Saturday, June 28, 2014

What does this even mean?

I’m starting this one with only a vague idea of where it’s going, so if it goes off the rails you have been warned.  I realized the other day that this blog had pretty much become a movie/TV review blog, and though those were things I had always talked about, they were not supposed to become the primary content.  So I wanted to kind of examine how that happened, and it brought a couple of things to mind.

I want to enjoy my internet experience.  There was a time I enjoyed an argument more than the spokesman for “Lucky Charms” after five Jamesons shots and three pints of Guinness.  I’ve really gotten over that.  I do still seriously love a discussion, contrasting two points of view and comparing their relative merits, but that’s become something of a lost art.  There’s no back and forth in real time on the internet, and nine times out of ten any discussion ends in name-calling, unfriending, or some pitiful excuse for “evidence” that I or my opponent are simply too tired to try and disprove.  Besides, it’s the internet; whatever your opinion you will find some source to back you up or to cite.  And that will be a “good” source because it says what I wanted it to.  That’s called “confirmation bias” and I assure you I am every bit as guilty as anyone at whom I could poke fingers. 

So, tired of fighting, my internet presence has devolved into little more than pop culture talking.  Even that becomes tough as a) there’s a googleplex of folks like me wanting to share their little movie reviews or carefully sculpted snark and b) there will be as much venom from some Trekkies about JJ movies as there will from an anti-vax Hippie mom or a Climate Change Denier.  It’s all about the righteous indignation now, and again I fall victim, not only as someone who just does a Google search for some Nacelle Porn (that’s a Trek fan who want to see Starships by the way, not pornography) and ends up on rants about magic blood (hey sport, try actually listening to the dialog about serums and such, mmkay?) but as someone who begins to give into my own Righteous Indignation (is he going to save anyone?  He’s fucking Superman, right?) on  variety of subjects (hey Facebook, where’s my timeline control?), and I then sound like the web equivalent of Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino” growling about getting off my lawn. Such ire stirs not only my use of parenthesis, but also triggers immense run-on sentences, the likes of which would make Tolstoy proud.

I even find myself getting so angry about others’ Righteous Indignation, that I have to question MY Righteous Indignation as being just as misguided as theirs.  Is my disdain for act III of “Man of Steel” any different than another’s disdain for “Star Trek Into Darkness”?  Will I be judged for wanting a “Dredd” sequel far more than any “Pacific Rim” sequel?  How much am I pissing off right and left believing in both the efficacy of vaccines AND the reality of Climate Change?  Why do I care if you care if I believe in God AND evolution? 

In short, I have begun to measure every post I make anywhere on the net—here, FB, Tumblr, Twitter, heck even Goodreads—against how willing I am to pick a fight over saying what I think.  What I think, no matter how benign I feel it is, is going to offend someone.  Perhaps this wasn’t the norm when an audience consisted of the at-most-ten people who might be in a room with you, but now dozens or hundreds may see something, and want to respond to MY Righteous Indignation with their own.  That has come to really put me off on sharing opinions on anything important.

The thing is, I really do enjoy a lot of the content people share on various social media.  Shows, music, interesting well written opinions on social issues, history, or world events; I even occasionally see really nicely done arguments on political opinions I don’t agree with.  They make me think instead of react, and I enjoy that a lot.  It is usually closely followed by hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, and indignation and I don’t enjoy that at all.  Want a good reason for aliens to nuke our planet from orbit?  Watch the discussion comments at the bottom of ANY news article. 

It just seems to me there is a lot in the world to be angry about and want to change without looking for those things everywhere you go.

So, end result for me is a diminished web presence.  I don’t offer my screams to the cacophony on things that matter, but will rant about things that in the end are pretty inconsequential (looking at YOU, last episode of “How I Met Your Mother”!).  Yet sometimes I do want to say something, to counter an opinion, or to provide my perspective.  The internet though has sucked out my will to defend that opinion beyond what I say the first time online.  Yes, that’s hypocritical, yes I am the pot calling the kettle black when I say I want to speak and not hear back.  And therefore, I don’t speak. 

I need to find better ways to direct that energy.

UPDATE:  Ain't THIS some shit.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Official Black Owl Review of Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla.”

Before we get rolling here, I need to talk a bit about my history with the character of Godzilla; if you don’t believe Godzilla is in fact a character, just click that little ‘x’ in the upper corner and go away, because you don’t need this review.  Godzilla is iconic and indeed a character in his eponymous series of films.  Some of those films, both Japanese and American, have spanned the spectrum from greatness to garbage.

I first discovered Godzilla watching either late night or Sunday afternoon creature features on network television. (Sorry youngsters, back when I was a kid we had three networks, PBS, and radio.  No web video, no interwebz, and not even videotape.)  This was primarily the sixties and seventies film version that was more than a little tongue in cheek, but treated Godzilla with a certain respect and reverence.  The characters treated Godzilla not as a monster, but as a protective force as if he was a manifestation of the Japanese spirit itself.  I didn’t understand.

Then, in the late 70s we got the Godzilla cartoon.  I watched it religiously (along with ‘Battle of the Planets’) and despite Godzuky, added it to my repertoire of appreciating giant monsters.  C’mon, I still sing the theme song, as horrible as the whole thing was. 

Then, in the mid 80s I was Saved.  I want to thank my old and dear friend Will Schwartz who was far more familiar with Japanese pop culture than I was.  When “Godzilla 1985” came out he was sad they had to put Raymond Burr into it.  I mentioned that the 1954 Godzilla had the former Perry Mason as well.  And then he showed me the truth.

Will had a bootleg of the original 1954 “Gojira” from Japan.  No Raymond Burr, just a masterpiece of mid-twentieth century cinema.  I certainly didn’t know that the scenes featuring Burr were edited in to make the movie “palatable” for an American audience, and was not a melodramatic farce about a ridiculous monster.  I learned though that “Gojira” was a solemn examination of mankind’s effects on the world around us, and how nature fights back.  The 1954 “Gojira” was then a parable for nuclear largess (mind you, actually intercut with documentary footage of Hiroshima) and now still stands as an allegory for mankind’s false assumption that we run nature.  Later Will showed me the unedited Japanese version of “Godzilla 1984” (released a year earlier in Japan) and though I will always have a nostalgia for the 60s-70s films, they reflected camp like the 70s’s Bond films as they strayed from “Doctor No” and “From Russian With Love.” 
“Godzilla 1984” started what is known as the “Heisei” series.  For the first time there was a continuity to the series, and the serious feel of 1954 was back.  Indeed, 1984 was set as a direct sequel to 1954 erasing the folly of the rest.  Heisei carries through seven films into 1995 truly creating a mythology and reverence around Godzilla, as if he were a Shinto God of nature indifference to the suffering of man because he—and Japan—would prevail.  In ’95 we get “Godzilla Vs. Destroyah” and ostensibly an end to Godzilla in Japan as Toho sold the rights to Sony Tristar to begin an American series.

Along came Matthew Broderick and Roland Emmerich.  The less said the better.

Toho reclaimed the character with the “Millennium” series but each of these were single stories, adherent only to 1954, but mostly worth a look.  They do get goofier as they go, and it seemed my beloved Gojira was lost again.

And now we have Gareth Edwards. 

I saw his low budget movie “Monsters” and was actually pretty impressed.  He made the phenomenon of giant monsters real to the world he created, and showed how some humans would adapt and others try to force the issue, and I will look you in the eye right now and tell you, I believe “Monsters” with its half-million dollar budget is at least 20 times the movie the $190 million “Pacific Rim” was.  It earned Edwards the right to again try to bring Godzilla to American screens.  It got me in a theater the first week the movie was out. 

And damn am I glad I was.  The short form, spoiler-fee version here is that the 2014 American “Godzilla” is a really good film, and honors its source material better than many of the Japanese films.  It isn’t perfect but it does some truly great things and I think it proves Gareth Edwards is remarkably talented.  I can’t wait to see more from him.  Not perfect, but truly TRULY Godzilla and the King of the Monsters.

From here on out, spoilers will flutter about like Mothra after the Luminous Fairies have sung Mosura no uta. 

