I had a little Beauty in the Movies setback last night when my featured film refused to play on my DVD player (arg, Netflix!), so with Friday quickly approaching and no featured film, I was left to choose from the movies I owned. As fate would have it, today is the opening of the penultimate Harry potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (it’s really one film in two parts), and since I already have my tickets for the 9 o’clock show tonight, it seemed appropriate to feature HP here today as a prelude to the event.
Harry Potter is a phenomenon, it propelled its creator, J.K. Rowling to billionaire status and inspired a renaissance for fantasy fiction in the publishing world. The enormity of Harry Potter is well deserved, Rowling tells a story that feels familiar somehow, she takes from both mythology and the great authors before her (Tolkien, Shakespeare, Dahl) and places her stories in a setting familiar to all of us, school (even if none of us were lucky enough to go in a castle)
The Harry Potter books introduce a world that is at once magical beyond dreams, and as the series progresses, darker than most nightmares. It is a world that we discover with Harry, so it is cloaked in mystery, each book (and film) a ripping yarn (especially the third one in my humble opinion). Rowling’s storytelling is instantly captivating, it’s a rare gift that lends itself well to film. Despite being looked down on by the academic elite (most of whom haven’t sold a quarter as many books as she has, and their characters certainly don’t have amusement parks) Rowling has written herself a well-loved place in literary history.
I’m not going to get too detailed about the story of Harry Potter because if you don’t know he is an orphan who finds out he is a wizard, you’ve probably been living in a small cave for the past 10 years, and you shouldn’t be reading this blog, you should be on Wikipedia catching up. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has two BFFs Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), they go to school at Hogwarts where the beloved headmaster is Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) killed Harry’s parents when he was a baby and really wants to kill him too, if you want more details go read the books—they’re really good and you can read them really fast, it’s worth it, promise! I’ve heard too may people who I’m sure would love the books say they don’t want to read them because everyone else is so in love with them—well quit being so contrary, it’s your own loss.
I just read on Wikipedia that J.K.’s first choice for a director was terry Gilliam, but the studio didn’t think he was “family oriented” enough, so they went with Chris Columbus (he only directed the first two films), but why the hell didn’t they offer Gilliam one of the later films? It would have been weird for sure, but probably awesome. The art direction is wonderful in all the movies, but I imagine Terry Gilliam would have taken it to the next level which would have been interesting. As it is, the films are all beautifully shot, designed and costumed. They also feature the top names in British cinema from Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Jason Isaacs and dozens of others, pretty much everyone.
Harry Potter is like many classic tales, a story of bad vs. good, light vs. dark, but there are many shades of gray, all the characters have the capacity for change and growth, and there are some characters who appear to be a certain way, but surprise us over and over. Harry himself struggles with his own dark side and at times can be incredibly annoying and full of teen angst. That’s the thing about Rowling’s characters, they’re relatable and believable, which means that sometimes they can drive you crazy, but you always care about their story, and you always want to know more.
While the main protagonist in the series is male, as are most of the key players, J.K. Rowling has given us some fantastic female characters, in particular Hermione, a know-it-all with courage that rivals her famous best friend Harry. I’m going to annoy some people and say that while I like Emma Watson, I think she tends to overact a bit with the huffing and the nostril flaring, and also, her hair has been falling in un-Hermione-like lovely, glossy ringlets ever since the second movie (I know I’m a nitpicker). I still think she does a great job as Hermione, definitely a character, and an actress, who young girls will be looking up to for generations. My personal favorite female character in the books, who I think is also excellent in the films, is Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch). In many ways Luna is the opposite of Hermione, while being just as smart she is far more open to the unknown. She has been through a great deal of personal pain, making her a character with incredible depth despite her dreamy appearance. Luna is also an outsider who Harry can relate to more than his other classmates, she sees through to the truth of things, even when she is wearing crazy glasses and talking about nargles.
I don’t have to sell Harry Potter to you, most of you either love it already or have been given the chance to many times at this point. People can write pages and pages about this series, there are college classes exploring the symbolism, and essays written comparing the series to other great works, Harry is a Christ figure, etc., etc. As we approach the end of the series of movies, it’s fun to look back on where it all started with the first film. At that time I don’t think anyone could have imagined that these three actors (plus a bunch of the peripheral kids; the twins, Ginny, Neville, Dean, Seamus) would continue to reprise their roles over the next 10 years and continue to get better and better at them. There were no trips to rehab, or stories of fighting on set, sure there was Equus, but even that was deemed a success. If you take away anything from these movies it’s how mature and pulled together these actors have become over the years, maybe it’s a credit to their parents, or the cast and crew of the film, but whatever the reason it’s damn impressive. While they’ll probably never be able to escape the characters they’ve created on screen, they should be endlessly proud of the journey they’ve made and the grace with which they performed it, I can’t wait to see how far they come in this last installment.
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