January 11, 2004

Harry Potter and The Movie Reviewer

I keep meaning to write about the movies I’ve seen. I want to record my thoughts before they disappear, but there’s always something else to talk about.

Not today. Today you get to hear about what I thought of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Catch Me If You Can, Bend it Like Beckham and X2. We don’t see movies in the theater anymore, due to a small detail known as No Babysitter. (To be rectified this year. This is one of my New Year’s resolutions. To actually leave the house with my spouse and without my son. Shocking, I know.)

So. Harry Potter and the Bla Bla Bla.

(mild spoilers follow)

I like the books, though I have to admit I’m not in love with them. The first one enchanted me because of the world she created, that blend of English boarding school with structured, old fashioned magic, complete with wands and flying broomsticks. I also like her ability to plot a story that, spider-like, attaches its web to every surrounding branch and then tightens the strands into smaller and smaller concentric circles and in the end what seemed random comes together so neatly. I also like her main characters. How can you not? They’re endearing. Particularly Hagrid.

I dislike the way her world is divided into good and evil, black and white. The Malfoys are mean because they’re Bad People. Voldemort wants to take over the world because, well, um, he just does. Harry’s Muggle family are grotesque caricatures. Snape is a small grace note, seemingly evil but probably not. There are at least some shades of gray to his portrayal (though it’ll probably turn out he was always a good guy and never bad, therefore obliterating all grays). The main trio of kids are human but Slytherin students are all without fail mean, nasty children. This gives me pause. Are we teaching children to divide the world into us and them, then? I realize the Slytherin way is to divide the world into those with Magical Lineage and mudbloods. But how is it better to say they’re all bad because this belief of theirs is bad? It’s too easy. And very troubling.

I also dislike the way, in every single book (and therefore every movie), Dumbledore invite Harry to talk to him and Harry, for no reason at all, refuses to invite Dumbledore to help get him out of his hugely scary and nearly impossibly dangerous tangle. Once I'd accept. But you’d think he’d have learned by book four that it’s safe to talk to Dumbledore, wouldn’t you?

We watched the first movie when it came out on video. It doesn’t stick with me. I agreed with the reviews that said Chris Columbus (not my favorite director) had taken the wonder out of the magical surroundings. He has this habit of saying “Look! Here! Right here! Isn’t this great? Aren’t we clever?” Underlining any potential coolness with so many close-ups and musical trills and dark shadows that it’s no longer all that cool. Like someone spoiling the punch line by telegraphing it. Sometimes the best part of a movie or book or show is the discovery. Rowling is splendid at this. Columbus? Not so much.

Aside from that (major) flaw, well, it was still mediocre. The main child actor trio were barely credible, though Rupert Grint (a/k/a Ron Weasley) was a cut above. The story was… what was the story, again? Cerebus guarding something, right? Yeah, something like that. Anyway, like any action movie, the plot wasn’t really the point. The ride was. And the ride was acceptable enough for us to watch the sequel when it showed up on HBO.

Not a bad movie. Not a great one. Better than the first by a bit, largely because Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, has grown into himself as an actor. He mugs less and has better reactions. He does best by doing little, and that’s absolutely fine. Rupert Grint has also grown as an actor, and is really very good. Emma Watson (Hermione) perhaps mugs a tad less than in the first movie. She’s absent from the movie for a good long bit, so she’s certainly less noticeable. The adults are all wonderful in their parts, particularly Kenneth Branagh as the overblown self-aggrandizing windbag, Lockhart. I hated the guy on paper. Just another one-note characterization. But Branagh made his pomposity fun to watch. And I fell in love with Jason Isaac’s evilness in Patriot (the best part of that movie), and he was equally delicious here in the small role of Malfoy Senior.

And the story? In the novel I loved the part where Harry interacts with the ostensibly blank book he finds. I found Tom Riddle compelling and even perhaps likeable. In the movie, this section is over very quickly, seems more like a plot device, and Riddle is flatter and less intriguing. In the last moment of that odd flashback, he seems positively menacing. Distrust your audience much, Mr. Columbus? But I like Moaning Myrtle and the snake talk and the slow build of tension and dread. The necessary set-up of the first movie out of the way, this one could concentrate more on the story it was telling. I enjoy watching that prep school world. It reminds me in its way of college, going about your business in and around beautiful historical buildings. And I like the ghosts and the teachers and even the plot twists, though they’re necessarily less complex than in the book.

I’ll watch the next movie. Even maybe look forward to it. I like Prisoner of Azkaban the best of the novels and I’m very glad the series is switching directors. I wasn’t crazy about y tu mama tambien (though the ending redeemed it), but it had a rough freshness and an honesty that this series could use.

I had more to say than I thought. I guess I’ll be writing these reviews one by one, not in a rush.

Posted by Tamar at January 11, 2004 10:27 PM

Rats. I was interested in hearing about Bend it like Beckham.

Posted by: rose at January 12, 2004 02:27 PM

Soon, I promise. I plan to post a few reviews per week. I think. Unless I have something else to say instead...

Posted by: Tamar at January 12, 2004 10:12 PM