Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Harry Potter and the Magical Malady of the Movies

The Harry Potter franchise movie posters.

Like most everyone in the world (as is mandated, recommended, possibly bemoaned), this particular writer has been home quarantining for a month now. Yes, yes, I know, public health and safety and all matters, but it is a bit of a bore.

So I decided to do a marathon of one of my favorite movie franchises of all time: Lord of The Ri- no, lord no. I mean the “Harry Potter” movies.

I’m part of “generation HP,” the era of kids who grew up watching the movies as their first introduction to the franchise rather than reading the books. I first started with the first three movies as a youngin’ of nine, then read books two through seven long after they came out, watched movie eight, read book one, and then finally concluded with movies four through seven (if you kept up with that tale, well done!). But it’s been quite the hot minute since I’ve taken a few hours (days, more like it) to sit down and watch all eight movies, which I remember as being the gold standards of filmmaking.

Let’s just say, the charm’s (see what I did there?) still there, but maybe the effect’s starting to fade. But let me tell you why you should spend your quarantine watching these movies.

A friend of mine recently described the movies as being “the truest escapism.” And that’s exactly the kind of thing we need to keep ourselves sane during this time. There’s a pure childlike wonder that comes with immersing yourself into the world of Harry James Potter. The movies offer a truly sensory and encapsulating experience. Dare I say, they’re… magical?

The HP film franchise is a true feat of production and cinematography, creating works of film that are just as impressive nearly two decades down the line (feel old yet?). The detailed work on the set pieces, first rate visual effects, and CGI, all make for a visually stunning piece of cinema. Honorable mention to the John Williams scoring as well, iconic in its own right.

The movies truly come together due to the impeccable, IMPECCABLE casting. Having Emma Watson, an actress with a slight air of perfectionism, play Hermione Granger makes her an insufferable know-it-all that you can’t help but root for. Evanna Lynch’s dreamy airhead look makes Luna Lovegood all the more endearing. Helena Bonham-Carter’s truly kooky demeanor is what makes Bellatrix Lestrange feel like a real threat. Even Daniel Radcliffe so easily captures the sort of boyish charm that Harry Potter has without making it too obvious (I’ll give him a pass for missing the green eyes).

Keeping that in mind, though, have you ever met one of those people who always go “umm, the book was better than the movie?” In this case, they’re right. You can argue it, but you’d probably be wrong. Every one of the books (except for book three, “The Prisoner of Azkaban”) was a story-telling marvel that I don’t think the movies could be. The books never overwhelmed us with characters or new developments in the wizarding world, yet managed to keep the storyline moving forward at a brisk pace. And the characters and plot points started to get more and more compelling and seemed to all connect.

In movie five, “Order of the Phoenix”, Sirius Black says, “The world isn’t split into good people and death eaters. There’s a light and dark inside all of us.” But, the thing is, most of the characters in the HP universe can quite conveniently be slotted into “good” or “bad” terms. It can be quite binary. Obviously, there are notable exceptions, like Harry himself, being both brash and intuitive; Severus Snape, loyal yet sardonic; even Ron Weasley, probably the most realistic character, who showcases that being adjacent to fame instead of actually famous isn’t as thrilling.

But that’s just what they are. Exceptions. And the movies make that very apparent, simply because there’s not enough time to explore each and every one of these characters. In the fourth movie, “The Goblet of Fire,” Triwizard champion Viktor Krum comes off as being arrogant and ruggedly handsome. That’s because he barely has any lines beyond grunting like a lunk from the stone age (petition to retroactively fire the actor, Stanislav Ianevski, for turning him into a plank of wood). In the books, however, he’s depicted as being arrogant, ruggedly handsome, secretly charming, awkwardly endearing, and a pretty decent chap. The screenplay often shows you everything that’s going on but shies away from going deeper lest it dive too much and run out of time.

