brain and I had a general gist of who is good, who is bad, and that an invisibility cloak is going to appear (or not appear) at some point but I somehow managed to go into these movies, 10 years late, almost 100% spoiler-free.
So, I gathered a mixture of blu-rays and DVDs which had released over the course of the franchise and began a journey of both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, appropriately starting at the beginning. This kid, Harry Potter, is living in a cupboard under the stairs and I just know he is going to become a legend. Oh, man... This is going to be good.
When Harry shows up at Hogwarts, I meet Dumbledore and Snape for the first time. The introduction of Snape was interesting. He seemed so blatantly juxtaposed to the goodness of Dumbledore and the Griffyndor kids that I thought having Slytherin actually be the bad guys would be too easy. I was a little bit right, a little bit wrong (thanks, Lucious Malfoy, you cowardly jerk).
Early on, there seemed to be a bit of a formula. Something like a Dark Arts teacher being framed as a villain only for the person right under our noses to be the real baddie seemed like where each movie would go. So, in the overarching story of the whole franchise, who is the snake among all of these characters? I figured, "There's no way Snape is really going to be the bad guy, because it's so obvious that he would be." Plus, people had tweeted at me when I started this journey and told me they all loved Snape, so I was confused.
It was when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban wrapped up that this franchise really began to land for me right through the "Directed by Alfonso Cuaron" text at the end -- because, of course, Cuaron would nail this one. The time travel aspect and Dumbledore's ability to plan ahead was not only fun but it was genius. Time travel actually worked in this movie, which for me was reminiscent to the rules on display in LOST. For what it's worth, LOST is my favorite TV series, so that might have helped influence my perspective. In a rare moment following a time travel story, I didn't have to sit there and have conversations about paradoxes and plot holes (although, I'm sure some of the deep cut Harry Potter fans or haters are ready to tell me otherwise. This fandom's conversations are one I'm completely unfamiliar with).
Through three movies, my favorite characters are probably Hagrid and Dumbledore. Ron is fun and Hermione has room to grow on me. Gary Oldman plays Sirius Black, which was a delightful surprise, to emphasize how out of the loop on this franchise I had been. One by one, the best British actors were appearing, many of which I had known at some point to be a part of the franchise but none of which I knew much about their characters.
As the story progressed, I couldn't help but draw parallels to other properties which I was more familiar with. Hunting down Voldemort's Horcruxes was reminiscent of racing to get the Infinity Stones. The dark versus light framing of villains and heroes took my mind to Star Wars. Most of all, the one guy welcoming kids into a school to enhance their special abilities while another was trying to rule the world and make these enhanced individuals superior to those without them felt like a straight up X-Men parallel. Still, every thread from Rowling's brain somehow managed to be unique in a crowded landscape of "it's all been done before" and the books probably emphasize the individuality of the franchise moreover.
Finally reaching the two Deathly Hallows movies, the first was disappointing. Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows films started off in a really exciting way. The Polyjuice Potion to make a bunch of Harry Potters and the ensuing chase sequence was a great way to open the final pair of films. It also went to show how far the visual effects department had come since the 2001 release of Sorcerer's Stone. It seemed to really come across in the opening of Part 2, as the Dementors floating outside of Hogwarts had a real texture about them, now.
On the heels of Dumbledore being killed by Snape (the most emotional moment for me to this point since Cedric Diggory was killed), I was absolutely puzzled as to why all of my friends and Twitter followers like this black-haired, snake-like being so much. So, I figured he had to have a plan; some way to rescue Harry and defeat Voldemort or something of the sort.
As long as this evil Bellatrix lady was destroyed along the way, everything would be fine.
After that first act of Part 1, the film fell a little flat and a small touch of worry for the franchise's culmination started to set in but that's probably just the result of splitting this thing into two films.
The best was saved for last, though.
The Deathly Hallows Part 2 really blew my mind. Somehow, all of these spoilers either fell on deaf ears or never crossed my path. Hitting that montage of Snape and Dumbledore's plan, touching on so many essential story beats from earlier in the franchise was a jaw-dropping experience and one which has me racing back to watch the films over again. "Snape was good all along," I tweeted while watching the movie, "he was just broken." This seemed to trigger some Snape-haters but the character was a brilliant one. After all, a divided fandom seems like the staple of any great franchise these days, huh? Rowling agrees.
Unlike recent franchise culminations which I've experience in real time (for example, Game of Thrones or Avengers: Endgame), the Harry Potter saga seemed to know where it was going all along. The Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed to capitalize on opportunities from its 10-year narrative in its culmination earlier this year but not the level which Rowling did. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones seemed to just kind of throw together a rushed final season, so we might never know if Bran Stark landing as King was planned since he fell from the tower. Rowling seemed to know her endgame from the beginning which allowed Snape's "always" to be a crushing emotional payoff. Sorry, Diggory, Dumbledore, and Dobby. This tragic love story makes too much sense and hits too hard for any of you to take the Most Emotional Moment prize.
Everything Snape did was out of love for Lily Potter and it was seeded all along. He went as far as acting out against Harry, projecting his feelings of Harry's father onto Harry himself, but never letting those emotions get in the way of the greater good. Brilliant. Tragic. Wow.
Let's also not ignore the fact that Rowling really emphasized the come up for people who seemed to be without opportunity or extraordinary significance. Not only is Harry's story an impressive one of rising from despair but chief among what some would consider lesser characters getting great moments was the all-too-often laughing stock of Hogwarts, Neville Longbottom, dealing the final blow to Voldemort's Horcruxes. Plus, Mama Weasley got the opportunity to waste Bellatrix and drop the only foul language of the entire cinematic franchise.
So, why am I glad I was so late to this party?
Watching these movies and experiencing them with people who had already fallen in love with the stories and characters was great fun. There is no way to go back and watch them for the first time again, so it was over the past 6 weeks that I had this privilege, at an age of maturity to properly process each of these story beats.5comments
So few other movie lovers can watch Harry Potter for the first time, right now. Most have already been through the experience. I experienced the franchise with some of my other favorites in mind, looking at how this is might have been influenced by some and how it may have influenced others. Really, I should have watched these movies a long time ago but I'm ecstatic to have finally watched them, at all.
Also, Snape is one the best characters, ever. He will be, always.