The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Director Steven Spielberg and Producer Peter Jackson collaborate for their marvelous adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin.  As a welcome Christmas gift to fans of the classic long-lived European comics as well as the uninitiated, this is the first motion-capture animated film I can fully praise with an abundance of exclamation points.  Spielberg has directed a sprawling action-adventure film for families that springs with life and leaps with wit.

In the 1940s, young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a model collector’s ship, the Unicorn, that immediately thrusts him into danger.  The model contains a riddle and secret code, but what does it mean and where does it lead?  Accompanied by his trustworthy pup, Snowy, Tintin must elude several dangerous characters seeking to steal his rare artifact.  This leads the young adventurer to Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a notorious drunk who may be the key to solving the secret of the Unicorn.

With Tintin, the infamous Steven Spielberg finally returns to light up cinemas following a 3-year absence.  Ironically, this film may have more in common with Raiders of the Lost Ark than his last disappointing outing with the famed archeologist. Tintin is full of exciting mystery and grandiose action sequences, brilliant animation, shades of inviting humor, and a gorgeous 3D presentation.  This is easily the best animated film I’ve seen all year, and contains one of the year’s most entertaining action sequences, live-action or animation.

As for the motion-capture technique, Spielberg and Jackson know what they’re doing here.  I’ve found the work done by Robert Zemeckis (who’s recently been obsessed with the technology) over the last seven years to be a total snooze.  The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Christmas Carol never got it quite right despite painstaking efforts to be sure.  Tintin, however, is a visual marvel.  The animation is spot-on, and the performances behind the characters onscreen, chief among them Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis, are uniformly excellent.

The film ends with the setup for another adventure, and I hope American audiences seek out The Adventures of Tintin, as it is not a well-known property here.  Forget about needing to know anything.  Walk in blind and let the film dazzle you from beginning to end.

 

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Hugo

I have never seen a film quite like Hugo.  It’s a children’s fable made for adults— and it scares me that most children will probably sit in boredom if their erratic attention spans aren’t captivated by the incredible 3D visuals.  Martin Scorsese, of all directors, has facilitated a memorable moviegoing experience for film enthusiasts.  Hugo is a movie about movies, about making movies, about honoring movies, and about remembering pioneers of movies.  This is all under the guise of a family-film adventure in 3D.  If you’re looking for chipwrecking, steer elsewhere.

Scorsese takes viewers to 1930s Paris, where young boy Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) hides in the tall clock up above the interior of a train station.  Hugo lives secluded from the station inspector (Sascha Baron Cohen) sniffing out abandoned children, fully prepared to ship them off to an orphanage.

After the death of both his father (Jude Law) and alcoholic uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo busies himself keeping the clocks running properly so as to avoid the discovery of his deceased uncle who normally mans the clocks at the station.  In his spare time, Hugo scurries about pilfering scrap parts from a toymaker, George (Ben Kingsley), until he is caught one day.  George demands Hugo empty his pockets of stolen parts, and in the process steals Hugo’s personal notebook which has diagrams and calculations for building an automaton.

You see, Hugo’s father was an inventor who planned to rebuild a dead automaton he picked up from a museum—this bot having belonged to the legendary filmmaker and magician George Méliès.  Hugo eventually teams up with the toymaker’s godchild, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to retrieve his sacred notebook which opens up both children to worlds unknown to each other.  Isabelle is fascinated with literature and books.  Hugo loves gears and machinery.  Both end up enraptured by Hugo’s quest to reform the automaton that may hold a message from Hugo’s father as well as secrets about toymaker George.

In many ways, Hugo is visually one of the most striking films I’ve ever seen.  Most of the film takes place inside the Parisian train station where our young hero leaps and bounds through vents and shafts. Scorsese chose to shoot this movie in 3D.  A wise move he made.  The added dimension is used to grand effect here and compliments the stunning cinematography.  I honestly can’t overstate it.  Take for example the opening sequence which features a breathtaking single shot that drives viewers down the entire interior of the train station before ending on Hugo’s face behind a giant clock.  Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson had me at hello.

Hugo’s mission is clear, even if it isn’t to him.  He wants to finish what he started with his father, and in the process, find closure in that relationship.  The film deals a lot with human purpose.  Hugo comes to the realization that people are like machines, and need fixing once in a while.  When a machine isn’t serving its purpose, it isn’t working, just like human beings.  He intends to fix the automaton, just as he intends to fix George who sits in his corner booth as a lost and withering old man needing to reclaim his former glory.

