Thursday, March 31, 2011

Harry Potter and the Something of the Something

It's no secret to my family and friends and any passersby who will listen to me ramble on Forrest Gump-style about random events in my life that I am not a fan of the Harry Potter books or movie franchise in any way, shape, or form.  I can often be heard deriding JK Rowling's books as poorly written (both from a technical standpoint and in the narrative sense), unoriginal, boring garbage.  As much as I hate Rowling's writing, though, the movies suffer from some of the worst cases of movie-adapted-and-subsequently-butchered-from-a-book syndrome I've ever seen.  The problem is each book covers a whole school year in the lives of our hapless, young wizards which the filmmakers try to cram into two to two and a half hours of barely watchable, incoherent, mashed-together scenes.  The source material is sketchy enough to begin with, but then to run it through the Hollywood big studio meat grinder?  The audience is definitely not getting their daily recommended intake of awesome sauce.

I remember watching -or rather, being forced to watch- the first three or four HARRY POTTER movies and I remember being bitterly disappointed in all of them.  They were all so bland and generic and randomly cobbled together that thinking back I get all of the movies completely confused.  I can't remember when the giant spiders showed up or whether the motherfucker with the googley eye showed up in the same movie as the Tri-Wizard cup or whether he was riding a griffin or getting high at Hagrid's crib or whatever.  It all kind of blends together to me.  The one thing in my mind that really made the movies furstrating to watch -besides the endless examples of deus ex machina in practically every fucking scene- was the poor transition between scenes which is a problem in every HARRY POTTER movie.  One example is the passage of time.  From one scene to the next could be a couple of minutes or half a year.  There's never any clue as to where you are temporally in the story and it really throws the audience for a loop because for a couple minutes you're wondering to yourself what the fuck is going on and it really takes you out of the movie because you have to consciously recalibrate yourself.  It's jarring.  The worst example I can think of in the series is HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE where all of the sudden it was the end of the school year and the other wizard schools were getting ready to leave.  And I was like, "What the fuck?" because there was absolutely no textual clue given to the audience.  It was just assumed that through some kind of magic you could just divine the timeline with a wave of your magic wand.  All it would have taken was a short cut to a magical calendar with the pages flying off or even just a line of dialogue like "Hey, Harry, remember three months ago when you had to fight off those water nymphs before they bit your dick off?" or whatever and it would have made it a lot easier to follow.

The other problem with the Harry Potter-verse, like I touched on above, is how hapless and disempowered the main characters are.  This problem stems from Rowling's sloppy writing and is exacerbated by running it through a Hollywood writing chop shop.  Harry Potter has yet to solve a problem on his own.  Every time he's in trouble he is saved from out of the fucking blue by some convenient plot device that may or may not relate to some stupid item or person or spell mentioned briefly in passing.  Or maybe not ever mentioned before at all.  Or maybe the device is so obviously highlighted (like practically winking at the audience highlighted) that you just know that this is going to never be mentioned ever again in the rest of the book/story until Harry's in danger and just happens to need that one specific, esoteric thing that is not woven into the narrative but spilled on it.  It's really a crap shoot.  The point is Rowling went through (presumably) great lengths to create this (a-hem) highly detailed universe, but then goes through drastic lengths to undermine its internal logic.  I mean it seems like every ten goddamn minutes Harry is being chased by some giant spiders or is faced with a dark wizard and he never takes an active role in his own salvation.  It's always some magic car whisking him away, or another character coming to his rescue at the last possible second, presumably for dramatic effect, but after the five hundredth fucking time it wears on you.  And if course if you're mortally wounded there's always a Phoenix feather or some shit to save you.  Or you can always go back in time and fix your mistakes.   

But, I put all of that out of my mind as I went to see HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS with a group of eighth graders.  After six movies I thought that perhaps there had been some kind of progression.  I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and I hoped beyond hope as I grabbed my popcorn and pop that now that the actors and characters were older we would see a grittier HARRY POTTER, one that spoke to a slightly more mature, discerning audience.  The posters and trailers gave me dim hope.  As I sat down to witness HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 in all of its IMAX glory my hopes were almost immediately dashed.

Right from scene one director David Yates begins to alienate anybody in the audience who is not a hardcore Potter fan.  I missed the last couple of movies and books and there was absolutely no exposition or explanation given as to the current state of affairs.  We get the general feeling that somewhere some shit has hit some fan, but there is no fucking clue as to what.  We get a series of sad scenes of Hermione erasing herself from her parents' memories and Harry's aunt and uncle abandoning their underage dependent leaving him all alone in an empty house.  And I had no clue why.  Then Harry's friends show up to sneak him out of the city, and again no specific explanation is given.  Anybody who's paid attention in the slightest knows that Voldemort is after him for some reason, but we're given no specifics.  All I was asking for was a quick flashback or a quick line of dialogue or maybe a SPIDER-MAN-style opening credits recap.  Something.  Anything.  But no, a bunch of wizards and wizardettes show up and take some potion so they all look like Harry so they can play decoys to draw fire from Harry as they escape the city.  Later even this chase scene which was kind of exciting was rendered utterly irrelevant, which I will discuss shortly.

As I watched DEATHLY HALLOWS I couldn't help but start thinking about X:2 which I had happened to watch on TV a couple nights before.  It wasn't just that my mind started to wander and was replaying a much better movie in my own head, although it certainly helped make the two and half hour run time more bearable.  It was more a connection my mind made between the similarities of the powers the characters in these two universes possessed.  Here's a quick rundown of the powers Harry and company seem to possess: they can shoot balls of fire, they can teleport through space, they can look like anybody they want to, they can travel through time, they have telekinesis, and Harry has a cloak somewhere that can turn him invisible.  Hermione even pulls out a potion at one point that heals up Ron after some problems with teleportation.  So essentially they have all the powers of (in keeping with the Marvel Universe) The Human Torch, Nightcrawler, Mystique, Jean Grey, Sue Storm, and Wolverine combined.  Think about that for a moment.  Let your imagination run wild and explore all the wondrous possibilities.  Think of all the shit you could rain down on your enemies with that kind of arsenal.  Think about that opening scene of X:2 where Nightcrawler fucks up all the president's men with only the power of teleportation.  Now, what do you suppose Harry does?  Does he teleport in and shoot some fireballs into the faces of those smarmy Deatheaters?  Does he take over Snape's identity and then telekenetically choke Voldemort, Vader-style?  Would it surprise you to know that he spends the bulk of the movie... hiding?  Doing nothing?  No, sadly, it didn't surprise me either.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS was so frustrating to watch because aside from one wizard shoot out, Harry, Ron and Hermione spend the rest of their time hiding in the forest and conveniently teleporting out of trouble, until one time at the end they don't teleport away from danger for some reason, even though they easily could have.  Instead, they decide to... run?  And then out of all the possible spells Hermione seems to have at her disposal she... shoots Harry in the face disfiguring him MINORITY REPORT-style?  Even though he is instantly recognizable because of the lightning bolt scar on his forehead?  What the fuck?  Teleporting was overused the entire rest of the movie (the deus ex machina of the week), but then it was abandoned for no good reason other than it had to be in order for Harry to be captured.  The teleportation was also the plot device that completely negated the chase scene at the beginning of the movie which I said I would mention later.  Why couldn't they just have teleported from Harry's house to the secret hiding spot?  Wouldn't that have been a lot safer and smarter?  There seems to be no rhyme or reason given as to when it is OK to teleport sometimes and why they don't at other times.  Remember that internal logic thing I mentioned before?  Yeah, that's what I was talking about.

The only thing that rivalled the teleporting plot device in narrative-destroying power was Hermione's handbag.  She apparently cast some Spell of Hammer Space on this fucking bag so that she could fit everything she and Harry and Ron could possibly ever need.  And I mean everything.  No matter what happened you could be sure that she had something to deal with the situation.  Change of clothes, an entire tent filled with camping paraphernalia.  Everything.  This particular bit of deus ex machina completely took all remaining steam out of the already steam-lacking narrative.  Speaking of Hermione (who apparently grew up into a full-blown hottie in the past couple years at Hogwarts); why the fuck isn't she the focus of the stories instead of Harry?  She's the one who knows all the spells.  She's the one who comes up with the ideas.  She does research, she prepares for the unknown, and she saves Harry and Ron's collective asses on an almost hourly basis.  How the fuck is she not the chosen one?

And then there's Voldemort himself.  Why the fuck doesn't he give his troops a shoot to kill order?  At one point Helena Bonham Carter's character Bellatrix Lestrange has Harry dead to rights, but she has specific orders from Voldemort that only he is allowed to kill him.  Only him.  There is no reason given for this.  It just seems like the classic bad guy hubris, but taken to laughably ridiculous extremes.  There is no logical reason given why A) Voldemort doesn't just issue an order for the Deatheaters to bring him Harry's head on a platter or B) Why Lestrange -who is obviously unhinged and highly homicidal- doesn't just kill him anyway because she's a fucking lunatic who escaped from Azkaban.  What the fuck?  And then Harry Potter is saved by the convenient plot device of the week, this time in the form of an elf (I don't know his fucking name) who (*mock look of shock*) teleports into the enemy base and springs Harry and his pals before teleporting them all to a sunny beach somewhere.  It's just so fucking weak and once again Harry falls ass backwards into and out of trouble through no effort or fault of his own.  The stronghold of the Dark Lord, and this fucking elf just waltzes in?  I mean the entire movie Hermione is setting up powerful charms to make them invisible and protect them.  You think maybe Voldemort -Lord of All Evil and Master of the Occult- would set up a few simple protective spells around his home fucking base?  Maybe make it invisible, or block teleportation -a skill obviously common to any wizard with a magic wand and a few years education at Hogwarts- something that ninety percent of the main characters are able to do?  I mean, what's to stop Harry or one of his friends from teleporing in while Voldemort was taking a shit and just blast a fireball in his face.  Or warp in while he's sleeping and cut off his head?  Seems like a no-brainer, right?

