Thursday, July 28, 2011

TWIOT: Harry Potter and the Eight Movies of Quality

This picture doesn't really have anything to do with the article. But it's Emma Watson doing the troll face. C'mon, that's awesome
The Harry Potter film franchise is over. After eight films, legions of fans being minted, tantalized and now satisfied and a boatload of money produced, the epic series finally wrapped up when Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was released a couple of weeks ago. I didn't see the landmark movie until a week after it was released, but when I finally saw it with my wife, sister-in-law and her fiancé, it was worth the wait, both from the end of last fall's Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and the week between release and my viewing.

This isn't going to be a review of Part 2, rather than a retrospective on the series. It's very hard to keep a strong narrative going over three films/books, let alone eight films and seven books. The thing is, it could very easily have been 10+ movies, given that they were considering splitting Goblet of Fire in two and, according to my wife who read the books, had enough material in Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince to make each serial into two or even three movies apiece. Just ask George Lucas, who succeeded with his first Star Wars trilogy, but by many people's reckoning, absolutely failed with the second one. Or you could ask the Wachowski brothers, who followed up The Matrix with two underwhelming at best sequels. Or Sam Raimi, whose first two Spider-man movies were great, but who ultimately faltered with the third installment. That the Potter team, a collective of several different directors under the unchanging narrative written by JK Rowling, told an absolutely breathtaking story with very few moments of falter deserves praise.

Still, its greatest achievement is probably how it appeals to a broad spectrum of ages. Even the first two movies, which people will say are total kids' fare, have some very dark moments, and after it becomes "dark", it still has an appeal to kids, albeit ones that are older. The themes are more mature than what you'd find in your typical Dreamworks computer animated film. They deal with death, betrayal, orphaning, deception, war, murder, trust, politics, educational reform, and yet each film is cleverly set with wizards, mythical creatures and exaggerated characters who typify good and evil cleanly enough so that they can be digested by kids, who may not be ready for a full palate of grays on the canvas.

But while the characters retain a simple identity for the most part (with some exceptions, like Severus Snape, maybe the best character in the entire series – a good guy whose gruff exterior keeps you asking questions until the final exposition of his intents after he dies in DH Pt. 2), they're still fully developed and wonderfully acted, serving almost as archetypes in some cases. For example, Dolores Umbridge, the hawkish, almost fascist member of the Ministry of Magic, serves as the most evil character in any series. Her prissy, old-fashionedly feminine exterior belies her sinister intentions, toadying for the Minister's ignorance regarding the return of Voldemort and then using Draconian measures of punishment at Hogwarts on students whose only crime is satisfying their child-like curiosity. Her slow transformation of the school into a police state was the absolute best part of Order of the Phoenix, and one of the most effective displays of villainy short of portraying someone like Mobuto Sese Seko or Pol Pot in film.

Then there's Neville Longbottom, who throughout the series, is the prime example of all that is good in the world. From when we first see him in The Sorcerer's Stone until his final triumph in the last film, he is always fighting for what's right, even if he's not very good at executing his intentions at first. However, the way that he is portrayed, you can't help but root for the kid, making his triumph over Voldemort and his aiding of Harry in his final fight almost as satisfying – if not more so – than Harry's resolutions.

That's where Rowling and by proxy the filmmakers who were tasked with animating her fictional characters succeeded. From the ideation of the characters through casting to their final ends, whenever they may have been, each character was real, lifelike, even though they existed entirely in a fantasy world. From the bit players like Prof. Trelawny, through to the supporting characters like Bellatrix LeStrange and Sirius Black all the way to the main core, Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape, Voldemort and Hagrid, they all felt so real.

And that's why I can't begrudge the hardcore fans for being so sad that this is over. Having felt the same pangs over the end of LOST last year, I can empathize. Although the Potter series didn't strike the same chord of fanaticism in me that LOST or that pro wrestling still does, that doesn't mean I can't recognize it for how well-done and rewarding the entire series has been. I too feel like there's going to be a void in theaters now that Potter is finished. It's not like it's the only series that has legs, but it's definitely a series that I could wholeheartedly count on to deliver on a great film watching experience.

So with that, I bid a fond adieu to Harry Potter and his friends, enemies and acquaintances. It's been a great ride, and everyone involved should be proud of themselves.

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