Monday, January 30, 2012

Neville and Luna: Do we buy this movie love match?

Neville and Luna, together at last.

Do we buy it?

There's no suggestion that I can find in any of the novels that Neville and Luna are interested in each other. But in the eighth film, Neville tells the hero trio that he needs to find Luna because he's "mad about her" and wants her to know that before they all die in the battle with evil.

It seems kind of out of the blue to me. And I don't think it suits Neville's character at all.

Neville has always been a young man who has struggled to fit in, struggled to find confidence in himself, struggled to prove himself to his grandmother, to his classmates, to the world.

He's desperate to show that he is worthy of his parents, who were valued members of the Order of the Phoenix before they were tortured into madness by Bellatrix Lestrange.

So why would a boy who has for so long battled to be accepted as one of the team suddenly fall in love with a young woman who is so clearly different?

Neville's sudden expression of his love for Luna doesn't work for me in the film. I wonder why the filmmakers felt they needed to add it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is it possible to forgive Lucius Malfoy? Twice?

So what do we think of the Malfoy family?

J.K seems to go to some lengths to ensure that we know they survive the war and become a part of the post-Voldemort world:

- After the great war is over and Voldemort has been killed, we find Draco and his parents, Narcissa and Lucius, sitting in the Great Hall at Hogwarts with the rest of the war survivors, "huddled together as though unsure whether or not they were supposed to be there";
- And Draco even appears in the Epilogue to Book Seven, 19 years later with his wife and young son, Scorpius.

What is Rowling trying to tell us?

At one point or another in the seven books, Lucius and Draco tried to kill Harry at least once each. As one of the lead Death Eaters, Lucius was likely responsible for the deaths of any number of people.

And yet, after all that, through no great act of contrition whatsoever, there they are at the end, alive and well.

What do we make of that? What is Rowling trying to say?

That, after any war, we all must find a way to co-exist, get along with our former enemies? That, in a war, our behaviour is not necessarily a true indication of our character?

Voldemort rose, gathered followers and did enormous harm to his society, killing hundreds of people along the way. After the Dark Lord's power collapsed in his confrontation with baby Harry, society attempted to heal itself by putting the worst of Voldemort's followers in prison but also by repatriating the vast majority of the Death Eaters into the community.

The magical world forgave most of the enemy.

Imagine the feelings of anger and betrayal when, less than two decades later, those same people to whom society once offered forgiveness and a new chance rejoined the forces of evil and attempted once again to destroy the society entirely.

I can't imagine that Lucius Malfoy was so easily forgiven this time.

Is it possible that Rowling expects us to assume that Lucius was sent to prison again for his repeated crimes and that Draco alone, as a result of his several somewhat noble acts (like refusing to kill Dumbledore, failing to identify Harry to Bellatrix at Malfoy Manor) was himself forgiven and welcomed back into magical society?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mourning what we lost with the last film

Okay, so I watched The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 again yesterday on Blu Ray. This is the first time I've had the chance to watch it alone, in the privacy of my own den, without interruption or disruption.

I could watch every scene carefully, appreciate the nuances of the performances, the majesty of the sets and costumes, the rhythm of the editing.

What I still could not appreciate was what these filmmakers did to my beloved novel. They butchered it. They made the egregious assumption that they knew better than J.K. Rowling how to craft the end to her fantastic story.

I know. I know. You've read this all before. But it strikes me harder and harder each time I watch that last film.

And the thing that started to seep into my anger as I watched that ridiculous last battle was a deep sadness.

For all their flaws, the first seven movies were enjoyable adaptations of the Harry Potter world. Though not always faithful to the source, they at least provided us with a vision of Rowling's world and characters brought to life.

And Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have come to inhabit our conceptions of the Hero Trio, no matter how we've tried to fight it.

So my sadness, I think, comes from the fact that this abomination of an eighth film cannot be made again. It will not be made again. We will never have the chance to see all of these actors inhabit these roles and do them well.

