Friday, December 6, 2013

Harry Potter And The Magic Lantern!

Thanks to the bargains of "Black Friday" I found all the Harry Potter movies for tiny money and promptly brought them home. I've never actually watched a Harry Potter movie all the way through, catching them on television here and there and watching, even most of some, but never all of any of these very successful movies.

Well I then went about the rather monumental task of viewing them all in sequence. Since each flick clocks in at well over two hours, close to to two and a half, it required some steady neglect of my wife and household duties to accomplish this feat, but I was up to the task. 

I won't belabor this by reviewing at length each of the seven stories (eight movies) but will only make general comments. I assume most folks have seen these so I won't bother with spoilers, so tread carefully if you haven't and still want to.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone kicks off the saga with a heartwarming story of a small boy rescued from near death and stashed with his neglectful relatives until that wonderful day he is inducted into the Hogwarts School, a magnet school for wizards. He meets Ron Weasley and Hermoine Grainger and the trio are fast friends (mostly) throughout the series. The battle against the villain Voldemort begins in fine fashion, but alas this first movie so much a children's flick that the danger is never more than remote though the charm is in full force. The same can be said for Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets, though the sense of danger and the menace do seem a bit more palpable.

It's in the third movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that we really begin to learn seriously about the magical world beyond Hogwarts and this opens up the series in some vital ways. The kids grow older and so do their concerns, also making the movie less an ode to children and a successful fantasy action flick. That tempo picks up again in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as does the sense of menace. Voldemort returns in the full flesh in this one with a deadly cost. The threats are not the stuff of child's play any longer, but the lasting deadly concerns of adults.

This continues in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which again features significant deaths that move the story forward. By the time of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince we are fully engaged in an exceedingly dark fantasy with more blood than whimsy. The finale Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows is a duo of movies which are full-fledged classic fantasies worthy of Tolkien and beholding to him I must say in their structure and tone.

The core of these stories is the trio of teens who battle the dark threats of Voldemort's "Death Eaters". Harry, Ron, and Hermione are a wonderful blend of traits, three misfits more or less who find friendship and more with one another. That Hermione and Ron find romance is a nice addition to the later stories, and isolates Harry properly when he's at his most endangered. Harry is clearly a Frodo-like figure in the movies, especially the later ones, a reluctant hero charged by fate to stand toe to toe with the dark forces which seem at a glance more than a match for him. The last couple of movies in particular seem to make a conscious effort to evoke aspects of the  Tolkien canon with dark objects having grim effects on the personalities of the heroes as well as being structured around the heroes finding and destroying mysterious magical items which prove ultimately fatal to the malicious villain.

The adults in these movies can be fascinating as well. Dumbledore, at first a charming father-figure is revealed to be a much more conniving and cold-blooded figure than we are first led to believe and the remote and sometimes cruel Snape is revealed to be the hero at the heart of the mystery, a man who did not love too little, but loved too much. This is the core revelation which saves these stories from becoming mere pablum, and makes all of them significant.

Watching the movies in close proximity it's easy to not only experience the changes in tone, but to follow the sometimes complicated plotting which relentlessly moves toward a deadly conclusion. Characters do indeed die in this story, sometimes in gruesome ways. There are unredeemed villains, villains with multiple motivations, and villains who really want to be heroes, but plenty of baddies to populate several yarns.

There's more than a mote of social commentary here and there throughout the flicks, especially the critique of modern educational techniques.  The Harry Potter movies are entertainments through and through which strove to grow and advance with their primary audience, the kids who discovered and made a massive hit of the series. On that count it succeeds, and even as an eventually mature and fully satisfying fantasy of the second if not first rank. It's sure worth the time it takes to watch them through.

I'm glad I did.

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