It must have been a daunting task knowing you were about to direct a movie about the most famous wizard in literary history. And that, quite possibly, the fate of a franchise rested in your hands. For these reasons, and many more, I applaud Chris Columbus and his efforts on The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone acts like a primer for the rest of the series. The film is very much an expository experience where the audience is introduced to the world of Harry Potter. I use the word “introduced” because even the most avid readers of Harry Potter need to become acquainted with the visual world of the books, or at least the way the filmmakers envision it. Being associated with the most explanatory of the series films, poor Columbus has taken the brunt of a lot of criticism. But I say again, without his world-building finesse, the franchise would have been lost.
A part of that world-building is undoubtedly finding the right talent to fill the big shoes of the characters in Rowling’s novels. Columbus had a huge hand in the casting decision-making process, a process that lead to acquiring the most brilliant British acting royalty in the history of cinema. No easy feat. Also, can you see any other person playing Ron? Because I can’t. Columbus’ acumen in this area can not be denied. No matter who, when, or where, a Harry Potter book is read, the faces of Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson will forever be associated with those characters. Lucky us!
Columbus is a very gifted director of family entertainment, which is one of the primary reasons why he was chosen as the initial director of the series. His knack for directing child actors is also superb, which in a series solely dependent on the performance if it’s child stars, is paramount. In a span of two plus hours, the audience had to believe in the main characters, and be behind Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson for the long haul.
The innocence of these lead performances give the first two films a magic that I believe is lost somewhat from the other films of the series. Now, with the plot of the stories growing ever darker, it’s difficult to create the same sense of wonder, but I’m pleased that Columbus was able to capture Hogwarts as it existed in the best of times (or rather, the “better” of times). Columbus presents us with a palette of bright, rich colors that are perfect for a world beyond imagination. His handling of Rowling’s abundant source material is also admirable, giving the audience a well-rounded assortment of goodies from the books, while keeping the films “muggle-friendly.” Columbus also remains true to the self-contained nature of Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets adding to both films’ accessibility among Potter newbies.
Reaching such a broad audience may be one of Columbus’ biggest successes with the first two films. In a series that could have been handcrafted to only the most serious reader’s specifications at the detriment of a wider audience, Columbus sought to create films that brought more people into the world of Harry Potter, so whether you read the books, or just watched the movies, there was an experience to be had for everyone.
What may interest some people is that Columbus was a producer on Prisoner of Azkaban, which I believe was an appropriate move for a director who was so obviously protective of what he started. His selection of Cuaron for the third director was an inspired choice, as it ultimately initiated the turn of the series from light to dark.
It’s been ten years since Columbus graced the director’s chair on the set of Harry Potter, but his talented efforts can still be seen in the dedication of the cast, and the continued quality of the films themselves. Columbus never intended Harry Potter to be “just a kid’s movie,” and what has resulted is one of the most loved film series ever created.