Friday, July 15, 2011

Hogwarts Forever

It has recently come to my attention that there are some party-poopers and spoil-sports who would have us all feel ashamed or even idiotic for our fervor concerning the release of the final Harry Potter movie. They say how sad it is that we consider Harry Potter to be such an enormous part of our whole childhood, or that the movies aren’t all that great anyway, so we should not get so excited. Not only are these types of dismissive comments incredibly inconsiderate to the very real feelings of excitement and sadness shared by a great many people, but they are also rather foolish.

To begin with, brushing aside an eight-film franchise that has garnered consistent critical praise by calling them average is a display of ignorance. One comment I read claimed that the last 2 films have been the only above-average entries in the series. But surely when we consider the first two films, featuring the misadventures of 11 and 12 year-olds, along the parameters of the family-friendly ventures they were intended to be, we can see that they are enormously successful.  You wouldn't criticize other family films for not behaving like The Godfather, would you?

The 3rd movie, Prisoner of Azkaban remains the most intellectually stimulating entry given they way if deftly maneuvers through a time-traveling plot. Add to the complicated narrative the way the director chose to insert images and symbols related to time passing throughout the film (e.g. the many shots of clocks, a ticking sound used as part of the music score, the camera actually passing through a clock’s cogs when Harry and Hermione travel back in time, and the use of the Whomping Willow to move through the seasons), and we see a grand collage of transformation, featuring a werewolf and pubescent lead characters (take another look at the opening scene, featuring a 13-year-old boy shaking his magic wand under the bedsheets and tell me the director isn’t trying to subliminally show us the changes in question). The entire film, every element of it, is grounded in the themes of time and change and the necessity of forward motion, visually and artistically representing the themes of the book’s narrative. 

The 4th was primarily a transference from page to screen, but a visually stunning one, one must admit, despite the apparently drunk Dumbledore stumbling and slurring through the whole movie. And while I do not care for the 5th as a film, it did have the difficult job of adapting the book with the most material, and the director, fresh from TV, was still trying to figure out what he wanted from the films. He has since figured it out, and the series as a whole has remained since the start technically and artistically impeccable, visually and emotionally satisfying in nearly every way.

So are the books better? Well yes, in many ways, just as nearly every book that is ever adapted into a movie will be better in many ways.  But please, do not dismiss so many films in one fail swoop by calling them all average or “mediocre at best.”  Tread lightly if you’re prepared to call the most economically successful franchise in movie history, a series that has the respect and love of audiences and critics alike (unlike, say, Twilight and Transformers, both generally considered to be just plain terrible), just not all that special. Because that’s a fight you’ll have a hell of time trying to win.

As to the many comments about our “childhoods ending” with this last film: of course, you’re right, many of us are in fact of legal age to perform magic outside of school, and therefore are adults already. Our childhoods are behind us in many ways. Very few of us believe that our lives are actually ending with the release of this final movie. It’s an exaggeration to say so and we know that.  And yet...

Some people feel that their lives are suddenly empty when they’ve been performing in a play, the play closes, and there are suddenly no more rehearsals to go to.

Some people feel that their lives are suddenly empty when they’ve spent all summer watching World Cup games or Tour de France races, when before they know it, there’s a winner, and there are no more games and races to keep them occupied during their otherwise dull afternoons.

Some people tune in to that extra special episode when Jim and Pam get married, or when the cast is going to try to sing their way through a musical episode, or when it's the series finale and we simply must know if Tony is going to get whacked, or just what the hell that island was... and then that episode passes, and while some are elated and others disappointed, everyone who tuned in suddenly feels a little more empty knowing that they’ll never get to have that feeling of anticipation, the result of a many years long commitment, again.

Was Harry Potter the only part of my childhood? Absolutely not. I also had the piano and the saxophone, and plenty of other books and friends, and I lived in Germany for a few years so Europe became a big part of my childhood. But as an Army brat I moved around a lot, and starting in 5th grade when I read Sorcerer's Stone Harry became one friend who I knew I wouldn’t have to leave behind when I moved and one person I wouldn’t have to make friends with when I arrived somewhere new. I was 10 when I first read the first book, the same age as Harry when he started out. And I was 17 when the final book came out, also Harry's age. So was Harry Potter my whole childhood? Of course not, but he was one of the most consistent, trustworthy parts of it.

And then there are the movies. My dad took me to see the first movie during Christmas break of 7th grade, and we’ve gone to see each one together since. He started reading the books, but never did finish them. (I think he stopped reading when he started getting strange looks in the office from the soldiers he commanded...) So the tradition now is every year or so, a new movie comes out and I get to fill him in on the stuff he missed by not reading the book, and it’s great and it’s fun. So when my dad and I go to the theater tonight and I say goodbye to Harry, I’m also saying goodbye to that tradition and that specific part of my relationship with my father.

Was it the only part of my childhood? No. But it was right there along with everything else, so don’t you dare tell me it’s sad that I’m sad. It’s insulting, and it’s ignorant. You have things that you wish you could do or see again for the first time, and all this legion of fans is trying to do is make sure that when we get to experience Harry Potter in a new way for the last first time, that it’s memorable, that we savor it.

So much of the series focuses on loss and how to deal with it. Tonight (or last night, as the case might have been), Harry Potter fans are just trying to deal with this particular loss by acknowledging it, feeling it, and celebrating what it has all meant to us. We’re not crazy, we’re not pathetic, we’re just fans. And we don’t need you to feel the same way we do, we just want you to not be mean about it. Didn’t Harry teach you anything?

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