Two of the biggest book to movie franchises turn 20 years old this year — Potterheads know that the first Harry Potter movie (The Sorcerer’s Stone) came out in 2001, introducing the world to Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. The year 2001 also released the beginning of Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy (which later spawned three prequels). It was a great year indeed for book and cinema fans alike.
For the better part of two decades, fans have been debating which franchise spawned the better book to movie adaptation? Harry Potter had a total of eight movies from 2001 until 2011 with an additional spinoff prequel with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Crimes of Grindelwald (a third movie is coming up with a recast Grindelwald). The Lord of the Rings had three movies from the original trilogy which came out in three successive years from 2001-2003. The Hobbit series came out in three successive years — from 2012-2014.
For this post, we will focus on the original franchises and pit these two blockbusters against each other in a friendly match up.
Consistency. In terms of consistency, The Lord of the Rings had the definite advantage because the entire series was shot simultanously with a single director (Peter Jackson) in New Zealand. Over the course of the franchise, the changes in the characters’ looks were done gradually and based on the progression of the story.
Harry Potter was directed by different filmmakers over the course of its run and the style and approach for each one was different. This is particularly evident if you watch the entire series in one sitting. As such, the different approach would appeal to different types of audience but there is no particular Harry Potter signature style.
Winner: The Lord of the Rings
Script: At the beginning of the Harry Potter franchise, I was really not impressed by the adaptation because the script basically lifted the dialogue from the books. In the books, the words worked well because it was accompanied by rich descriptions of the characters’ feelings and emotions. In the movie, it seemed insufficient, and because most of the actors were newbies, there was a disconnection between the script and the outcome. Over the years, the scripts got better as the franchise was able to adopt the books to the screen more seamlessly.
The main challenge for The Lord of the Rings was how the characters spoke. The books were written with very old English and it definitely took some getting used to on the page. It was the same for the movie. Another challenge would have to be the complex references to Middle Earth. The script was adopted well for the screen but the first movie may not be as appealing to a younger audience as older ones.
Winner: The Lord of the Rings
Effects: The CGI in the Lord of Rings was fantastic, even for its time. Even though majority of the scenes were shot in green screen, you would not know which parts were real and which parts were not. Its use of motion capture for Gollum was on point and so was the portrayal of Andy Serkis. The costumes were no joke either. You feel like you’ve been transported to Middle Earth too.
Harry Potter was no laggard in the special effects department. I would concede that the first version of Voldemort was a bit wonky but the filmmakers effectively delivered the magic that fans felt when they turned the page. Even more so that worlds were successfully created and spawned several theme parks all over the world. And the fantastic creatures that Harry Potter introduced? It was magical.
Winner: Harry Potter
Battles: What’s an epic franchise without the battles? The Lord of the Rings incorporated massive battles in its three film run. Believe me, its still as epic 20 years later. I recently rewatched the entire remastered franchise and boy were they epic. The Battle on Helm’s Deep was by far, more superior than Game of Thrones‘ The Battle of Winterfell even though both battles were shot in very dark conditions. And this despite a 16 year gap. The Battle of Pelenor was just as action packed and stressful with all the suspense and the deaths. It was pure madness but it was a masterpiece of movie battles. There was a great sense of adventure among the hobbits but there were also tragic losses as elves, dwarves and men stood side by side against the massive Uruk Hai and Orc army.
Harry Potter had plenty of skirmishes with He Who Must Not Be Named but the most of epic of these were the confrontation from The Goblet of Fire and the final stand on Hogwarts. HP’s battle had a different appeal than that of LOTR because they were using wands and spells to blast each other to oblivion but there were many notable showdowns and emotional moments as comrades were lost in the battle.
Winner: Lord of the Rings
Personally, I thought that The Lord of the Rings turned up the more solid film adaptations. But this was not to say that Harry Potter’s efforts were for naught. As a matter of fact, apart from the fact that these are both epic blockbuster franchises, its pretty tough to compare them because they have different appeals. They have different settings and they cater to different audience sets.
These two franchises carved out their place in movie history because both connected well with book fans as well as movie fans and translated the adventures on the page to the big screen. Even long after their 20th anniversary, it would still be an epic binge for youngsters of the future. So stop debating and start appreciating the strengths of these marvelous gifts to the fandom.