A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Harry Potter Films

As the seventh, and final, book in the Harry Potter series approaches release-- and I think there are a few people already in line at Barnes and Noble for the July 21, 2007 release date-- I have been viewing the movies with the kiddipies. Having seen 1-3, I would give them a fairly enthusiastic thumbs up, and each film seems to be better than the previous one, so that's encouraging. Looking forward to #4 next weekend.

The timing on the making of the films was just about perfect-- had they started any sooner and they would have run out of new Potter books, which would have messed up the retention of the child/teen stars that are the book's central characters. Also, had they started any sooner, the CGI work would have been much less captivating and seamless.

But the heart and soul of the books is the trio of Harry, Ron and Hermoine, and the effectiveness of the movies is largely driven by the continued presence of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in those three roles. All three not only look the part, they all seem to be fairly talented actors, and the chemistry amongst them and with the other main characters is quite believable and satisfying. And since the films have been made at roughly 1 year intervals, the growth and development of Harry, Ron and Hermoine is mirrored by the growth and development of Daniel, Rupert and Emma. As the group hits puberty, with all its associated glories, trials and tribulations, so do the characters in the movies.

It is tremendously effective. In the books, you know that the characters are all getting older, and Rowling mixes in the advent of hormones and dating and everything that entails, but often your mind's eye-- or at least my mind's eye-- still saw them as eleven-year-olds. The movies allow you to see them grow mature. Case in point-- Neville Longbottom, the hapless but loveable Gryfindor classmate of Harry and the gang. Here's Neville in the first film. Here's Neville in the fourth film.

Rowling's stories also lend themselves pretty well to the movies, since they do not depend heavily on a lot of character introspection and nearly everything that takes place in the books happens from Harry's perspective. This makes adapting them to film quite a bit easier, I imagine.

The supporting cast is also very, very good, though the death of Richard Harris leaves a mark, since he was pretty much DOBA as Albus Dumbledore and Michael Gambon is a pale imitation by comparison. But Alan Rickman as Snape and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid are money, and the Dursley's are also spot on. Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall is almost exactly how I pictured the role in my mind when I first read the Potter books (only through book #4, btw, so no spoilers in the comments, please). Malfoy, Longbottom, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart-- all most excellent.

Whoever the casting director is for these films, he or she deserves a raise.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by the first three films, and I hope that my expectations are not trampled upon by the last four. Key to that will be keeping Radcliffe, Grint and Watson together, as well as the other Hogwartsians. Five will have the same group, so I have hope that they'll be able to keep it all together through seven.

Meanwhile, off to reread the first four books, and then 5 and 6, so that I can get in that line at Barnes and Noble.
I think JK Rowling herself led the casting, so that's perhaps why it's so spot-on. I envy those who can identify with and enjoy the Potter series. I, myself, am such a wuss that I didn't make it past book three because it gave me nightmares. :)
Really? What, the Dementors?

The books definitely get darker as the series goes along, which also fits with the main characters growing into adulthood. But overall they aren't what I would generally characterize as scary-- perhaps because the fantasy aspect of them disconnects them from reality enough for me.

I do have some concern with showing the later movies to my kids, since the themes and images are going to get darker and "heavier". Anybody seen #4 yet and have any advice as to kid appropriateness?
Meh, I've never been that impressed with the books or the movie. IMO there are much better examples of both out there.
Well, I'll agree they aren't the best in their genre-- and I've never quite been able to ascertain WHY they are so incredibly popular-- they are quite good. Rowling's writing grows with her characters, and from what I've heard, unlike other really long series (ie, Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind) her books actually get better as they go along.

I have yet to independently confirm that, though I hope to in the coming weeks and months, but I trust the opinions of the people I get that feedback from. One other thing that Rowling does a nice job with is to integrate new and surprising things into her books. The fantasy genre has gotten a bit stale in recent years, and she finds a lot of fun and unique things to add to the mix, possibly because her protagonists are youths.

At any rate, they don't rival the Lord of the Rings by any means, but they are better than a lot of the same old, same old coming out of the fantasy genre in recent years. Terry Pratchette excluded, because his stuff is just ridiculously good-- getting better all the time, which is quite remarkable given how good his earlier stuff is.
Well, when I say this to most HP fans, they usually tell me that "it doesn't really get good until the later books". Which is fine and very well may be true, but given how much out there is to read, I have never seen the point in reading through something I don't like in the hopes of getting to something that might be good.

But I don't mean to disparage anything you enjoy. HP uberfans can tend to get a little indignant when I criticize the books, but I only comment on what I like and don't like. I just don't find them that engrossing.

And while I grant that the fantasy/Sci-Fi genre is generally about as bad as can be (and, really, saying a book is better than RJ or TG is not saying much, to be honest), there are some good examples out there. The cream of the crop is George R. R. Martin's series, which is probably the best example of well-written, engrossing fantasy to come around in quite some time.
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