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Dustin Putman

Essays & Articles
Harry Potter: A Decade of Cinematic Magic - by Dustin Putman
An epic, eloquently told tale of good versus evil that ultimately spanned 7 novels, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was already a global publishing phenomenon long before the first film adaptation premiered in 2001. Now, ten years later, the eighth and final film of the biggest franchise in Hollywood history has been released. To date, the Harry Potter films have racked up over $6 billion in worldwide box office receipts and that total will likely top out at over $7 billion by the time the final credits roll in the last theater. But this wondrous series is so much more than just a cash cow for Warner Brothers. The real magic of the Potterverse came from the genuine heart of the characters and their relationships in the face of obstacles (be they physical or emotional) too numerous to count. The breathless action, thrilling spectacle and all of the magical hocus-pocus along the way would have meant nothing without people to care about. It's that heart and those characters we've grown to love—both on the page and on the screen—that have firmly entrenched Harry Potter into the cultural fabric of the 21st century.
2001Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone

In the hands of screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" has beaten the odds to become a loving adaptation that remains faithful to the source material. In attempting to include the majority of plot points in the written story, the film runs over two-and-a-half hours, but is so entertaining that it feels much shorter. One thing is for sure: I'm already anxiously awaiting the further adventures of Harry Potter on the big screen.

2002Harry Potter and the
Chamber of Secrets

Problems aside, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is overflowing with imagination and glorious visuals. Despite failing to equal its precursor, the film will entertain adults and is an undoubted treat for children, especially because it encourages an expansion of the mind rarely seen in this genre. As is, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is an engaging and often thrilling experience, but it is far from deep, and doesn't emotionally resound as it should.

2004Harry Potter and the
Prisoner of Azkaban

Improves upon nearly every aspect of its predecessors. A few hang-ups notwithstanding, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is assured, visually triumphant filmmaking that isn't simply a joy to look at, but also involves and bewitches with its tightly conceived plotting. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is happily entrancing at times, yes, but there is a genuine threat lurking around the corners that gives its every moment added weight and foreboding immediacy. As in reality. As in any good fairy tale.

2005Harry Potter and the
Goblet of Fire

The series' most complete and satisfying entry to date on all counts—the most complex, the most humane, the most involving, the most creatively eclectic, the most threatening, the largest in scope, and, coincidentally, the most emotionally intimate. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is an extravagant entertainment that makes a return to the sort of "event" moviegoing experience that doesn't seem to come around as often anymore. For Harry Potter, the process of growing up may be the hardest task of all.

2007Harry Potter and the
Order of the Phoenix

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" beautifully translates the story, characters and soul of Rowling's epic 870-page tome while seamlessly condensing it and standing assuredly apart from its source material. At 138 minutes, it is the shortest of the pictures thus far, but also the most thematically dense and emotionally satisfying. An entertaining marvel of invention and storytelling, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is one of this summer's smartest and most invigorating releases.

2009Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince

This chillingly great, masterfully economical adaptation plays like a Greek tragedy in the epic tradition. As the characters continue to grow up and deepen in their multiple facets, so, too, does a monumental franchise that keeps getting better and better. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is a remarkable achievement in imagination, storytelling, and underlying thematic relevance, a motion picture that visually dazzles as any respectably made blockbuster should, but also knows not to misplace the human element at the forefront.

2010Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows Part 1

What could have very well been the reigning filmic achievement in the "Harry Potter" canon now feels frustratingly incomplete. Had key tweaks been made, pacing tightened, and a split down the middle not been opted for, who knows how high into the stratosphere it might have gone. As is, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" is solid but uneven, a motion picture of maturity, humanity, and exquisite aesthetics topped off by a misguided notion that more equals better.

2011Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows Part 2

A stunner of a conclusion that should make proud just about everyone: the adoring fans of J.K. Rowling's rabidly popular novels, viewers who have not read the books but have followed and enjoyed the movies, and the passionate actors and filmmakers who have dedicated the better part of a decade of their lives to ensuring justice would, indeed, be served. Moody, sprawling, complex narratives interweaving a life-or-death struggle between good and evil with the, some might say, just as delicate and prickly act of coming of age, these films have transformed confidently and comprehensibly into anything but kiddie fare. And, as it turns out, the best was saved for last.

It seems fitting that I celebrate the 10th year of my site's operation with the conclusion of a film franchise that I have been covering here since that first year. Back then I was less than three months into my third year of college, and now it's been seven and a half years since I graduated. I've since had several jobs, found a profession (outside of the world of film criticism), moved to a different state, and am on the verge of my 30th birthday. Hard to believe how time has flown, and that this wonderful cinematic saga is over. Here's to you, Harry, Ron and Hermionie; J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers and all involved; it's been a pleasure.
Mischief Managed.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman