It’s been a long time since director Chris Columbus was the cinematic headmaster at Hogwarts but he said it’s been a joy to watch Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint graduate to bigger and better things.
“My biggest pride is seeing the pictures now, and watching the three of them from a distance, and seeing them do an entire scene in one shot,” said the director of the first two “Harry Potter” films, which were released in 2001 and 2002. “Seriously, I know that sounds funny, but in the old days — and, you know, the old days meaning eight years ago — and in that first picture in particular, it’s filled with cuts because they couldn’t really get beyond the first line without either looking into the camera, laughing or looking at the lights.”
I was talking to Columbus recently about his next film, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” which is the adaptation of a series of novels about a young boy with an outsider spirit who discovers he has a magical heritage and then must fight against powerful foes with the help of his friends. Yes, it does sound a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
“I know, I know, it’s the inevitable question on this picture,” Columbus said with a chuckle. “We obviously would be fools not to hope for the same type of audience.” He went on to explain the many differences between “Percy” and “Harry” but you can read about all of that in our coming-soon coverage of the “Lightning Thief” and its considerable aspirations. Today I’m focused instead on Columbus and his Hogwarts legacy.
The first two films are about to be front-and-center again too. On Dec. 8, two lavish new home-video collections hit stores: “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” Ultimate Edition and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” Ultimate Edition, which arrive with a bundle of extras, including never-before-seen screen tests of the cast members and the first two installments of the new eight-part documentary “Creating the World of Harry Potter.”
Columbus launched a franchise that has, in less than a decade, accounted for more than $5.3 billion in worldwide box-office, not to mention the billions more made at retail and through licensing deals. Columbus isn’t hailed as a founding father by many fans, though; as the franchise has grown darker, more stylized and better-acted (if only due to the maturation of its young stars), the perception is that the Columbus films have not aged all that well. To me, they do feel overly quaint now and, at some wincing moments, have the soft-glow aura of a Hallmark commercial. I’m sure that sort of appraisal will sound a bit unfair to Columbus and his supporters — they weren’t trying to make “Let the Right One In” after all, it was a film for kids and about kids.
I remember earlier this year, “Potter” franchise producer David Heyman told me the best way to frame those first two films is to judge them by their pioneering impact, not as rivals to their sequels. “Chris Columbus was the exact right director for those films,” he said, noting that Columbus is “unrivaled” in his ability to work with young children as stars. Indeed, Columbus may not have the storytelling chops of current “Potter” director David Yates but part of his job on the first two films was making sure his young stars were kept safe in the eye of the storm.
“Having done the ‘Home Alone’ pictures, I realized that we needed to start casting kids based on their families and the security that their families could give them at this particular time in their lives — that was particularly the case with the “Potter” kids, who were about to become three of the most famous kids in the world,” Columbus said. “So David Heyman and I made sort of a pact that we were gonna cast the families as well as the kids. And in interviewing Dan’s family and Rupert’s family and Emma’s family, they surrounded themselves with a really solid group of people. Their parents were very supportive, their parents were there for them all the time.”
I told Columbus that the most amazing thing about the “Potter” stars may be how level-headed and thoughtful the trio are in the face of fame that has now lasted for half of their lifetimes. There’s not a Britney in the bunch, I told Columbus and he agreed.
“There wasn’t this obsession for fame,” the 51-year-old director said. “It all sort of happened — particularly with Daniel Radcliffe — reluctantly. With the other two kids it seemed accidentally – they weren’t expecting it. And I think as a result of that, because they had that sense of support from us at the beginning, and from their parents throughout, they’ve really turned into terrific adults. And that being said, they’ve also turned into terrific actors, you know. “
Debate, if you will, the quality of Columbus as a director but don’t doubt for a minute his value to the franchise that is now a towering part of Hollywood history. “Boy, I’m telling you, to see them grow as actors and actually having the opportunity to see Dan in [the stage play] ‘Equus’…I was just really, really impressed. It was the feeling of a proud parent.”
– Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED
PHOTO: Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Chris Columbus on the set of the first “Potter” film (Warner Bros.)