To be frank, Hugo is not a movie for everyone.  The film delves into the history of filmmaking and eventually becomes a movie for movie enthusiasts.  As a family film, many parents may end up scratching their heads while their kids become restless.  That really is not a criticism.  It’s simply a fair warning.  Scorsese has sought to make a personal, passionate, honoring film about the magic of escapism.  Some parents and kids, however, may thoroughly enjoy this.  There’s no squeaking critters to be found here.  No obnoxious zoo animals.  Nothing hip in sight.  What we do get is a charming, visually stunning, and thoroughly pleasant little movie from a grand storyteller who clearly is giving us a love letter for movies—and it’s in eye-popping 3D.

 

 

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The Muppets

Make way for the return of The Muppets, Disney’s attempt at reviving the wacky Jim Henson puppets that have laid dormant for many years.  The writers know it too as star Jason Segel helped pen this pet-project of his.  His infatuation with the clan is a little more than hinted at in the recent Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The story focuses on Segel’s character’s brother, Walter, a puppet and die-hard fan of the Muppets which were hugely popular in the 1970s.  Now in 2011, the Muppets have disappeared and scattered across the states finding cheap venues to perform in.  When Walter tours the run-down Muppet studio, he discovers the maniacal plot of a wealthy investor (Chris Cooper) to turn the studio into rubble and drill for oil on the property.  Walter seeks out Kermit the Frog to regroup the old band once again and put a show together within a matter of days to save their contract by raising $10 million before they lose all rights to their studio.

Much of the film builds up to the clan reuniting, showcasing a slew of celebrity cameo appearances. Witty zingers bounce off the walls.  Outrageous musical numbers abound—chief among them Chris Cooper’s rapping and the chicken-ized version of Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You.’  This is all good fun.

However, I wanted The Muppets to return loud and proud, and despite an admirable effort on the part of everyone involved, I can’t shake a slight feeling of being… underwhelmed. However, I enjoyed the film more often than not. It’s witty and clever in most of the right places. The film simply lead me on the entire time, as though it hinted that something big and amazing was about to happen, but never actually surfaced. Still, this is good fun for what it is and a welcome return for the Muppets.

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Real Steel

The writers behind Real Steel propose that boxing at some point in the next decade will become too dangerous for humans to get into a ring and punch each other.  I would assume by then the MMA will have to turn into Fight Club.  Instead audiences will become engulfed by dueling Transformer-like robots controlled by programmers outside the ring.

Following the Night at the Museum flicks, Shawn Levy directs another special-effects filled fantasy featuring a lacking father trying to rebuild a relationship with his young son.  Shedding his claws for joysticks, Hugh Jackman enters as Charlie, a down-on-his-luck former boxer looking to settle major financial debts with the wrong people by purchasing fighting bots and betting on them in low-key fights.  Complicating his lifestyle on the road is his 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo).  After the sudden death of Max’s mother, Charlie has to sign over parental rights to the boy’s wealthy aunt and uncle.  Without caring anything for the boy, Charlie agrees to giving up custody for $50,000 in a secret deal with Max’s uncle.  The catch: Charlie has to agree to look after Max for the summer while his guardians are out of the country.  The stubborn father and willful son have no interest in each other, and yet have their love for boxing in common.

Charlie invests his money in a famous Japanese boxing bot that ends up getting demolished in its first fight.  Looking in junkyards for scrap parts, Max discovers an outdated sparring robot named Atom.  Max gives Atom a thorough tune-up and discovers that it has a rare shadowing feature that allows the robot to mimic his operator’s movements.  This gives Atom the ability to be trained by both Max and Charlie and store real boxing maneuvers and moves.  The father-son duo start earning quick cash as Atom proves to be a worthy opponent in the ring, scoring several unlikely wins that leads to a title shot against the undefeated world champion robot.  Max bonds with Atom, and ultimately and more importantly with his father.  Thus Charlie ends up with a comeback shot with Max while their bot fights for the title.