No one is going to go back any time soon and say, "Well, they messed that up pretty badly. Let's go back and do it right."

So I will never see some of the great scenes from the seventh book brought to life on the screen by these actors:
- I will never see Chris Rankin as Percy Weasley topple out into the Room of Requirement from the passage linking the Hogshead with Hogwarts, right into his gathered family to deliver his fumbling apology and be welcomed back into the brotherhood;
- I will never see Grint as Ron express his concern for the wellbeing of the Hogwarts House Elves as the battle is set to begin and, therefore, earn his first true embrace from Watson as Hermione;
- I will never hear Simon McBurney exclaim, as the form of Kreacher bursts from the Hogwarts kitchens to enter the fray, "Fight! Fight! Fight for my master..."
- I will never see the tide in the battle turn when the Centaurs and the rest of the wizarding world enters the fight as Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid holds Harry's apparently dead body;
- I will never get the chance to watch and listen as Radcliffe (as Harry) and Ralph Fiennes (as Voldemort) circle each other carefully, with Harry explaining to his arch enemy (and the gathered crowd), why the Elder Wand will never properly work for Voldemort and how Snape had fooled him for so long; and, worst of all,
- I will never get the chance to see that final moment when Voldemort's curse rebounds on himself and, as Rowling writes, "Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, his body feeble and shrunken, the white hands empty, the snake-like face vacant and unknowing."

I feel sadness because, in choosing their own ideas over J.K's, in substituting their sense of drama for hers, the filmmakers have wasted this one golden opportunity to do it right, to capture the beauty of Rowling's final novel on film.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Sketch-Com Show

Is it just me (and maybe that I'm old) or is Saturday Night Live simply not funny any more?

Daniel Radcliffe was the guest host on SNL this past weekend, something I didn't know until a colleague told me yesterday. She also told me that he was in, not surprisingly, a Harry Potter sketch on the show and that it wasn't too bad.

So I found it on the web and watched it. She was right, it wasn't bad. It was a single joke played over and over again but it wasn't bad.

I thought the Snape impersonation was pretty good, in fact, especially the voice, and I liked the Draco Malfoy dude too. And the idea that Harry might find life after Voldemort a bit boring had occured to me too in the past so I didn't mind that the whole four-minute sketch was taken up with character after character confronting the 28-year-old Harry about being unable to move on with his life.

Then I tried to watch the other sketches from the show that featured Radcliffe. I used the term "tried" on purpose. I tried to watch them but I just couldn't force myself to see any of them through to the end. Terrible. Poorly written, poorly acted. Not funny.

Maybe I'm just too old for it now but I seem to recall the Ackroyd, Belushi, Radner years as being a heck of lot funnier, and a great deal clever and more intelligent, than the current version.

Funny, I'm still young enough to appreciate Harry Potter but I'm too old for the modern SNL.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hermione and the Library that is Google

I saw an article recently that asked why, especially in the later books, Harry, Hermione and Ron didn't just "google" stuff to find out what was going on. For example, when they needed to know about the Deathly Hallows, why not just search "Deathly Hallows" on the internet.

The article pointed out that the later novels were written well after the internet matured into the world-dominating form it now takes so it would make sense that Harry would use it. Even more importantly, it would make sense that Hermione would use it as a back up to the Library.

It's a funny question and one that is, at first at least, interesting. But the simple answer to it is provided in the books themselves: the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.

There is no way the Ministry of Magic would allow information about the magical world to end up on the web. There are probably Ministry staff members who are paid to search the internet and remove any such information or, better still, someone who won a magical award for services to the community for coming up with a web-scouring spell that monitors the web and instantly removes any web entries that breach the Statute.

I know, a bit of a "straw man" when the question can be answered so easily but interesting none-the-less.

In related news, a colleague at work recently visited the Wiarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. He reports that the Butter Beer is delicious and the memorabilia available in the shops is not as outrageously priced as I feared. A wand, complete with case like the boxes in Olivander's, was just thirty bucks. A quidditch jersey like Harry wore in the films was just twenty five. And a Gyffindor scarf, machine made but similar to the one my sister handmade for me, was forty five. Probably nowhere near as nice and warm but still...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Giving The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 its due

I read recently that the famous movie website Rotten Tomatoes has rated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the "best reviewed" film of 2011.

