Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 8:24 pm 
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RALPH FIENNES AS LORD VOLDEMORT IN HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

The last Harry Potter?

Harry Potter No. 8, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, is, they say, the last Harry Potter film. It all ends, the posters say. And that means it's based on the last Harry Potter book. The author of the books, J.K.Rowling, says this is the end, and the signs are she had it planned from the beginning, or way back to the dim forgotten 1990's. For millions of fans this must be a moment tinged with sadness. Don't ask this review to assess the movie expertly. I'm not a Harry Potter person, and so you shouldn't ask me to do a thorough and proper evaluation of the last, or any, of the Harry Potter films. What does it matter, anyway, what I say? They, like the books, are a phenomenon. I cannot fully appreciate this popularity, because you really can't truly do so without having watched every film multiple times and read every page of the seven books. To be honest, I couldn't tell you for sure the difference between Scrmgeour (Bill Nihy, now departed, and by me, sorely missed) and Snape (Alan Rickman, a tad too campy for my taste, but nonetheless as essential to Harry Potter as young, now grown up, Daniel Radcliffe). Are Hermione (Emma Watson), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) a ménage à trois, as at some moments now seems? I have not read and never shall read Rowling's helpful pamphlets, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "Quidditch Through the Ages," and to be honest, I wouldn't want to.

But I can feel it -- the loyalty and passion of the fans. When I saw this film, in iMAx and 3D, in a packed first-night audience, there were ripples of applause that swept across the auditorium (I almost said "amphitheater") after a particularly good moment, as at the opera or the ballet. I felt that, and I can respect the grandeur of the concept -- and the solemn, epic quality of the later Harry Potter films. The earlier ones, while maybe laboring a little too much to explain the Hogwarts world and rules, may have been more fun. (Whether I might prefer Sweathogs to Hogwarts is a question better not asked.) Neither the filmmakers nor the author needs a review. The books have won many prizes and their author, if not a billionaire (in dollars), at least is close enough not to matter (and she started out on welfare: what a story of literary private enterprise!). The audience is wide. The books weren't specifically written for children but appeal to them, and lots and lots of adults as well.

Rowling thought up the basic idea for her incredibly successful franchise on a four-hour train ride from Manchester to London. On that ride she came up with the basic story of Harry Potter, a young wizard, and his motley band of cohorts at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The first book went through many rejections before finally being accepted by a publisher, but it became a bestseller and the rest, as they say, is history. The fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sold four million copies in the US in the first 48 hours after publication; the sixth book, nine million copies in the first 24 hours. The latter books of the seven have been the fastest selling books in history. They have reportedly turned a lot of kids to reading who were otherwise pulled away by other media.

The films followed naturally upon the books' wild popularity, and since there are seven Harry Potter books there would be that many movies, except that, either due to the complexity or simply to feed the blockbuster machine, the last novel was broken up into two film installments. With various writers involved, there have been four directors, Chris Columbus for the first two, Alfonso Cuarón for the third, Mike Newell for the fourth, and David Yates for the last four. It seems to me Columbus' approach may have been a little simplistic, and Cuarón a bit too dark and surreal. I don't know about Newell; but David Yates struck the right note and luckily has continued. The cast has included some of the best actors in Britain, among them Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Tony Kirwood, and Tim Burton's colorful wife, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, as the tortured white creature of evil Lord Voldemort, who has no nose -- and I know I'm missing some of the important Harry Potter regulars. I forgot matthew Lewis, who plays Harry Potter's brave and lowal friend Neville Longbottom, a character who strikes a decisive blow against Lord Voldemort. Nor have I mentioned by name the impressive albino dragon. The CGI in this movie is for the most part justifiable and original and well integrated into the whole. I particularly liked some very intriguing scenes of magical storerooms jammed with objects, including metal goblets. The skies in the last two Harry Potter films have been dramatic and awesome.

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What about iMax and 3D? I will never stop saying that 3D is a crude mistake and a silly throwback until a truly advanced and sophisticated version of it is developed. This time the glasses were huge, which worked well for iMax and made us all look like comic characters. A major problem remains that 3D glasses of all kinds are tinted gray. You don't want to see a movie through glasses, darkly, not even a black and white movie, which requires rich blacks and crisp pure whites. You certainly don't want to see colors dimmed down. However, the 3D in Deathly Hollows 2 was more seamless than much of the 3D I have seen. There were still exceptions, possibly due to iMax. Occasionally there was a halo around figures or heads, and when there was fast motion, it was sometimes a blur -- things that don't happen in so-called "2D". Needless to say, though, iMax lends itself to the grand clashes of good and evil that mark the final sequences of Deathly Hollows 2.

Earlier movies in the series were, as I mentioned, more fun -- and less lonely, and contained more humor and romance. But since the movie has set records at the box office already in its first weekend, the public is willing to pay to find out. This is the top grossing movie weekend ever, both in the US and abroad, and the filmmakers are going to be as reluctant to abandon this fan base as the fans are going to be to give up watching Harry Potter movies.

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©Chris Knipp 2011


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