I won’t go into story specifics but I will talk about the things that really impressed me with this film.  First and foremost, it is the utter adoration, worship, and respect Edwards gives Godzilla.  Like the Millennium films this movie hints that it is in fact a sequel to the 1954 “Gojira” and that awakened by our use of nuclear power, Godzilla has roamed the seas.  The reason is natural balance.  Godzilla exists as the alpha predator left over from a world ruled by radioactive monsters.  When they absorbed the deadliest of said radiation, the kaiju were forced into the bowels of the Earth to feed from the core’s radiation.  Life as we know it could then evolve and think we were the top of the food chain.  When we re-introduce nuclear power and radiation in such intense forms, nature responds, putting the apex predator in place for the inevitable return to the surface of kaiju who will feed on that radiation.  Godzilla is not a monster, he is a force of nature, an instrument of the universe keeping the planet from being overrun by creatures that would again strip and destroy the surface environment.  He is the coyote to the rabbit, the owl to the mouse.  As Blue Oyster Cult would say, man’s folly has allowed creatures that should be contained to potentially flourish; the control system is Godzilla.  This indifferent reptilian deity inexorably marching toward his foe does not care if a few human die; they are just another small part of the ecosystem, they will replenish their numbers.  The system must be saved.  This Godzilla is the manifestation of natural balance, and in that something of a nature deity.  There’s the reverence inherent to the original character, and it is here in spades. 

Secondly, I love the fact this movie never stops the story so we can then cut away to cutscenes of disaster porn.  The battles between Godzilla and the Mutos (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are rendered beautifully and epic, but they are never separate from the human perception thereof.  We see it only through those characters who are there and who must survive as nature burns and roils around them.  The last few summers have made me pretty weary of cities getting destroyed (looking at YOU Man of Steel!), yet I never felt fatigue here because the human element was not lost.

I hear complaints about the humans being flat.  Eh, to a degree, but it is not that the humans are flat as characters, it is that they are ineffectual.  The human characters do virtually nothing to affect the outcome of the monsters’ brawling.   That is not an accident of bad writing, it’s the point of the film.  When nature, as a tsunami, climate change, a tornado, or a 400 foot tall kaiju unleashes its energy we are spectators, and our resistance is futile.   The allegory of what we have unleashed and our inability to re-cork that bottle are in full force here, and for me to great effect.  Ford Brody is a clichĂ© because he is every man, he is the best of us; he is completely useless and humbled before nature.

The fourth thing I truly love about this film is the fact this CGI Godzilla is motion capture.  That gives this model weight and flow the iguana-like ‘Zilla from ’98 never had.  It is stunning on film and manages to completely show us Godzilla in a realistic fashion while somehow conveying the natural motion of a man in a suit without making us watch a man stomp through model buildings.  Nicely done.

So, what keeps this film from being the best thing I have seen in decades?  Well, it is the humans.  Not the portrayal per se, but the contrivance that our everyman happens to be at every major event, he happens to find his wife and son at the most dramatic moments, and the three of them happen to live all the way through.  It’s the same gripe I had about the end of Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” when Tom Cruise makes it to his wife’s house, and the older son made it too.  It’s the Spielberg ending, when the passing of any member of this family (aside from the gone too soon Bryan Cranston) would have better delivered on the message.  It’s not a deal breaker for me, and I did enjoy and do recommend the film, but more personal consequence would have sat better with me. 

I mention Spielberg, and his influence on Edwards is apparent.  Aside form the double wammy nod of the lead character’s name, we get some famous scenes replayed here: The helicopter in the jungle from “Jurassic Park;” the boat from “Jaws” heading out into the bay; the quarantine zone from “Close Encounters” used to cover up what’s REALLY going on, right down to Bryan Cranston pulling a Richard Dreyfuss and removing his mask to prove the government is lying.  Those moments play well though, to better effect than the same homages paid by JJ Abrams in “Super 8,” a movie I did enjoy. 

“Godzilla” is a victory for the character of Godzilla though, who gets his props here.  It is also a victory for Edwards.  Going from no-budget to huge budget did not stagger him the way it did Neill Blomkamp who followed the amazing “District 9” with the amazingly dull “Elysium.”  I don’t know that “Godzilla” is a better movie than “Monsters” but it certainly is not a sophomore slump, and I am really looking forward to what else Edwards will bring to us.

Once you’ve delivered a God, where do you go from there?

And now, for your viewing pleasure, Shyporn tells us everything you need to know about Godzilla and his friends. (Safe for work)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Official Black Owl Review of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier

F* yeah.

I’m a little late to the party on this one as I have officially realized how much I hate going to the movie theater.  Really, people seem to believe the theater exists to allow them to pay to replicate their living room with a group of strangers.  I ma usually part of the small minority of movie goers who are actually there to experience the film, and find that difficult when your three year old is kicking the back of my seat and asking “is it over?” every ten minutes starting ten minutes in.

