From my perspective, both of the first two Potter films were very well done, considering the limitations of the source material, the expectations of the audience, and the control of J.K. Rowling.
Is it the truth that the new film is good solely because of the director -- or is it not also the case that Azkaban is far and away the favorite book of Harry Potter fans? In other words, is Cuaron receving the credit for directing the most popular of the Potter books (even Spielberg expressed interest in directing Azkaban and said it was his favorite), and Columbus getting unduly bashed about the head because he lensed the least popular of the Potter books - Chamber of Secrets?
Someone here said, "what a difference a good director makes". I don't see how one could successfully argue to my satisfaction that Columbus is a "bad" director. Roger Christian is a "bad" director, as Battlefield Earth proved the man had little grasp of visual storytelling. Ed Wood is a "bad" director.
Columbus is a pro. He's not Kubrick, and he's not Spielberg, but he's no hack, either. I think he landed the Potter job because of his screenplay for Young Sherlock Holmes, which bears a striking similarity to the Potter tales, and because he has demonstrated an ease with directing children.
Perhaps you can argue that two Potter films directed by Columbus were not *great* fantasy films, but then again, the books are not exactly LOTR or Chronicles of Narnia, either. Perhaps the distinction and the truth is that Columbus captured what the books are, and Cuaron - director of the exquisite The Little Princess - has directed what the Potter books and films *could be*?
I love the Harry Potter books, I think they are fun, entertaining, and sometimes thrilling. That also sums up my feelings about the first two movies. Fine, entertaining family fare. Not "poetic art", but then, they weren't trying to be, and neither were the books. I always say movies should be rated first on what the filmmakers were trying to do, and then, on your enjoyment of said film. Columbus did a fine job with two fine stories, and I don't think he deserves the harsh tones some people use when speaking of his work (in fact, a lot of those tones remind me of how people spoke about Spielberg in the late 80's).
Well, you seem to have closed your mind on this, but try the following: (1) Compare the new movie with the old for the structure of the scenes. In the new, there's lots of background detail in practically every one that doesn't distract, but adds to what's going on. The scene is organic and alive. With Clunky Columbus, every scene is set up for the central characters, and everything else can go hang. (2) Look at how everything is paced. Clunky Columbus just goes from one scene to the next in a cookie cutter fashion. The new movie flows. (3) The acting from everyone (not just the kids) is of a higher standard. People move and talk like they're part of an ongoing story, not just there to deliver lines that advance the plot.
Not all of the improvements in HP3 are down to losing Old Clunky. Some of it is, I suspect, because there's been a decision not to include everything in the plots but the kitchen sink. The first two movies in part were marred by the idea that the fans of the book 'must' have all their favourite details or they'll be disappointed. The result was movies that each were an hour too long. Adapting a book into a movie should never be slavish or the impetus is lost.
I find there's a lot going on in the background of the first two films, the paintings are always around, for instance, the design is lush but it's not surprising, the way Rowling's Dahl inspired prose of the first two books can sometimes be--what really sold me on the first Harry Potter novel, was reading Harry's book list. Gradually these tributes to Dahl and Monty Python have lessened as Rowling hit her stride and found her voice. But this can not only be attributed to Columbus, he collaborated with a cinematographer on both films, they made decisions how to frame things, what sort of extra footage to shoot etc. In fact I'd imagine Columbus mainly gave guidelines and the DP set things up in a traditional manner that is somewhat visually uninteresting. The second film (different DP) was better in this respect, using canted angles and tracking shots for Harry's 'hearing voices' problem.
Your second point is an issue of editing and has little of nothing to do with the director. Again he has supervisery control over this, but he's hardly Scorsese, sitting down and intimately involving himself with that process--an extremely few directors are. I think the problem was that the editors were hamstrung by the necessity of keeping so much from the books in the final film--so like George Cukor's famous David Copperfield of 1935, the first two films are more collection of scenes rather than a flowing narrative (but then Cukor was not really a auteur on that particular film with the producer he was working for).
3 is the main thing that can be attributed directly to the director, and Cuaron certainly has a talent for pulling natural performances from actors and young actors. I doubt he'd ever brag about telling a twelve year old kid to "say it like you're James Bond" as a great personal piece of direction (especially for what is possibly the lamest and worst delivered line in the first two films).
