Chamber of Secrets (2002): Returning to Hogwarts, Harry learns about a series of attacks on students and a secret chamber where he has to kill a large serpent and defeat Lord Voldemort’s ‘memory’, which is in an enchanted diary.
Half-Blood Prince (2009): Harry learns how Voldemort has been using special artefacts (‘Horcruxes’) to become immortal and sees his mentor Dumbledore killed by Severus Snape, a teacher at Hogwarts who Harry has had suspicions about.
With The Deathly Hallows, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) leave Hogwarts and – following clues left by the late Dumbledore – go in search of Horcruxes which will help them kill Voldemort, whilst avoiding the clutches of his followers.
Although there were financial benefits gained by splitting the final book into two films, given its length and sprawling nature, it also allows the filmmakers to do it justice.
But if you are planning on catching the latest film without having seen all the others, don’t even bother: director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have constructed this so that knowledge of the series (either book or film) is a pre-requisite.
This is also considerably darker in tone as the threat of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) lurks around every corner, forcing Harry and his friends to go on the run as they search for the elusive Horcuxes across the land.
Danger and threat are a constant and the impressively staged set-pieces include an opening mission to escort Harry to safety; a wedding that gets horribly interrupted; an audacious raid on the Ministry of Magic and lengthy stretches in the countryside, where the characters grapple with their various frustrations.
The huge fanbase and family audiences around the world are going to lap this up and there is no doubt that another Potter-fuelled box office bonanza is on the cards, even though the climactic Part 2 next summer will probably be the bigger hit.
Like the more recent films it is proficiently made, with handsome production values and another addition to what is now the most profitable franchise in film history.
But at this point, the series represents an intriguing paradox.
Their colossal success has meant they have become longer and potentially more of a slog for those who aren’t committed Potter fans.
At the same time they have become technically more interesting as the production resources have grown and allowed the directors greater creative scope.
It was a trend that kicked in on the third film (which was visually a step up from the first two) and the last two directed by David Yates, which have employed more adventurous visuals and production values.
Yates has demonstrated his ease with the material and it will be interesting to see where he goes post-Potter: these films with their mix of character and spectacle suggest he could make CGI-driven blockbusters or smart, upscale dramas.
For this kind of film, audiences automatically expect the special effects, production design and costumes to be of a high standard and this doesn’t disappoint, blending them seamlessly in with the drama.
Despite this, the most memorable sequences involve some old fashioned trickery: a Mission Impossible-style break-in to the Ministry of Magic provides laughs and tension through clever use of actors and sound, whilst old-school animation powers a striking episode explaining the Deathly Hallows of the title.
Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is especially impressive in the outdoor sequences, which includes an exciting chase in the woods and some neat matching of real life environments with CGI backdrops.
Another interesting aspect, which clearly came from the source material, is the allusions to a totalitarian state, racism (the oppression of Muggles), the media (is The Daily Prophet some kind of Daily Mail clone?) and even torture.
The company, which normally publishes books about travel and Judaica, will defend The Harry Potter Lexicon which began online and is about to become what it says is a “reference guide” which Rowling can’t lay claim to.
But issues of copyright infringement and fair use are in dispute over online material that’s been subsequently published.
…Rowling will be the first witness for the plaintiffs. “It’s very important to her,” an insider told me Friday night. “She doesn’t feel that somebody else should be effectively ripping off her work and infringing on her intellectual property.”
In support of her position Ms. Rowling appears to claim a monopoly on the right to publish literary reference guides, and other non-academic research, relating to her own fiction.
This is a right no court has ever recognized. It has little to recommend it.
If accepted, it would dramatically extend the reach of copyright protection, and eliminate an entire genre of literary supplements: third party reference guides to fiction, which for centuries have helped readers better access, understand and enjoy literary works.
You can read their legal brief here, whilst Team Potter’s brief is here, along with a further reply here.
This is a tricky one – although Rowling and Warner Bros may indeed have a case, this could easily backfire.
Even if they win and protect the ‘Potter brand’, the danger is that they’ll look like they are punishing the fan culture that has helped make the books and films so popular.
Or are the Potter books too successful and ingrained in pop culture to be damaged by any fall out from this?