That means that Part 2 was rated by professional film reviewers more positively than any other film last year.

I have to admit it: I find that amazing. Surprising. Disturbing. And perhaps a bit eye-opening, to be honest.

As anyone who has been reading this blog will know, I was not positively disposed to Part 2, which I thought butchered J.K.'s subtle and elegant final novel for the sake of filmic flashiness.

So why do all of these professional reviewers seem to like it so much?

It's possible that the reviewers like it because it is a good movie. Maybe even a great movie. Divorced from its source material, it probably stands very strongly on its own merits. It's exciting, well-written, and well-filmed. The acting is good, the story is strong and the technical work on it is exceptional.

I guess I can see all that. But it's difficult for me because, in my opinion, it could have been SO MUCH BETTER. Had they stuck more closely to J.K.'s plot, themes and character development, then added the same high level of technical, acting and writing work, they could have had a masterpiece.

Yes, I'm biased. Yes, I feel a huge amount of loyalty to Rowling's original novel (more, I fear, than even J.K. herself seemed to feel). And yes, I am completely incapable of seeing the film for what it is.

So I'll give them their props. Congrats to David Yates and Steven Kloves and all of the cast and crew on making an exceptional film. The accolades appear to be well-deserved.

Now, how long do we have to wait until someone is allowed to try again?

Friday, January 6, 2012

How a scarf managed to divide the world in two

I wore my Gryffindor scarf to work today, a shield against some bitterly cold weather. And, when I arrived, I displayed it carefully on the coat rack at the entrance to my "office" for all to see.

And, my goodness, hasn't it been garnering quite the reaction!

"Beautiful scarf," is a common refrain. "Wow, what a lovely scarf," said one person. Everyone who passes comments on it and most of them want to come in and touch it. They admire the craftspersonship, especially of the tassles, to be honest, and simply cannot believe that my sister knit it for me.

"She must be very talented," they say. So I show them her knitting blog and they realise just how amazingly talented she is.

What has surprised me, though, is how the scarf has served to divide the world into two groups: Harry Potter fans and "Others".

Everybody loves the scarf, no doubt. But some people don't recognise where it's from. One person asked if it was from Mount Allison University, which apparently has similar colours. Several people have simply asked: "Are these school colours?"

The "Others" admire the scarf as a work of art, a beautiful combination of expertise, craftspersonship, form and colour.

But I like the responses of Harry Potter fans better. Their eyes light up. They rush toward the scarf, fingers extended, reaching for the crests that adorn each end of the garment. "That's Gryffindor, isn't it?" they exclaim.

And when I confirm that it is, indeed, a Gryffindor scarf, made to the exact same specifications as the scarves worn in the films, they swoon. "Where did you get it?" "How much did it cost?" "Do they have scarves from the other Hogwarts Houses too?"

I don't think my sister is interested in knitting a whole pile of scarves in the different House colours but if she were... And if copyright issues weren't a potential problem...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pondering the value of the Deathly Hallows to Book 7

I've had several conversations recently about the final novel and the real value of the Deathly Hallows to the whole Harry Potter story.

One respected friend suggested to me that, while she enjoyed the introduction of the mythic Deathly Hallows to the stories, she felt that J.K. ended up rushing the final couple of Horcruxes to make room and time for the Hallows.

Another respected friend said she felt that the final novel would have been just as good without the whole Deathly Hallow hoopla, since, in her opinion, the Deathly Hallows seemed like a late addition and ultimately added nothing at all to the story.

Here are my thoughts.

