Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter 7.5 Review!

It all ends...

What does Harry Potter mean to me? Clearly, he does not mean as much as the generation of kids right below me who made the final film the most biggest movie opening of all time. For them, I can see how this is one of those liminal "ascension to adulthood" moments where millions of young adults finally had to say goodbye to characters that they grew up with and loved.

Like the scar that ripples above his eye, Harry Potter was like catching lightning in a pop-culture bottle. If you break the franchise down logically, though, you begin to see the recipe for success that the author J.K. Rowling happened upon. The main character is a boy of marginal looks living in a crummy family life searching for an escape - how many millions of not just kids, but people  can relate to that? Potter's ensuing quest was  an escape into an almost dreamlike but believable near-reality for his character, and served as a literary escape for so many as well.

As a generation of readers grew older, so did the characters; with each passing book Rowling became a more proficient and compelling writer.  Being 26, I came late to the series. Instead of Potter, I had Bilbo teaching me to read - yet I can understand how the Hobbit  and The Lord of the Rings  were never the cultural flashpoint that the Harry Potter series currently is. Those Middle Earth characters were not nearly as relatable as our Hogwarts friends were for entire generation of children. I would venture a guess that there will never be a series where the character arcs and the quality of the story and writing grow together in such a perfect way.

Now get a job, assholes!

In a sense, it was a shame that Harry's story ended when it did, because I truly believe that Rowling had finally hit her stride as an author at the climax of the story. Having said that, if the quality of writing and the complexity of the stories had been as such (you know 800 pages) from the beginning, the series would probably never have been as accessible to young readers. I don't know how conscious she was of it, but as J.K. Rowling grew as a writer alongside her characters, she created the perfect 2nd-9th grade reading list that will be used in schools (well, maybe not those redneck, God-fearing anti-Witchcraft schools) for decades to come to teach kids to read.

Only Satan could make that much money!

Then there are the films.

Like I said, I am not passionate  about Potter. I never went to a midnight showing dressed in an adult diaper and called myself Dobby.

Urge to punt rising...

I respect Rowling and the series for all it has accomplished, and I understand the place it has in our culture - I just grew up a few years too late to truly fall in love with it. For this reason, I have always viewed the films through a dispassionate lens. I never saw the movies as the visual fulfilment of my inner-geek fanboy's wildest dreams, but as a film lover, and I didn't go in with book in hand fuming at the discrepancies from literal word on the page to its visually realized counterparts. I understand that when making films, you can never truly realize the breadth of what the written word covers or implies, and showing can be incredibly more difficult than telling in certain respects.

The film franchise has held up it's side of the bargain - to a point. Yes there existed some very big things left out of movies 1-5 (including the Neville Longbottom could be the "chosen one" plot line) but I felt the actors grew into the characters, and thus the emotional development felt real and mirrored the book spiritually if not literally.

I had some very giant problems with the way that Half-Blood Prince  was handled, however, and I was kind of shocked that they asked director David Yates to return for the final installment that became two films. I remained hopeful, though, because he could apologize for the botched movie 6 set-up as long as the final film delivered.

As a summer movie, sure the film delivers. The action is non-stop (as it should be after the snooze-fest first half), and most characters that are still alive get some much needed fan-service and things to do in the background. Many will walk away happy, but there will be a sadness there from seeing a beloved series ending rather than the sadness of Hogwarts being destroyed or major characters dying. I think as a final film in a storied franchise, it rested too much on the hype and the explosions when it deserved to be more than a passable summer blockbuster. It deserved to define an era, to stir people's hearts and imaginations and bring some closure.

Honestly, the only thing that was truly stirring in the final film was Alan Rickman's realization of Snape's story that, while epic in its tragedy, should NOT be the biggest emotional beat in the film (considering how much they f'd up his story in Prince). As a fan of movies, I really think that the final film missed on a lot  of emotional marks and opportunities with characters that could have solidified the franchise as classic. Unlike Return of the King which caught a lot shit at the time from emotionally stunted assholes (u mad bro?) about Peter Jackson choosing to close the series with 30 minutes of "goodbye," Deathly Hallows  just kind of, well, ends.

Cutting yourself IS sad little Snape

Of course, we all knew what was supposed to happen;  all the plot points of the book are realized - it just doesn't feel  like how a once in a generation epic film franchise that has spanned a decade should end. I may need to see the film again to figure out where it lost its focus, but I feel as if it were shortly after Harry reaches Hogwarts and battle for the castle erupts. Everything seems to devolve at that point in to a bunch of unfocused scenes of Harry running around, when really there should have been some pretty emotional wizard duels going on to hone in on. If there is one scene I can readily point to as falling flat when it really shouldn't have, it's when an important character's body is being brought back to Hogwarts after dying, and Neville Longbottom's response is, "family and friends die all the time!"

Uh, you cold-blooded, sir.

Hell, even the Hermoine/Ron connection managed to feel "tacked on."  Sad to say, but I was even underwhelmed by the literal magic  in the film, as nothing in it comes remotely close to being as cool as the Voldermort and Dumbledore duel which movie...five (wtf)?

Sorry kids, the coolest wizard fight happened 3 movie ago. Thank Gryffindor's balls for Youtube!

I am not sure how the rest of you true die-hard Potter fans feel (post away below), but I was just kind of let-down with the way the final two (counting Prince)  films panned-out, which is sad because they definitely had the strongest source material. I couldn't help thinking that what I had witnessed wasn't exactly timeless like the books they are based on, but rather a film franchise ripe for remake in about twenty years. These films are no Lord of the Rings by any means, and I think Hallows sort of proves Peter Jackson right in that it's better to give fans too much rather than too little - especially in a final act that the an entire series is built toward.

As for Rowling, I hope she returns to Harry Potter's world in some fashion (hell if you're earning $1000 a letter, you would be a fool not to) - just not with H.P. himself. Harry's story is done, and I think Rowling is original enough and has learned the tricks of the trade to not fall back on Albus Severus Potter and the Oh Shit the Bad Man With No Nose is Still Alive (and I touched his snake)!


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