This was the first Harry Potter film I saw in theaters. I remember driving with my mom quite a long ways to see it (country life does not lend readily to local movie theaters) and what a joy it was to watch it with her. I had recently finished reading the book but she knew nothing about it apart from having seen the first film, so everything was new and unique to her. We screeched together when the Basilisk nearly killed Harry, and laughed at the antics of “Professor” Lockhart. The Womping Willow is a running family joke now, as is the line, “Can we panic now??”
While the first film is adorable and sets the stage for the wonderful characters that invaded our hearts, the second movie to me is much more enjoyable because it follows an established plot, traversing into the nuances that made the book great (its moments of humor, such as Ron’s wand backfiring constantly and forcing him to upchuck slugs on one occasion) but also establishing a unique perspective for the big screen. (No one can say that the final fifteen minutes are not exciting.) True, in translating something from the page into a cinematic masterpiece, inevitably things are sacrificed, but this is one of the only films in the franchise that I believe wholly represents the source material. Nothing is “missing” that I cannot live without, as opposed to later productions when I was most disappointed at the scenes that wound up on the cutting room floor.
Additionally, and this may just be the fan girl in me talking, it also introduced us to a brilliant bit of casting (something that is badly botched here and there with occasional moments of brilliance) in Lucius Malfoy. In the book, he is despicable but on screen, thanks to Jason Isaacs, is extremely cool. Still despicable and diabolical and a rat-fink, but a really awesome rat-fink. The Malfoys are a minor foil throughout the books, the son Draco a “pest” Harry must contend with on a daily basis while working up to the major job of bringing about an end to Lord Voldemort, the one wizard feared by all (except perhaps by Dumbledore, whose awesomeness knows no bounds). Herein lies Rowling’s genius, for she represents different forms and levels of evil within her characters. No one can say Lucius Malfoy is not evil, as many of his crimes are unforgivable, but he is not nearly as evil as Voldemort. Draco is surprisingly not evil either. He is bratty, and petty, and selfish, and arrogant, and a blatant racist, but that does not indicate “evil.” In fact, in book six we learn that he is for all intensive purposes incapable of what Voldemort demands of him, and so it falls to his mentor and protector to do an evil deed instead. In short, there is a limit to how evil the Malfoys are.
Even more interesting is the introduction in this film to the young and impressionable Voldemort; mere glimpses into his past that help illuminate who he is and what caused him to turn to the dark side. I love the similarities and differences highlighted between Harry and Tom, for they are vastly important later on. They share the same talents, passions, abilities, and intelligence. They are both resourceful, unique, and powerful by their own right. But when Harry came to Hogwarts and sat on that stool in front of everyone with the Sorting Hat on his head, he whispered, “Not Slytherin!” Ron had told him “there isn’t a witch or wizard who’s gone bad that wasn’t in Slytherin!” Right then, Harry made a choice. The Hat was inclined to put him in Slytherin, because he so resembled the same talents and abilities of Voldemort. But Harry chose Gryffindor.
Voldemort and Harry came from similar backgrounds. Both of them were, for all intensive purposes, orphans who were misunderstood and mistreated. Both of them are half-bloods. One might say that it would be understandable if both were evil … but Harry isn’t, not because he had a better life and better chances than Voldemort, but because he chose to be good. Voldemort too faced a decision once upon a time, but he embraced evil. That is the true difference between them, that one decided up front that he would not be evil, and the other slowly slipped into it one dark deed at a time.
Our circumstances shape who we are; they do not transform us into who we become. It is always our choice.