And then I thought: Wait a minute.  Doesn't Harry Potter's underworld of wizards coexist with our world?  I mean, all these wizards are so caught up in their own worldview that they ignore the obvious.  One fucking handgun could end the reign of the Deatheaters.  They seem to be so overly concerned with magical attacks that they would be completely caught off-guard by something as mundane as a gun.  Rambo or John McClane could clear out a room of these death eating fucks in no time.  Or what about explosives?  Why don't Harry and his friends simply get a couple pounds of C4 explosive, teleport into Voldemort's mansion while everyone is asleep and plant it underneath the giant table the evil wizards have their meetings around every morning?  Even if you don't kill Voldemort you could probably wipe out most of his cronies who he seems to depend on almost completely and really cripple his whole regime.

But that last paragraph sounded kind of nitpicky.  I can appreciate that in the context of the story wizards want to bust out some wizard shit.  I mean, I, as a STAR WARS fan, would never expect a Jedi to use anything except his light saber and the force to solve a problem.  And I can dig how the wand is like the light saber of the Harry Potter-verse and it sometimes even looks cool when Snape or whoever is shooting bolts of energy at dragons or quiditch balls or evil spirits or whatever you shoot at with your wand.  (And here comes the...) But again it is so frustrating to watch a wizard become completely useless once he loses his wand.  I know a light saber-less Jedi is not as impressive either, but at least the Jedi can still bust out mind tricks or telekenisis.  It seems without a wand a wizard is completely unable to channel any magical powers at all and is about as useful an anthology of Vanilla Ice's greatest hits (I can only think of one).  Again, this is me just being nitpicky, but I feel that it really slows down the storytelling and is incredibly frustrating for the audience.

Now a lot of readers (especially those who know me) might think that I went into HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS expecting -nay hoping- that it would fail.  This is only half true.  Hoping for crap is only satisfying in the sense that I feel personally justified in my opinions when it turns out to be true.  However, I always try to go into a movie expecting something entertaining because I don't want to feel like I wasted my time watching crap.  I was actually hoping that DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 would be a step up from the other Potter flicks, but I was really disappointed that I was so disappointed.  The writers and director had a real chance to go darker and grittier, but instead I was bombarded with the same, tired shit that made me hate the rest of the movies: lazy writing in the form of convenient plot twists, the inability of the main characters to take action, and a complete sabotage of the universe's internal logic at every possible turn. 

And since I'm on a role here, what the fuck was with the name?  DEATHLY HALLOWS.  See I kept hearing "hollows" as in the geographical term like a low lying area.  So I thought the deathly hallows was a place.  It took me a while to clue in and then I realized it was "hallows" as in the transitive verb "to make something holy."  I had to look it up, but having been forced to go to church for years and years as a child that kind of vocabulary is pretty common.  But in the context of this title, it's just plain confusing especially to kids reading the book or watching he movies.  All the other movies and books had concrete ideas: a stone, a goblet, a chamber, a prisoner, an order.  Then you have a concept which -from what I can gather- is "making death holy" or "worshipping death" which I can dig, and makes sense when it's finally explained twenty minutes before the end of the movie (in a pretty cool animation, by the way, which was my favourite part of the movie aside from the ghostly make out scene between Harry and Hermione), however at this point it's too little too late.  (Just as an aside: When the dude mentions the invisible cloak as one of the deathly hallows, why doesn't Harry react?  I mean he has that shit.  There can't be that many cloaks of invisibility out there, right?  This has to be the one, but he doesn't say anything.  I would have been all like "Holy shit, guys!  This is totally awesome!  I fucking have that thing at home in my closet!" But Harry just stares dumbly at the dude telling the story.)

 As you might expect I'm going to give HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 a pretty low rating and you'd be right.  I'm giving this movie a 3/10 = A Slightly Bruised Teenage Wizard's Head With a Confused Look on His Face as He Realizes That Having His Best Friend Bang His Daughter is Much Worse Than Banging His Current Girlfriend  


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