Friday, November 15, 2002

Well, we got that over with.

Harry Potter, that is.

You know, I've read all four books and thought the first three were rather good. Not great literature, but good enough. The fourth - well, the fourth really was in need of a good editor who could chop at least 300 pages out of it. I even thought the first movie was okay. Slavishly faithful to most of the book, but that's okay.

Well, this afternoon, I sat in that theater filled with excited Catholic school kids (out for the day - take that self-defined religious Potter-haters). and about four minutes into the movie, I thought,

I. Hate. This.It just sort of surged throughout my being. And it wasn't because I was facing almost three hours in a movie with Joseph (who was, actually, pretty good). It was, I suppose, because I was going to be viewing almost three hours of, again, slavishly faithful adaptation beginning with the obligatory hateful and piggish aunt and uncle at the beginning, ending with cheers in Hogwarth's dining hall, and full of surprisingly bad British child actors and very good British adult actors with very little to do. I'd forgotten that Alan Rickman played Snape, and when he first appeared, I rapidly constructed my "A movie with Alan Rickman is always worth watching" riff, only to abandon it at the end of the movie, when all Rickman had to show for his effort were about ten evil looks from beneath his oily black hair. Kenneth Branagh is in it, too, as a media-crazy wizard adored by all the women, but proven (natch) to be a fraud at the end, but even he comes across as flat.

I'm not a film critic, and I don't know enough about direction to be able to pinpoint what I felt was wrong, but all I can say is that I'm glad Columbus is out and a new director has been brought on board.

I think that one of the problems - and this is a problem with the books, too, as I recall, is that the plot has such an expository feel to it. Bad stuff happens. No one can figure out why. Two-thirds of the way through, Harry, Ron and Hermione put it all together, then spend the rest of the movie battling the bad thing, which then, in a final confrontation with Harry, spends many minutes explaining how everything connects together, followed by his conquest, followed by celebrations in the dining hall. I thought this dining hall finale, incidentally, was particularly tiresome and strangely anti-climactic.

But you know, who cares what I think? My daughter liked it better than the original, and the children I heard talking as we walked out all raved.

After that critique, I have to offer a couple of notes in support.

First, much has been made of the "darker" more violent tone of this movie. Well, yes, but it's mostly on a level of healthy fright (big spiders and that big ol' snake) and some gore that's certainly beyond cartoonish, but not gruesome. "Not suitable for young children" we're warned. Well, of course not, and that's okay. It occurred to me that there are hardly any movies made for children 9-13 in mind. There are the cartoons, which do reach across age groups, but are mostly targeted at young kids (Shrek being an example of the exception - the movie that even teens will go see without the excuse of a younger sibling they have to take), and then there are the movies targeted at the older teens. That middle school age group is really ignored, or rather - they're being pushed up into the films that aren't suitable for them. This is a good middle school movie, and that's fine.

Secondly, as I watched this, once again, the whole controversy about magic struck me as even more ridiculous than it has before. I can barely even stand restating it - the magic is a device. It's a device to express the challenges of learning who you are and how to use the gifts and talents you've been given in responsible, and even heroic ways. The grand finale of this movie, in fact, barely even involves magic of the spell-casting kind.

And once again, I am struck by the ultimate message, offered by Dumbledore to Harry near the end. Harry is concerned because it has become clear to him that the evil Lord Voldemort, when he killed Harry's parents and left him with the scar on his forehead, shifted some of his power - not a good thing - to Harry. What this means is that Harry has become aware of his potential to do wrong. Dumbledore assures him that he is not defined by this. What will define him are the choices he makes with the powers and possibilities within him, and, as we've just seen in the past almost-three-hours - the choices he makes have been heroic, brave and selfless.

This, to me, is the fascinating thing about Rowling's work - what she is doing with this theme - which is, in the end, about everything good, and nothing to be afraid of.

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