My friend Nathaniel recently did a marathon of all eight Harry Potter movies, in a row. His thoughts on the series were interesting, and now, here are my thoughts on his thoughts.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is indeed more whimsical and lighthearted than the other movies in the series. A lot of people think this is due to the director, but I think it's also due to the book. There was more of a sense of joy and exploring the fun new world of magic in that book than in the others, probably because it was the book in which Harry first was exposed to magic. In the following books, there are fewer and fewer new magical things that Harry gets exposed to. As I recall, this gets mentioned in Book 4, when Harry hears the term "Death Eaters" for the first time.
When I watch this movie, I get the sense that they had to hold back with the special effects. The later movies all had special effects budgets which ranked somewhere between "huge" and "unlimited". But this movie feels like it had a limited special effects budget, and they had to cut corners a bit. Just off the top of my head, here are some ways they saved money on special effects.
1. Seamus sets things on fire, but this always happens off camera.
2. The chess set scene involves a lot of zooming in on stationary chess pieces.
3. When Wood teaches Harry about Quidditch, he does a good deal of pretending that the Bludger in his hands is actually moving, when it's not.
The later movies would have done all of those things in CGI.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I agree: Movie Lockhart is not like Book Lockhart. I still liked him. And I loved how the movie ends with Hagrid getting a standing ovation for no apparent reason. That's good stuff right there. And I'll be honest, I liked Young Voldemort in this movie much more than Young Voldemort in the sixth one.
Also, Dobby and Lucius Malfoy do a great job of stealing every single scene that they're in. Crabbe and Goyle also do a good job with their extended screentime, which is probably more than we of them in all the other films combined.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I dunno, I never really liked this movie. It just sort of screams "the director didn't read the book", with all the things that don't fit into the Harry Potter canon. For example, the movie starts off with Harry at the Dursleys, casting the Lumos spell multiple times in a row. At this point, it's already been established that Harry can't do magic outside of school, without getting in trouble with the government. But the movie just completely ignores it, and the following movies will likewise ignore the "no apparition in Hogwarts" and "no one besides Voldemort can fly without a broom" rules.
No, really. It's the small things that bug me. Aunt Marge is severely underdone, considering how good her actress is at playing villains. Why does everyone wear civilian clothes instead of robes now? Why are there talking Jamaican heads everywhere? When did Tom from the Leaky Cauldron become a hunchback? Who came up with the Bridge of Indeterminate Origin? What happened to the plotline about the Marauders? Is it possible for someone who has never read the books to know who Peter Pettigrew is, and why he is important to the plotline? Why shove the Firebolt plotline into the last thirty seconds of the film?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Sure, it does take a while before the movie actually reaches the main plotline, about the Triwizard Tournament. But that was the case in the book, too. It's Chapter 12 of 37 when the tournament comes up, which is a third of the way through the book.
Overall, I like the movie more than the previous one. The lack of Dobby disappointed me, although they replaced Dobby's role with developing Neville's character, which was nice. And I agree that this is the movie where it is blaringly obvious that Angry Dumbledore is totally out of place. He continues to be out of character for the rest of the series, and I like to blame Michael Gambon, the actor, for this, because he purposely avoided reading the books.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I also enjoy how the movie crams in as many things as it can, without making anything seem too forced. They do this through the use of some really good montages. Also, this is the movie where Luna Lovegood is introduced. Like Cedric Diggory before her, she does a good job of quickly assuming the status as one of the series' main characters, in a relatively short period of time.
It's her first movie, and she gets paired with secondary characters who have been in all the movies so far, such as Ginny and Neville. And yet, she not only seamlessly integrates herself with them, she stands out as the most notable of the three auxiliary DA members who join the Battle at the Ministry. Bellatrix Lestrange pulls off a similar feat among the Death Eaters.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This is a good movie, but I don't like it. I blame the book for this; the book doesn't really fit in with the rest of the series. The other books are (usually) fast-paced fantasy adventures. In this book, romantic comedy takes the center stage. Also, unlike the other books, this book doesn't really have a standalone plot; a lot of it is build-up for the seventh book, rather than it being complete material on its own.
It could also be that this book is more Dumbledore heavy than the others, and Movie Dumbledore never got my official seal of approval. I like Horace Slughorn, though. He did a good job, although I kind of wish that he had a mustache, just like he did in the books.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One. Yeah...I didn't really notice it in my review, but 90% of the characters wear normal clothing in this film. The film spends hardly any time in magical locations, too. Truly, it's mostly just an exercise in the development of the three main characters, rather than a series of exciting adventures.
I'm still not sure how I feel about Dobby, though. Poor Dobby, at this point, had not appeared in the series in over six years. They only brought him back, so they could give him a dramatic death scene. Sure, they make up for this by giving Dobby some great one-liners, but...I would have either left him out entirely, or included him in one of the other films.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two. Yes, I think you can make an argument that the last book should have been made into one movie, just like the others. If they can make one movie out of the other, longer books, they can make this one into a single film. Then again, I was always on board for splitting Goblet of Fire into two movies, so I dunno.
It was a good action movie, though, which is nice considering that the previous two movies were not action-centric.