I feel that the final novel was about Harry proving himself to be worthy of the Deathly Hallows (in a way that Albus Dumbledore was not) and, therefore, the right person to defeat Voldemort. The novel clearly shows Harry to be torn between pursuing the Hallows and finding the remaining Horcruxes, a tension that is only finally resolved at Shell Cottage when Harry chooses to speak to Griphook first, thus allowing Voldemort to reach the Elder Wand before him.

As a result, I think the Deathly Hallows were incredibly important to Rowling's plan for both plot and character. Harry had to prove himself by choosing to follow a path that would lead to the death of Voldemort rather than pursuing the Hallows which would protect him from death. It is important, furthermore, that the Dark Lord chases the Elder Wand with a panicked obsession but proves to know nothing about the other Hallows, showing his limitations in seeing no value in what he would consider to be mere children's stories.

That being said, I agree that the final novel does sacrifice some detail in the pursuit and destruction of the final horcruxes (the destruction of Hufflepuff's Cup is not even shown 'on-screen' in the novel; we are merely told about it later), a development which I find takes away from the effectiveness of the book.

Further, I think it would have been more effective and convincing, as my second friend suggests, if Rowling had managed to incorporate some references to the Deathly Hallows, or at least their symbol, into the earlier novels. For example, Viktor Krum could have been shown confronting a Durmstrang student for wearing the symbol in The Goblet of Fire, rather than simply telling Harry about such an incident in the final novel.

I also find it hard to forget that, when Harry first opens up the parcel containing his father's Invisibility Cloak, Ron exclaims that such cloaks are "really rare", not one of a kind. This suggests to me that J.K. did not, at that time, have the Deathly Hallows in mind. The Invisibility Cloak was merely a valuable rarity, not a legendary item.

Wouldn't it have been great if Ron had told Harry, at that very early point, that one of the children's stories his mother used to read to him discussed an Invisibility Cloak? Now that would have been amazing evidence of Rowling's careful planning.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Subtlety and elegance as Bellatrix meets her end

There's a wonderful moment near the end of The Deathly Hallows where Harry, caught midway between two duels in the Great Hall, hears a laugh, sees a look of surprise and disbelief on the face of Bellatrix Lestrange and knows she's about to die.

Harry knows because the laugh and the look echo Sirius Black's behaviour just before he was killed by Bellatrix's curse in The Order of the Phoenix.

It's a wonderful moment and beautifully written. I remember having shivers the first time I read the passage and realised that Molly Weasley was about to strike a deathblow to Voldemort's support. And, in doing so, would force the final confrontation between Harry and the Dark Lord.

Harry recognises that Bellatrix is about to die in time to cast a protective charm over Molly before Voldemort has a chance to curse her. Harry then emerges from beneath his Invisibility Cloak to the surprise and delight of the Hogwarts fighters and to the dismay of the Dark Lord.

I mention this now because I have been thinking a lot about the way the filmmakers chose to rewrite Rowling's ending and all the wonderful moments that have been lost as a result. This is, indeed, one of them, as is the moment that Voldemort finally dies, a moment of ultimate mundanity (is that a word?) that serves as the perfect end of the Dark Lord.

I've struggled to understand why the film's drawn out duel scenes and its commitment to making the battle a singular event between Harry and Voldemort bothers me so much.

The term I've used so often in the past to describe what is lost in the movie version is "subtlety" and I just can't seem to find a better one. Rowling wrote a subtle, elegant final battle, filled with nuance and depth.

The film's climax is more of a steamroller: big, slow and, in the end, unexciting. Lacking in depth or subtlety. Empty of meaning, devoid of soul.

I am coming to recognise that there exists in the world of Harry Potter fandom a significant group that has only watched (and loved) the films but has never read all of the books. Most, in fact, have read the first two or three novels but, once the books got longer, more complex, more adult, these people gave up the reading.

I urge members of this group of fans to try again. Start at the beginning but commit yourself to reading all seven novels from start to finish. Immerse yourself in Rowling's world in its pure, unadulterated form. Get to know the characters to a level you simply cannot know them through the movies.

But, most of all, enjoy the many wonderful moments of subtlety and elegance that the films simply do not, cannot capture.