Levy throws Rocky, Over the Top, Transformers, and a giant bottle of syrup into the blender to deliver a film built entirely on formula and familiar beats.  I was surprised I didn’t find the film’s recipe on the back of my ticket stub.  The characters laugh on cue, cry on queue, and the movie practically invites audiences to stand up and cheer by the end credits.  But you know what?  I didn’t care.  Both Jackman and Goyo create a believable relationship onscreen making Real Steel the perfect movie for fathers and young sons, complete with impressive visual effects that have hulking metal clamoring for our entertainment.  Levy’s effects team surpasses the destructive mayhem of Michael Bay’s Transformers as far as convincing robots go.  The bots of Real Steel have weight to them.  They’re affected by gravity.  I was thoroughly impressed and believed these boxing matches even if I didn’t believe in them.  This is fantasy, and in a world of virtual gaming, any boys under 12 years of age will be loving Real Steel to the last bolt.  And I bet their fathers might have just as much fun.

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Tangled

Every woman who has ever known me well enough to talk about such things has told me that Disney movies made her wish that she had blond hair, as so many Disney heroines did. I never really understood it at the time, especially since there are non-blond Disney heroines. Not only that, but I’d always thought jet-black hair was far more attractive than blond. The Fates smiled on me, and one day I met the beautiful, black-haired Asian woman who is now my wife. However, she is always talking about wanting to dye her hair other colors, especially (of all things) blond. Yuck. But I digress. More recently, I’ve begun to see why so many women feel the way they do about Disney and hair. Disney’s latest animated fairy tale makes the picture pretty clear, as it comes right out and declares the two points Disney has always been making.

First point: brown-haired girls are useless. Disney has always hinted at this. While the hair colors of their leading ladies are more diverse than some people acknowledge, there has only ever been one brown-haired Disney heroine (unless you count Megara, who is a pretty small part of the Hercules plot, not to mention terribly drawn). However, in Tangled they just come right out and say it. The villainess, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphey), discovers a magic flower that has the power to keep her young forever. Centuries later, the flower is uprooted and made into medicine to save an ailing, pregnant, brown-haired queen. The queen then gives birth to Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who has long, flowing blond hair, that contains the flower’s power. Gothel kidnaps her and spirits her away to a secluded tower to keep herself young. We later learn that Rapunzel’s hair can never be cut, or it will turn *gasp!* brown and lose its power. Isn’t that a slap to the face of every brunette in the audience.

On the upside, Disney may have found their most likable heroine ever in Rapunzel. The princesses of Disney’s golden age (e.g. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) were justifiably criticized for being overly passive, depending on a man for their happiness, and waiting to be rescued. On the other hand, Disney’s silver age reeks of overcompensation for this. In the early ‘90s Disney subjected us to a whole generation of Kimpossible-esque princesses spouting musical rhetoric about making their own choices and marrying only for love. It wasn’t terrible, but it was an obvious attempt to be politically correct in an age of commercials full of girls playing soccer and shouting about how girls kick butt. Then, as Disney descended back into mediocrity, they had their heroines attempting near-suicidal stunts and fighting more than Lara Croft. Esmerelda slapped and kicked her way through innumerable guards in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was all pretty forced.

Lara Croft as a Disney Princess

Rapunzel transcends all of this. On the spectrum between pining prince-craver and emasculating bitch she really doesn’t show up anywhere. She’s a pretty simple character; all she wants is to get out of her tower for a day. She’s humble, yet full of life. Adventurous, yet real and relatable. She’s warm, human and caring. Far less sexualized than Esmerelda, Jasmine, or even Ariel, she’s still thoroughly female. She’s spontaneous, pretty and, yes, blond.

Not only that, but Rapunzel actually has a legitimate grievance in her life. Just when I thought I’d go insane if I had to listen to one more spoiled brat sing about her desire for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” it was easy to sympathize with the plight of a girl who just wanted to see what was outside her bedroom.

Our male lead (Zachary Levi) is a bit more of a stock character; not too different from Aladdin or Phoebes, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch.

This horse is a better fencer than his rider.

Of course, you can’t have a good story without a villainess to antagonize the primal couple. Disney has been through a real dry spell of villainesses in the last couple decades; the last one I can name was Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I am happy to report that sinister femininity is back with a vengeance in Tangled. Which brings up the second point Disney is trying to make: Black-haired women are evil. The queen in Snow White, Malificent in Sleeping Beauty, The Queen of Hearts, Cruella Devil – they all had black hair (or black horns). Even Ursula had black hair once she transformed into a young woman for the last act. It’s also worth noting that, while Disney does have black-haired heroines, none of them are Caucasian, except Snow White.

