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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter 6.5. or 7.3?

The Harry Potter movies are on the one hand much better than perhaps they need to be, and yet at the same time never particularly good, either.

The essential problem I have with all of them is that they've rarely wanted to try making them into good films that would actually stand as good films apart from the experience of the books. The first film in the series had absolutely no dramatic life to it apart from the memories of the books that walked into movie theatres with the paying customers. The second film was better, it had some interior life to it apart from the book. The third film was and to my eyes probably always will be the best of the series. It's the only one I happily saw twice, and I'd happily go and see it again tomorrow. And since then...

OK, you can't say that Warner Bros. has ever shorted a Harry Potter movie by a single nail on the set. That's what I mean when I say that the movies are much better than perhaps they need to be, because I'm sure they could give a reasonably good Harry Potter The Movie Experience kind of experience for 80% of what they're actually spending to do it, and people might notice a little but not so much they'd complain. There isn't a scene in the first part of Deathly Hallows that doesn't radiate love and attention and money and care and beauty and splendor. The forest looks spectacular. The village where Harry's parents died, looks spectacular. As always within the series there isn't a role that's been cast with anyone else than the best actor who could possibly have filled. Tom Felton hasn't aged into the (now admittedly abbreviated) role of Draco Malfoy as well as the three leads, but considering the challenges of knowing how an actor will age it's a prodigal achievement that Harry, Ron and Hermione are all played by people who've doubled in age quite beautifully over the course of the series. And you know they've got to pay well or have really good catering on set or something because nobody's ever decided it would make sense to not show up for the 6th movie, eight years later. The photography, the sets, the music, the everything, it's absolutely splendid. The animation sequence for the Deathly Hallows story could have been done 27 ways, and the way they choose is quite gorgeous. You look at the design of Dumbledore's grave, and again there are 39 ways it could look, and the one way it does look in the movie is just a thing to behold.

And of course there are wonderful scenes that take place on these wonderful beautifully appointed sets filled with fabulous actors. The scene in the village where Harry's parents died. The scene of Harry and Hermione dancing (lifted directly from when Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis dance in Witness, but still nice).

So let's just say if you walked in off the street having never read a Harry Potter novel, you'd probably say you got your money's worth. In this movie, a little more so on account of the set design than maybe the 2nd, but a lot less because we don't get to see as much of the excellent supporting cast of actors as when Snape and Dumbledore could go at it in the early days of the series.

But at the same time, if you haven't read the books, the movies have no heft or power at all. This movie has nice scenes, but as with all of the movies you sit in the theatre waiting for your favorite scene to come beautifully but also dutifully to life, but that's it. It's not so much like going to a movie as it is going to mass in a really nice cathedral.

And in the process of choosing to curate the books instead of making movies, they've managed to lose an important element of the books. The books flew by in the blink of an eye. You could easily read all 800+ pages of Order of the Phoenix in the blink of an eye, sit down with the book and wake up eight hours later and not believe the pages had just flown by so quickly and so delightfully. Can anyone say that for the typical two-plus hour Harry Potter movie that they just fly by in the blink of an eye? Certainly, at the showing of Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 that I saw (at Aud. #5 The Valencia of the AMC Loews Lincoln Square on Saturday 20 November) maybe 5% of the 400 people in the audience was still lingering by the time we got to the title of the movie in the end credits. As I said, it's like going to mass in a really nice cathedral. We're all very dutiful and admiring and worshipful, we sit waiting for the pageantry of the reenactment of our favorite scene, but there's no life to it. That's what I miss about the third movie. It had some zest and life, you could see it just for the closing titles instead of rushing out.


Anonymous said...

I have not seen the most recent installment, but I would agree with your opinion wholeheartedly. Of all the movies, the third has life and genuine exchange between characters that's believable. It also seems to have a bit more grit. My experience with the movies has been as such: they are fun to watch, full of amazing visuals, but how would the story hold if it was driven by sheer performance? Who knows? Sometime I feel as if the movies are a beautifully polished sports car that looks amazing on the show room floor, but when you lift the hood, the car turns out to be missing it's engine.

Rob G said...

I agree for the most part. To me the movies have been entertaining (won't rank best or worst), but I'm waiting for DVD releases so I can watch through Redbox for about $1.