My personal biggest critique would be the movie’s half-baked storylines that, fundamentally, seek to simply bring plots from the paper to film reel. Take, for instance, Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown’s hurricane of a romance in book six, “The Half-Blood Prince.” Lavender Brown had been a constantly recurring character throughout the books, albeit one of little significance. But when she develops a relationship with Ron (a cringeworthy one at that), it feels like an organic arc that brings a consistently cute background character to the forefront. In the movies, however, it just comes straight out of nowhere. Lavender makes her very first meaningful (and whitewashed) appearance in that movie itself and presents less as a “silly girl in love” and more “stalker with an obsessive infatuation.” It all seems too contrived and doesn’t come quite as naturally as it does in the books. #JusticeForLavenderBrown

Also, I consider it a heinous offence that the movies largely forget that the Patil sisters belong to different houses, often showing them both together in the Gryffindor common room, despite one being in Ravenclaw. As a fellow Indian, I demand accurate depiction!

Why do all of these problems matter, though?

People tend to get caught up in the overflowing emotion that the movies bring out, which is why they don’t really see what’s wrong with them. These nitpicks are only here because they could potentially take you away from the escapist element of the films, make you take a step back and, God forbid, remember what’s going on in the outside world. I’d call these disclaimers, maybe. A warning for things to look out for, perhaps.

However, the Harry Potter movies set box offices on fire and turned tomatoes “fresh” for more than a decade for good reason. It almostperfectly put to screen all the images we had in our heads and gave us some of the most memorable movie moments of recent times. Heck, cue Hedwig’s Theme (that familiar piano tune you hear at the beginning of each movie, for all you muggles) and that alone can elicit sighs, probably tears.

There’s something to be said for a series of films that take you on a journey quite like these do. Even if it is a journey of debate, it’s still better than sitting alone and going, “this disease will kill us all, farewell cruel world.”

Side note: would the Coronavirus have been a problem in the wizarding world? Nah, it’d probably be gone with one spell. That’s the reality we’d rather all be living in, as one collective community of Potterheads. And with JK Rowling launching the Hogwarts at Home hub to (slightly) experience some of the magic of wizardry, that might be more possible than you’d think.

Best movie: “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” for achieving everything it set out to achieve and then some

Worst movie: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which is, quite frankly, unmemorable and driven by the most stale of the seven books. I almost screamed when I realized Alfonso Cuaron, he of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” fame, helmed this movie. Also, having the characters in street clothes, escandalo!

Best character: While Ron Weasley’s complex and realistic character sketch takes it in the books, I’d have to give it to Hermione Granger in this case, simply for Emma Watson’s fantastically exuberant portrayal (she made being a nerd “cool”)

Worst character: Michael Gambon’s Albus Dumbledore (aka the second one) for playing way too panicky, a stark contrast to the composed figure from the books

Overall film franchise rating: A solid 3.5/5 stars

On that note, let’s end with some of the biggest cues the movies unconsciously made, in my mind, to our present scenario. A checklist, if you will:

  • Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, in movie six, decides to clap his hands in the air and vanish with his phoenix in a blaze of flamesbefore letting the Ministry of Magic get any closer. Say what you want about ol’ Dumbledore, he sure has style!
  • Dolores Umbridge, as new Hogwarts Headmaster in movie five, makes a declaration that boys and girls should be “at least eight inches apart.” I’d change that to six feet, if I were her.
  • Every time someone shook hands with someone else, or the members of the golden trio hugged each other, I was tempted tochannel Cardi B and scream “CORONAVIRUS!” I might’ve given in to that temptation once or twice.
  • I’m inclined to believe that all the animals making the rounds in the wizarding world (owls, rats, centaurs, giants, to name a few) could viably spread a lot more than just viral infections.
  • JK Rowling believing she might’ve had the coronavirus (don’t worry, Potterheads, she’s better now) is truly as meta as this gets.

Now excuse me while I go check my mailbox…

Tsk, my Hogwarts letter is now 11 years and 257 days late, that owl better not be social distancing right now!



Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020

COVID-19 hampers Fashion Week for photographers

Daniel Karel September 18, 2020

On the heels of revelation that Trump downplayed the covid threat, voters question rallies resuming

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 16, 2020

Overburdened mothers in Pakistan are relieved as schools reopens

Quratulain Tejani September 13, 2020

Students from different parts of the world struggle as schools reopen during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang September 12, 2020

Special needs students face learning obstacles during Covid-19

Courtney Guarino September 12, 2020

Back to school – COVID-19 style 

Isabel Beer September 12, 2020

The new normal for school life is abnormal in Michigan

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 11, 2020

California School District Parents and Teachers Clash About Return to School

Norah Hogan September 10, 2020

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Yifan Yu July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020