Monday, July 25, 2011

Harry Potter Ends (RIP Thank God)

Or Is It Four Heroes...Four Hallows?  Dexter!!

      “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” is already making bazillions of dollars and we thought we should see it because everyone would be talking about it (and certainly almost everyone with kids is doing so) and because we’d seen the other seven films, so why not round it out?  Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon and it is important because it encouraged so many children into reading incredibly long, adventurous, complexly detailed, and well-written books.  I read the first one and liked it, but it wasn’t something that I thought
was as sui generis as most reviews made out at the time.  J.K. Rowling owes debts to the English boarding house genre (lots of series there, which never interested Americans or anyone outside of the British Isles, really), Roald Dahl, Frazier’s “The Golden Bough” and its explication of many cultures’ myths and traditions, and Joseph Campbell’s theory of ‘the hero of a thousand faces’, which examines how a young male sacrifices himself for his community and may be physically or spiritually reincarnated for this action (include Dionysus and Jesus Christ along with many others).  

      When the book came out in 2007, Stephen King wrote the best summation of this phenomenon and its effect on popular culture when he was a critic for ‘Entertainment Weekly’ magazine.  He is still sorely missed (enough of that for a later article).  The movie reviews have so far been pretty dewy-eyed.  I’m not exactly sure why. 

      Our great niece, Kaylee, nailed the whole Potter thing back in 2002 after we took her to the second movie.  “Hermione actually does the homework and understands what has to be done and tells the boys what has to be done because of her knowledge, but it’s the boys that get to do it and save everything.”  Kaylee was twelve when she said that and the Potter series never changed from that blueprint.  Even in Enid Blyton’s 1930s – 1960s multiple series involving tween and teen detectives, the girls were fully integrated into the action with the boys.  It seems like Rowling took a step back so that budding heterosexuality could be examined and so that boys would read the books because, the economic sentiment goes, they won’t read a book with a female protagonist, though girls most likely will.  This sentiment is probably pretty true and can be borne out in publishing sales.  The Hardy Boys were kept pretty separate from Nancy Drew, except for the two TV series in the 1970s.  (It’s eye opening when this is placed in the socio-political context of the second stage of feminism from the 1950s through the 1970s.  I’m sure some graduate student will consider this down the road sometime).

      Okay, so the movie itself – did it work?  Well, ever since David Yates took over they’ve been very dark (practically black and white and why they haven’t filmed in that medium I don’t know since it would save some bucks on all those special effects.  The backgrounds can be more easily and cheaply faked in b & w, though it’s an older format), there’s very little humor (that was ditched around the third movie, and humor doesn’t translate well out of its original culture), and all the theatrical/cinematic British titans don’t get to do much (bless her heart, but Helena Bonham Carter pushes the cavorting around to the absolute limit because she must’ve realized she’d only be on screen for about 90 seconds; Maggie Smith does her patented Methuselah’s wife who’s a hard-edged crone on the outside, but is exactly who you need in the fight for right; Michael Gambon gets one big scene and plays it beautifully, though I wish Dumbledore wasn’t so positively good; Ralph Fiennes is a great actor and all I could think in all the times he’s been in this is – how did they do that with his nose?  Was it electronically/digitally painted over in every single frame?  What a colossal commitment! Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, David Thewlis, etc., etc., are merely seen or perhaps allowed a couple of lines).  

      Daniel Radcliffe, thankfully, pulls it off yet again, which is good since he’s onscreen almost the entire time.  He certainly is a star because you want to watch him and ‘you want to know what secrets he has to share’ (this was Ellen Barkin’s description of Marlon Brando’s style, but it’s appropriate in this context).  Rupert Grint has been a delightful comic actor, but he hasn’t had much to do in the past couple of movies except run around after Harry and be protective/jealous/sort of turned on by Hermione.  Emma Watson has debated whether she should continue acting and here’s the baldest version – she shouldn’t unless she takes some major acting lessons.  She only looks grim and she’s looked this way for over a decade so I don’t think it will be easy for her to develop a sustainable career.  She is not in the same league as Jodie Foster at that age or Elle Fanning, who’s younger than she is.  I don’t want to see her winning roles over extraordinary talents like Carey Mulligan or Kirsten Dunst or Michelle Williams in the next decade.  

      Kudos to Steve Kloves who has written the screenplays that have been so faithful to Rowling’s vision!  He’s basically had to do the same thing over and over, but he’s done it very well.  It’s a crying shame that his career as a writer-director was cut short.  Over twenty years ago, he made a beautiful, sexy, dour romance called “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and I’d take twenty minutes of that over two hours of Harry Potter.  However, you gotta pay the bills and you gotta get the kids to the cinemas as the next generation of moviegoers and Harry Potter has certainly been an honorable way to do that.   I realize this sounds cynical and I don’t primarily mean for it to do so, but I wish a couple of commentators would admit that, though the Emperor is actually wearing clothes, they’re somewhat dull.

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