Films are huge productions, and like Rowling did, the producing team behind these films at Warners seem to be finding their voice and hitting their stride with this film.
"IMHO, I think writing the screenplay for Young Sherlock Holmes is sufficient grounds for barring anyone from anything to do with movies for life."
Well, that's your opinion. I think the film was sweet-natured and clever and lot of fun.
"With Clunky Columbus, every scene is set up for the central characters, and everything else can go hang."
That's absolutely not true - the examples are too numerous to mention. And do you frequently give major film directors derisive nick names to express your distaste?
"Look at how everything is paced. Clunky Columbus just goes from one scene to the next in a cookie cutter fashion. The new movie flows."
I also find this completely untrue - and again, the examples are too numerous to mention.
"The acting from everyone (not just the kids) is of a higher standard."
Seeing as how many of the kids in HP I and II had never been in a film before, and HP I and II were shot almost back to back, I'd expect their acting to improve.
"People move and talk like they're part of an ongoing story, not just there to deliver lines that advance the plot."
Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltraine, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, and Alan Rickman just delivered lines in HP I and II? I thought they were all inspired.
"Not all of the improvements in HP3 are down to losing Old Clunky. Some of it is, I suspect, because there's been a decision not to include everything in the plots but the kitchen sink. The first two movies in part were marred by the idea that the fans of the book 'must' have all their favourite details or they'll be disappointed."
But neither film did have all of the scenes. The first film had to establish all of the ins and outs of Hogwarts as well as the origin of Harry, and it clocked in a half-hour longer than Mary Poppins. I haven't spoken with many people who had a problem with this - in fact, when speaking to my middle-school niece, she complained more about what was left out.
"The result was movies that each were an hour too long. Adapting a book into a movie should never be slavish or the impetus is lost."
I think Warner said it best when asked how long a movie should be. "How long is it good?" Neither HP film wore out its welcome for me, nor for anyone I know. If this is one is merely Mary Poppins length, then I take it that the film didn't need to be any longer. "Old Clunky Columbus", after all, produced the film.
After reading the third book recently, I certainly think it is by far the best of the three. She addressed the issues that I had with CoS, and really seems to come into her own on Azkaban. Looking forward to reading book 4.
As for Chris Columbus, I look at him as one of those solid Hollywood directors. One of those guys who can take standard Hollywood fare and not screw it up. That's why I didn't, and still don't, have a problem with him helming the first two films. With something as big as this, you don't want to take too many risks and kill the golden goose. So, get a guy who plays things conservative, don't stray too far from the book, and things will be fine. It has worked so far.
Now, that everyone has some experience making Harry Potter films, we can now play with the format a little bit, bring in some guys that can put a different spin on things. I'm looking forward to it.
One of the major issues with adapting the films is that, of course, the book series isn't finished. That means only Rowling knows what little details should be included and why a lot of wholesale changes shouldn't be made that could have bearing on later events. This is also why most deviations from the books will be omissions vice wholesale changes.
I have nothing against Chris Columbus and love a couple of films where he received writing credit (The Goonies and Gremlins in particular).
But I have to agree with Andrew that he is not many people’s idea of a ‘major’ director. Of course if major director’, is defined as being responsible for a big-budget film, he meets the test after the ‘Harry Potter’ movies.
Sure- he's directed six 100 million+ grossers, four of which cleared 200 million. As far as Hollywood is concerned thats an excellent track record and ensures that he will be considered for just about any film that comes along.
Whether you care about this artistic merit as a director there's no denying that he is a major player.
/ Exactly. And he's not a hack by a long shot. He's not Kubrick, but then, only Kubrick was Kubrick. I'm not sure this conversation has any point moving forward. My point was that Columbus does not deserve the outright hate and derision he receives (it reminds me of the way people used to speak about Spielberg in the late 80's), and this has been greeted by only more hate and derision. You can't talk someone into loving someone, and you can't talk anyone out of hating, either. The hostile emotions towards Chris Columbus have little to do with his actual talents, and have more to do with hostility towards sentimental family fare like Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Stepmom. I have little love for any of those films, and I actively dislike two of them. That does not lead me to dislike Columbus, call him names, or attack his professionalism or competency - especially since those films were loved by children, and had no intention of being Wuthering Heights in the first place...