Among contemporary action-fantasy franchises, the Harry Potter films are unique for the multiple directorial voices behind them. While it would be hard to read them as auteurist exercises, others have nevertheless been marked by—and in some cases benefited from—a single person at the camera. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for which Jackson bent over backwards to preserve J.R.R. Tolkien’s original books and accommodate the series’ fans expectations, provides an obvious comparison. Yet the sheer constancy of Jackson’s presence meant his predilections (particularly a penchant for ghoulish, CGI-enhanced atmospherics) seeped into the finished product, giving those films a stylistic coherence. The contemporary rash of superhero films, while different in many ways from fantasy epics, have also become associated with their directors: the gently self-aware earnestness of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, or the moody, postindustrial noir that Christopher Nolan has infused into the Batman series.
The Harry Potter franchise, on the other hand, which has gone through no less than four directors over the course of six films, has a status as a continually developing pop phenomenon. In book form, the saga remained very much ongoing when Warner Brothers released the first big-screen adaptation in 2001. This was shrewd in terms of box-office prospects, but it’s also given many of the films an unsettled quality. As author J.K. Rowling continued to churn out increasingly longer and darker books, the films have had to adapt in tone and style, with one director’s talents often making him a reasonable choice for one episode but unsuited for another. This not to mention the impossibility of unified cinematic interpretation when the overarching narrative remains unresolved. Nor would fans necessarily want there to be one. Even more so than much-beloved—and long-completed—series like Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia, the open-ended nature of the Potter series throughout much of the film franchise’s existence placed primary focus upon Rowling, not any of her cinematic interpreters. Seeing a favorite character or sequence on screen may have its pleasures, but the ultimate questions posed by the series (who lives? who dies? what happens next?) can only be answered by one person. She’s at her laptop, not behind the camera. As a result, there’s even less room than usual to impress an outside vision upon the preexisting text. Like small children or house guests, it seems like the less we see and hear Harry Potter directors, the better. Click here to read the rest of Matt Connolly’s review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.