But I digress.  I went to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and waited for it to get to the cheap theater so other people only ruined my $3 experience rather then my $12 experience.  I am happy to say that Cap2 is a good enough film to allow me to (mostly) ignore that three-year-old as it unfolded.  Spoiler free, I can tell you that Cap2 is a mix of superhero, action, message, and espionage thriller that evokes “Three Days of the Condor” or “The Marathon Man” as much as it does the first Cap movie or “Avengers.”  Everyone gives a solid performance, there are some great new (if you don’t read the comics) characters, and unlike “Man of Steel,” Cap isn’t seen as inspirational because the script has other characters say he’s inspirational; it is because the character acts in an inspirational way and is again brought perfectly to life by Chris Evans.  Additionally, though there is enough action to keep the movie trucking along smartly and keep the kids enthralled (unless they are three and it is obviously past their bed time) this is the most mature story I have seen in any superhero film. Cap2 asks some legitimate questions about the price of freedom, makes commentary on the effects of war on those who fight it, and examines (like a certain red ‘S’ wearing hero movie should have) whether or not there is a place for strong moral values in our modern world.  I really would like to see someone take Zack Snyder, Chris Nolan, and David Goyer and tie them down “A Clockwork Orange” style to watch this film repeatedly until they understand certain heroes are meant to inspire and provide hope, and not just be Batman in a red cape.

Spoilers begin…NOW:

I am not going to run down the whole story, as I wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll give you the Good, the OK, and the Bad.

The Good: Steve Rogers is first and foremost in this film a Soldier.  He leads as a Soldier, he has friends who are Soldiers, he gives and takes orders, and fights to defend the same principles he fought to defend in WWII.  Indeed, one of my favorite elements of this film are moments when Steve and new friend Sam Wilson (later to be Falcon) compare their experiences and realize that despite 70 years and a continent’s difference, war is still Hell and leaves a mark on anyone who fights in one.  This of course plays out in the larger examination of what has happened to Bucky Barnes and how he has become The Winter Soldier.  We also see it in a startlingly good performance from Scarlett Johannson who has to confront some past sins as she considers the public outing of things she has done in the name of her country, then and now, and whether her secrecy should be sacrificed for the greater good.  The fact there is not one single moment of damsel in distress for her character is a plus, and the banter between Natasha and Steve Rogers is quite a bit of fun.

We also get a heartbreaking moment where Steve is visiting Peggy from the first film.  She had gone on in his absence to found SHIELD (wonder why “someone really wanted to letter to spell out ‘Shield’”?  Now we know who it was) but now is old, and a harsh reminder to Steve of all he has lost in his service.  Again, the price of Freedom on the individual Soldier plays dramatically and to great emotional effect.

Samuel Jackson gives us the Nick Fury we expect and love, and in particular we get a nice nod when he’s standing over his own gravestone and the biblical quote is from Ezekiel 25:17.  For a 65 year old man, Sam J. is still one hell of an action star.

Speaking of star power, let’s hear it for Robert Redford.  His quiet but firm Alexander Pierce feels like a direct tie to those 70s espionage films I cited before, and I love a bad guy with an interesting motive.  He was well cast and delivers.
Note also: Jenny Agutter.  And Chin Han who has become the go to Asian man in suit in comic-based material.

As does Anthony Mackey as Sam Wilson.  The easy camaraderie that Soldiers fall into is well portrayed in his interaction with Chris Evans, and as the action escalates Sam Wilson’s transformation into Falcon is done nicely and a welcome addition to the Marvel movie universe.  So it Sharon Carter, though I hope she gets to do more in the future.

The OK: Understanding how well integrated the Marvel film universe was, some references felt a little strained.  It was nice to hear the name “Steven Strange” mentioned, but the appearance of Gary Shandling’s senator from Iron Man 2 seemed wedged in; I would like to have seen the quiet “Hail Hydra” uttered by someone with a little more relevance to me as a viewer.  

Changed my life.
I was also slightly disappointed when they revealed it wasn’t Jenny Agutter’s Councilwoman Hawley who was kicking so much ass, but Natasha in disguise.  Since her introduction in ‘Avengers’ I have been waiting for Jenny to shine and I thought I was getting that only to have it cruelly ripped away.  If you have not had a deep-seated crush on Jenny Agutter since you were eight and first saw “Logan’s Run” this may not be as big a problem for you.

I felt they telegraphed the identity of The Winter Soldier a little much, but it is possible I was just picking up clues because I knew the original story. 

The after credits scene seems to indicate there will be mutant characters who are not actually mutants in this universe but rather created with Asgaardian/Hydra tech.  Marvel and Fox need to come off their high horses and collaborate for the good of both series of film.