True to form, our antagonist in Tangled has black hair. Not only that, but director Nathan Greno uses this hair extensively to emphasize her evilness. Time after time it frames her face for a menacing close-up, or flows into a black cloak that she’s wearing. In all fairness, though, Gothel is a pretty three-dimensional character, especially for a villain. It actually took me almost half the movie to be sure that she was the villain, and that’s rare. Early on, she’s mainly a doting, if over-protective, mother for Rapunzel. It just makes it that much more fun to watch her true colors come out later.

All in all, this is a genuinely terrific movie, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Disney succeeds here where they’ve often failed – in making a movie just as enjoyable for adults as for children – and they did it with almost no violence or sensuality. Tangled deliciously skewers every Disney cliché, from emotive animals to ridiculously spontaneous musical numbers. The story is loaded with hilarity from start to finish, and it’s also a story full of true love, overcoming one’s fears, and often heart-wrenching self-sacrifice. It reminded me of why I once loved Disney. And while I no longer do, and never will again, it was really good to go back for an evening.

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G-Force

G-ForceIf Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of such bombastic cinema travesties like Bad Boys, Con Air, and Pearl Harbor, were to attach his name to a movie for kids about talking guinea pigs, what would it look like?  Would it still have all the familiar Bruckheimer tropes we know and love?  Would Michael Bay direct it?  These are trying questions for trying times indeed, and strangely, the answer to most of these would be a resounding “Yes.”  It has everything we might expect given the pedigree of the individuals involved:

Car chases…check.

Giant destructive robots…check.

A world in peril…check.

A clock counting down to doomsday…check.

Explosions, explosions, and more explosions…check.

But equally strange is the fact that G-Force somehow works, and works quite well.  The film opens in the middle of a top-secret operation a’la True Lies in which the band of super-rodents, codenamed G-Force, are infiltrating the residence of a technology billionaire Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) in order to steal top-secret information from his computer.  Information which could determine…bum bum BUM… the fate of the free world.  The little animal wonders, equipped with the latest in miniature spy technology and Happy Meal-Ready names like Blaster (Tracy Jordan), Speckles (Nicolas Cage), and Hurley (Jon Favreau), are actually the product of a government experiment to study and harness the power of human-animal communication.  But when the mission goes awry, the government shuts down the operation and their leader Ben (Zach Galifianakis) is left empty-handed while the fate of the world (something about orbital space junk and the power of magnets…it really doesn’t matter) hangs in the balance.

G-Force Poster

It's clever...because it's a guinea pig. Get it?

Who will get to the bottom of things and stop the destruction of planet earth?  Why, none other than G-Force of course! The talking guinea pigs take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of the conspiracy with plenty of pint-sized gadgets and gizmos from their genius bearded buddy Ben.  Along the way they meet up with a several action-figure-ready talking animals who help them out and teach valuable lessons about teamwork, sacrifice, and the power of friendship.  There’s a car chase and some robot fights thrown in for good measure too, just to keep things interesting.  And for what it is, it works just fine.  I didn’t start watching a movie about talking superhero rodents expecting Citizen Kane or Shawshank Redemption.

Criticizing a movie like G-Force is somewhat moot, since the film is aimed squarely at a target audience who buys Zhu Zhu Pets.  But unlike some of its peers like Shrek, G-Force thankfully never plays to the lowest common denominator of toilet humor and cheap pop culture references.  Like the Disney adventure Bolt from a few years ago, it’s silly enough to be fun, but doesn’t play its audience for fools either.  And unlike other Bruckheimer explode-fests, Michael Bay actually didn’t direct this one.  And that is most certainly a good thing.

Rating:

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Tron

Visiting a movie like Tron for the first time can be described as none other than tricky business.  First of all, the movie is a vintage visual effects spectacular from 1982.  Secondly, it came about in the early days of computer technology which poses major difficulty in addressing the film’s ‘revolutionary’ use of such special effects and the problems derived from the plot.  In a time of Windows 7, and in the wake of The Matrix, it’s a little hard to digest a Disney version of a super computer bent on taking over the world, and a human computer program designer being zapped into the computer’s infrastructure.

