Friday, July 08, 2011

Revisiting the Harry Potter Films

I finally felt well enough to leave the house and journey to the Home Depot (which is just up the hill, maybe a mile away, but it's the opening of the front door that's the hard part), and it looks like I may be able to replace just the faucet handle instead of the entire faucet. The entire faucet probably does need to be replaced eventually, but there's work that needs to be done in the bathroom in general, and I may as well do it all at once and get a faucet that would fit the new decor. It's possible that Home Depot has improved their customer service after getting a lot of negative feedback, but I suspect that the slightly low-cut Texas Rangers t-shirt, nearly waist-length curls worn loose and red lip gloss may have also had something to do with the instant offer of assistance before I even had a chance to pretend to look around and look helpless. The talk about my complete set of Allen wrenches may have brought me close to getting a marriage proposal. Now we'll have to see if I can handle this repair.

I've been rewatching the Harry Potter movies from the beginning, in preparation for the upcoming release of the last one (sniff). I haven't done a complete rewatch since the summer when the fifth movie and the last book came within a few weeks of each other, so it's been interesting to revisit the older movies with the outcome of the series in mind. After getting used to seeing these kids as young adults, it is rather striking to see them as children again. There are glimpses of the people they'll grow up to be, and the movie producers were lucky that, for the most part, the kids didn't go through drastic changes as they grew up. They're still recognizable. It would have been funny if, say, Daniel Radcliffe had gone through a big growth spurt and turned out to be a beanpole so that Harry towered over Ron. In general, the casting was sheer genius, with a few quibbles.

Emma Watson perfectly conjured up the essence of Hermione from the start and I have no complaints about her performance, but I think she's a bit too pretty for the role. The cool thing about Hermione in the books is that she is the heroine and even becomes sort of a romantic lead, and yet she's not conventionally gorgeous. She was definitely someone I could relate to with her bushy hair and braces on her teeth (until she managed to "accidentally" magically fix them). There are far too few curly girl heroines, especially not many who have true curly hair and not the perfect ringlets. Most of us can achieve the perfect ringlets for short periods of time with copious amounts of styling products and effort, but most of the time, there's some serious frizz going on. Even Rowling let us down a little by having Hermione straighten her hair for the ball in the fourth book, when the guys finally saw her as a girl and were shocked that she could be pretty. But movie Hermione loses that element entirely. They seem to have tried crimping her hair in the first movie (crimping? really?), and I'm not sure what that was supposed to be in the second movie, but they just gave up on that aspect of the character starting with the third movie. Ah well, at least I now have River Song for a curly-haired heroine.

Then there's the previous generation. Alan Rickman perfectly embodies the essence of Snape, but he's more than twenty years too old for the part. He could be his character's father. In the first movie, Snape is supposed to be in his early 30s. He's still not 40 by the end of the series, and I think he works much better as a character when you think of him as a rather young man instead of as a middle-aged man. After all, he's still nursing grudges from high school. That's one thing when high school wasn't much more than ten years ago. It's another when it was more than 30 years ago. Then because he's so much older, all the other previous generation characters are also too old for their parts when they show up. Most ridiculous is the way Harry's parents are portrayed in photos. We see them as middle-aged, but they died in their early 20s.

The first film is mostly world building, and I think that has a lot to do with why it doesn't hold up to rewatching as well as some of the others. I first saw this one at the theater with my mom, and she got a grin out of the little boy sitting on her other side who was staring up at the screen in awe and whispering, "It's just like I imagined!" It was cool to see that world come to life, but once you get that cool over with, the movie kind of plots along and is very episodic. It's mostly an origins story, and the main plot, where Harry actually has a goal, doesn't kick in until midway through the movie. The second movie doesn't have that initial burst of cool, and so it really suffers from the very plodding, literal pace. It does have some fun moments, such as the flying car and Kenneth Branagh having way too much fun.

The third movie gets a lot of praise as one of the best of the series, but I think it's helped by the fact that the book itself is a little more cinematic. For a change, we learn very close to the start of the story what the threat is, and Harry has something of a goal from fairly early in the story. On the other hand, it's actually a pretty passive story, when you think about it, as Harry reacts to things rather than doing things, and I think a lot of that is the screenplay rather than the book because all the actions and a lot of the conflict got taken out of the screenplay, and I really hated the ending -- it was like they didn't know how to wrap it up, so they took a plot element from early in the story, removed its significance and just threw it in. This is where the casting for the previous generation also really fails. I like the actors, and I think they do a good job, but they're just miscast. Gary Oldman is sexy and compelling, but Sirius, in addition to being in his early/mid thirties, is supposed to be Hollywood handsome and well aware of it, and Gary Oldman has never been conventionally handsome. Meanwhile, the casting for Lupin is probably my biggest disappointment in all the films. Lupin is supposed to be the cool young teacher who captures his students' imaginations, even as he does seem to be prematurely aging a bit. In the films, though, he's more of a fussy middle-aged professor type, and yet he still doesn't have the weary gravitas of the character in the books. This is a young man who's been beaten down by the world, who's lost his closest friends either to death or to treachery and who lives on the fringes of society, barely getting by and not accepted by anyone, plus there's the physical strain of his condition, and I don't think we see any of that in the film version.

The third movie probably has the best score of all of them, and one of the best in John Williams's career, as it seems like they just turned him loose, and so he gets a lot of variety in there, from a classical waltz to atonal modern music to early music (with period instruments), to a bit of jazz and then all the more usual film score stuff. It's a soundtrack that I listen to just to listen, and along with the soundtrack from the first movie is one of my writing music stand-bys. It immediately makes me think "magic."

I read a review elsewhere, where someone else was doing a rewatch, that mentioned that the movies were very "shippy" for Harry and Hermione, regardless of the actual outcome of the series, and to that I have to say, REALLY? Because when I saw the first film I'd only read the first book, and in the car on the way home from that one I said to my mom that they were totally pulling a Han Solo and Princess Leia thing on us (where the main hero doesn't get the girl and she ends up with his buddy that she spends most of her time bickering with), and I bet that it would be Ron and Hermione who ended up together. The scenes were more or less the same as in the book, but on film it was way more obvious that Hermione's focus was on Ron. He was the one she noticed first, and he was the one who had the power to send her into tears with an offhand remark. They'd said that Rowling did share some future developments with the screenwriter and directors, and I figured that was one of them because the movies are always framing Ron and Hermione together or depicting scenes of adolescent awkwardness between them. She runs and hugs Harry at the end of the second film, but then she and Ron self-consciously flinch away from a hug. When you're twelve, that's exactly the way you act with the person you like (and some of us never outgrow it).

Tonight I'll rewatch the fourth movie, which may be something of an ordeal, as it's my least favorite of the series, while that book is one of my favorites, so the disappointment is magnified. But first I'm going to try to repair my faucet.

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