Harry Potter and The Engine Room of Gort

Commander's Log, Stardate 14012013.2:

It came as somewhat of a surprise this week to find the source of the unusual power fluctuations the Mothership's computers had been detecting for some time. Heading down to the engine room, I found various tools and parts scattered around, indicating Gort had been working on some "improvements".

The shock came when I opened the engine access panel and found the engine itself had been removed and replaced with a glowing co-alition of light in the shape of a badger on a treadmill.

"GORT! What the hell have you done?!" I hollered.

Gort appeared behind me wearing a flowing black cloak and explained that he had converted the engine to run on magic. When I questioned exactly how reliable a fictional concept was as a power source, he flourished a wand he had constructed from a broken antenna and bellowed:

"Do not question the power of the dark lord Voldegort!"

"You've been watching the Harry Potter movies, haven't you?" I questioned, feeling a headache coming on.

"Arsekickeo!" Gort shouted with a flick of his antenna...

Adapting books into films is always a minefield. Change too much and you defeat the object of adapting a book to begin with, but keep every word the same and you may end up with a bloated movie that barely works on screen. Never has a series had more input from the source author or strived to capture what was so beloved about the books as Harry Potter; but did it succeed in adapting the novels and still produce great movies?

The first thing that strikes you when rewatching the films is just how young everybody looks and the sordid feeling that comes with knowing that Emma Watson will one day become rather attractive. Yet, the youth of the cast is reflected in Chris Columbus' direction. The Home Alone director gave the first two films the feel of a fairytale kids' adventure, which by the end of the series, the story rapidly outgrows.

Never more obvious is this than in the case of the sorely missed Richard Harris. His performance as the pivotal Dumbledore is powerful, entertaining and works perfectly in Columbus' installments. He's the very concept of a patriarch: wise, powerful, aloof; but also caring, subtle and completely nuts. Despite Harris allegedly not giving a hoot about the films, he clearly puts a lot more into Dumbledore than his replacement, Michael Gambon did.

Gambon is clearly as great an actor as Harris, but his Dumbledore swings wildly between earnest and unhinged. He never portrays Dumbledore as potent or dangerous, which undermines the supposed shock when his vulnerability is exposed in The Half-Blood Prince. Still, Gambon manages to be more effective than Harris, despite these issues, for the simple reason that he has a keen edge. Harris portrayed Dumbledore as a sort of Father Chrismas-like figure, all friendliness and affection, while Gambon made him a conniving bastard, along the lines of Xavier in the X-men comics, and it makes all the difference.

Children of Men director, Alfonso Cuaron was a left-field choice for the third movie after Columbus left, but it turns out, an inspired one. Cuaron opened up the world, venturing farther from the main sets and adding a darker tone, both metaphorically and visually; changing the pallet from Gryffindor colours to murky blue. Chamber of Secrets had been an odd mismatch between magical KKK antics and deadly snake attacks, on the one hand, and giddy comic relief and happy-go-lucky adventure, on the other. Cuaron's tone was much closer to the genuine danger of Rowling's world.

This was something that Mike Newell wanted to make plain in the next offering. Still, the fourth film seems slightly unsure of its footing somehow. It doesn't seem to know how to flesh out the visuals around what is explained by Rowling's narrative, losing important aspects, such as Quidditch, the Dursleys and the House Elves, and expanding on irrelevancies like the Yule Ball.

It's clear why David Yates took over for the rest of the movies as he managed to capture the feel of the books better than other directors. Order of The Phoenix saw the battle with Voldemort get started and the films gathered pace, appropriately. Harry became darker and Radcliffe's performance became stronger, while Rowling's second wave of characters, Gary Oldman, Natalia Tena and Evanna Lynch, gave a punkier, more underdog flavour to the protagonistic group. Even Robert Pattinson proves he's only annoying when associated with annoying properties. Meanwhile, the most action-packed of the books became the most exciting of the films.

Half-blood Prince, however, was more of a struggle. This was the beginning of a snowballing need to cut the stories down to their bare bones as Rowling, cunningly, made the plots more complex as her readership grew older. Yates was more sensible in his choices than Newell, but fans grew increasingly frustrated with the missing scenes and plot holes. The eponymous subplot of Half-Blood Prince was important to the series as a whole, but the film boiled it down to one out-of-place line of dialogue.

Finally, Deathly Hallows didn't do itself any favours. Huge chunks of plot involving Dumbledore's brother, Voldemort, Lupin and Tonks and pretty much all the other characters were unceremoniously ditched. You could forgive this if the result had been a single, economical movie, but instead we had two long films with drawn out scenes of the kids on the run that could have easily been excised. It's a studio decision if ever we saw one.

Still, despite feeling cheated at the end of part one, by the ultimate finale, you're right back on board. It may not be a patch on the ending of the books, but that conclusion is so brilliant that even a diluted version is nothing short of rousing.

Frankly, this applies to everything in the films. Rowling's story is so good, that it outshines any of the films' faults. There are plot holes and dodgy effects, some amateur acting and an oscillating tone, but nothing can detract from seeing Potter realised on screen; particularly with this cast. The real joy of the movies is that its main actors are universally brilliant, and in the few occasions where some of the background actors are struggling, they still seem to be having a fantastic time.

I mean, just take a look at the cast list; this is a who's who of British acting chops, and we can't help but love that they resisted the urge to cast Hollywood actors. Equally, we're certain that some wizarding magic must have been used to augur Radcliffe's talent, Watson's charm and Grint's comic timing. There's no way anyone could have predicted that these little actors would grow to carry the series, but it all came together.

For fans of the books, the films serve as a companion piece, a brilliantly-realised illustration of the text's highlights. Those who have not read the books are not only missing out on great literature, but also missing something in watching the films. Still, we think those who dislike the movies are a small minority compared to those who have been brought to the books by their love of  the cinematic adaptations. We'd call that a victory, if only for Rowling's bank balance.