Even though Tron is widely considered a classic among fanboys and became a landmark in its time for visuals, I could only appreciate it for its advances in its time—which look incredibly awful by today’s standards.  A movie like this could only be approached today by techy gurus obsessed with the 1980s or nostalgic adults remembering this flick of their youth.  I felt that due to a slight interest in the upcoming Tron: Legacy that I must visit the niche film that started it all.

As a fan of science-fiction I can see the impact that Tron must have had upon its release.  It combines digital effects with hand-drawn animation and utilizes live actors in the process against a computer-rendered backdrop.  Talk about ambition for its time.  Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a top computer programmer and former video game designer for a software company.  His colleague, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), sabotages him by stealing all of his arcade game designs which promotes Ed to a Chief Executive position.  Soon enough Flynn is removed from the company.  Dillinger’s Master Control Program (or MCP), in charge of the company’s operations, continues to gain intelligence following Flynn’s departure, and eventually becomes self-aware determined to tap into access at the Pentagon (for world domination I presume).  The MCP keeps Dillinger in check by threatening to expose a file that proves Flynn is the real creator of the most popular arcade games on the market.  As MCP continues to gain more control and knowledge, the software company’s access to other human ‘users’ is cut off sending these programmers into a frenzy.  Employee Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has designed a program called Tron that will put a stop to foreign program violators which poses a threat to the MCP.  He teams up with co-worker Lora (Cindy Morgan) to recruit the genius Flynn into helping them sneak into the company and load Tron into the system.  Flynn sees this as is opportunity to track down the data file that will prove Dillinger’s scheme and earn him his job back.   All the while, an experimental laser has been developed at the company that can break a physical object down into a digital data stream.  Of course this laser comes into play when the MCP finds Flynn’s intrusion into the computer network.  The MCP decides it logical to stop Flynn from loading the Tron program by zapping him with the laser and turning him into a digital program that brings him into the world of the super computer.  As a program, Flynn must participate in a series of arcade games within the computer while trying to implement Tron (or more appropriately, a computer anti-virus in today’s terms) into the system and thus killing the MCP.

Whew… Still with me?  Tron as a film is further ‘out there’ than most, and is truly laughable by today’s standards.  But keep the year 1982 in your mind and also the fact that it’s a family-friendly Disney film, probably best remembered as a pioneer in experimental special effects.  The story is as odd and shallow, and yet as utterly complicated and confusing as it needs to be.  If you can accept Jeff Bridges being zapped by a laser that turns him into a computer program, then you’re half way to enjoying this movie.  I haven’t even mentioned that all computer programs within the computer are human counterparts that exist as replicants of their human users.  But I don’t want to confuse you even more.  The plot really has me scratching my head, and to contemplate it more and more I don’t think was the intent of the filmmakers.  Why would the MCP send Flynn, the ultimate threat to whole system, through a series of arcade battles and races when he could just have him terminated?  If the MCP really did gain so much knowledge and control, why don’t these human computer programmers so bent on uploading the Tron program decide to simply pull the power cord?   I have other questions that would spoil further developments of the plot, but I think ultimately I need to turn off my brain and recognize Tron simply as an early example of computer effects technology—even as laughable as it looks today.  I suppose my biggest question is how this type of film will translate to a wider audience today?  Upping the special effects will certainly help, but can today’s viewers really get into this?  We’ll have to wait and see when Tron: Legacy takes over soon enough.

So did I enjoy Tron or not?  I don’t know.  I really couldn’t see myself watching it again.  It has very little lasting qualities, and because I didn’t experience the film in the 80s, I can’t generate any sort of nostalgic attachment or appreciation for it.  Is it terrible?  No.  This is an ambitious project for its time, and in many ways was much ahead of its time.  I can appreciate it on that level, but find the film to hold little weight today.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Book and Movie)

So it has come to pass. Twenty years after an “idea simply fell into” author J.K. Rowling’s head, we are nearing the completion of a franchise development truly without precedent. Not only did Rowling manage to write an extremely rare heptilogy of novels, and make every one engaging enough to keep readers begging for more, but Warner Brothers Studios is now nearing completion of a truly unique achievement: an actual octilogy of multi-hundred-million dollar films, consistently written and cast over ten years. This achievement deserves mention, even if it’s ultimately just a testament to mindless consumerism. With so many major characters in the epic tale, many of them juveniles, keeping the entire cast together for eight movies must have been a managerial and legal nightmare, to say nothing of churning the movies out fast enough to (almost) keep up with the aging actors. Add to that the level of special effects the story requires and the problems always posed by child actors, and it’s truly amazing any of these films turned out decent.

And I would have to say, that’s just what they are: decent. Nothing more, nothing less. None of them are bad by any means, but it’s impossible for me to watch one without thinking about how much more powerful the book was. The books, unfettered by the logistical problems mentioned above, and free to be as long as they needed, took us to places no movie ever could. Two of the most powerful scenes from Book VII – when Ron destroys the locket, and when Herminoe attacks him afterward – have been reread many times by me, drinking in every word and feeling the raw emotion of the characters. Both of these scenes are pretty flat in the movie. In all honesty, though, I can’t read the more recent books without longing for the early books.

The tone of the stories has certainly changed along the way from Sorceror’s Stone to Deathly Hallows. Check out this excerpt from Stone, chapter 8:

There were a hundred and forty two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with vanishing steps halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk.

Now listen to Hallows, chapter 1:

“Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort. Snape raised his eyes to the upside-down face. All of the Death Eaters were looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show curiosity. As she revolved to face the firelight, the woman said in a cracked and terrified voice, Severus! Help me!”

“Ah, yes,” said Snape as the prisoner turned slowly away again. “For those of you who do not know,” said Voldemort, “We are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently, taught at Hogwarts.”  There were small noises of comprehension around the table. A broad, hunched woman with pointed teeth cackled. “Yes, Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about Muggles … how they are not so different from us …”

“Severus … please … please …”

Nobody laughed this time. There was no mistaking the anger and contempt in Voldemort’s voice. For the third time, Charity revolved to face Snape. Tears were pouring from her eyes into her hair. Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as she turned slowly away from him again.

Avada Kedavra.”

The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room. Charity fell, with a resounding crash, onto the table below, which trembled and creaked. Several Death Eaters leapt back in their chairs. Draco fell out of his onto the floor. “Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders onto the polished wood.

We all love stories about more exciting worlds hidden in our own. As we all know, the premise of Harry Potter is that there is a civilization of wizards and witches living in hiding somewhere within our own world. There are enough of them and they have enough power and resources to have their own towns, traditions and unique modes of transportation. Of course, if you’re buying this, you’ll probably buy that there are mutant turtles practicing ninjitsu in the sewer. Why haven’t any of the zillion satellites orbiting the earth photographed Hogwarts? How could an airborne event the size of the Quiditch World Cup go unnoticed by Muggles? If wizards are so powerful, why do they need to hide? The story occasionally posits flimsy explanations for this, but of course, we all know, the real answer is WHO FRICKIN’ CARES? Harry Potter gives us the chance to escape our world completely and enter one of dragons, adventure and the moral clarity that’s hard to find in real life.

Some more questions about Harry’s world: if Parseltounge is such a rare gift, why can any human apparently talk to Aragog the Spider in Chamber of Secrets? Why is Hogwarts full of ghosts, while Harry’s parents and other’s killed by Voldemort are truly gone?  (This one must have hit Rowling about halfway through the series, because she starts ignoring the ghosts as much as possible about then.) Things like this weren’t a problem when we laughed with 11-year-old Harry on magical school grounds, but as Rowling made the books more and more serious and world-changing, we were forced to question them more and more. One of the most irritating features of the movies is that they increasingly portray Harry against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Harry Potter was at his best when we could join him in a closed universe, nothing like our own, and forget our troubles amid the innocent fun of quiddich and wizard’s chess. Frankly, the subject matter of Harry Potter just isn’t worthy of epic battles and mature romance.

Having said all this, I must confess that I still genuinely enjoyed the later books, and genuinely enjoyed Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Splitting this story in half enables the film to at least come closer to the depth and richness of the book. I’m eager to see Part 2. If you’re a Potter fan, you should check this one out. Just do me one favor. Don’t deprive yourself by only watching the movies. PLEASE read the books.

The Book:

The Movie:

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