The Bad: OK, the bad isn’t really from this movie, but this movie shows just how much WB is wrong in their belief that you have to gritty up Superman to make him relevant.  Steve isn’t gritty here, he is the stalwart in the midst of gritty and his very presence makes the people around him want to be better people.  When the Hydra plot initiates and Cap with a single speech separates the wheat from the chaff in SHIELD HQ, I found myself wishing THESE screenwriters had written the third act of “Man of Steel.”   These people understood the inherent strength in an Old Fashioned hero and managed to tell a grown up story that neither compromised the character nor abandoned any progress they had made with plot or character development just so they could disaster-porn-up the end of the film.  This is the truest portrayal of a comic character on screen since Christopher Reeve wore the S*.  I only wish the Nolans and Snyders of the world understood that.

So, in short, Cap 2 is a solid, entertaining, and intelligent film with a real heart.  Well worth your time, and certainly one of the strongest offerings from the Marvel studios.

*On another note, Zack Snyder—whom I admit I used to defend as a film maker—commented that he was surprised that so many people defaulted to Christopher Reeve as the definitive Superman rather than the comic book.  He obviously has no understanding that Reeve brought the comic book to life perfectly and THAT is why he was so universally accepted, not vice-versa.  The only hope I have for the continued Man of Steel universe is in fact Ben Affleck.  He’s the only one working on the project that knows a damn thing about comic books.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How "How I Met Your Mother" Managed to Piss Me Right Off

Spoilers if you haven’t seen the last episode of How I Met Your Mother.  Let me say this spoiler free: If you indeed have not seen the finale, don’t.  You’ll be happier.  If you’ve never seen any of it, I do recommend ALL of it…except the last 42 minutes.  Just.  Look.  Away.  Read on if you want to see why, but SPOILERS.

I have a tendency to support endings that other people don’t like.  I have written extensively how much I enjoyed the endings of both “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” though they are much maligned.  I like the second and third “Matrix” films.  I like the Star Wars prequels.  In the cases of Matrix and Star Wars, those aren’t the stories I would have told, but they are where the writers chose to go, and though I would have gone a different direction, they are viable.

So why do I hate the final episode of “How I Met Your Mother” with all my heart and soul?

I don’t like to judge other writers.  I like to think I am a good writer, but I know I am not a great writer, and I certainly would not have the wherewithal to write nine seasons of anything.  I respect that very much.  I have learned something about writing: it’s hard.  Not everyone can do it.  Something else I have learned though in my short and mostly unnoticed writing career is that the characters are not "your" characters; when you are really rolling they take on lives of their own.  They take your story places you may not have intended for it to go.  When that happens, you have to be ready to adapt to those changes.  You have to look at the characters and say, “you’re right.  That’s our destination.”  Then you drive them there and all is well.

It seems to me the writers on HIMYM didn’t do that.  They had the foresight to shoot the ending of their grand narrative eight years ago, while Ted’s kids still looked like Ted’s kids.  Their intention from the beginning is it would be the bittersweet tale of the mother of these children dying and Robin and Ted finally getting together.  And that was exactly how the show should have ended:  Eight years ago.

Eight years ago (which would be season 2 mind you) Barney was still just a jackass.  Ted was never going to get over Robin.  Robin never was going to be satisfied with most men.  The finale to HIMYM may as well have been plucked—out of context—from the second season.  Had the show ended in season three or four even, this ending might have been fine.   Like children however, when Craig Thomas and Carter Bays weren’t looking, their characters grew up.  

The Ted who learned this season to let go of Robin and move on would not have pursued her later. We watched him pine and choose poorly for NINE YEARS to finally find his one perfect soul mate--Tracy-- whom in a short time I came to adore.  It made all nine years perfect.  It just needed Ted to move on, and here, in season nine, he did.  And it was great, loved it.  But then in the finale, season two Ted is back.

And it shouldn’t matter, because scumbag Barney we all loved to wag our fingers at in season two grew up as well.  The Barney who burned the playbook, came up with “The Robin,” did rehearsal dinner on ice, made peace with his mother and fiancĂ©, dealt with his absentee father, simply was not the Barney who would end up splitting with Robin.  He certainly wouldn’t go back to being so callous as to not even remember Thirty-One’s name while she’s sitting in a hospital having his baby.  (I could go on about how shameful it was for the writers to treat a character like that as well- not even a name? But that’s another essay.)  The character of Barney—in one of the aspects of the show I found most endearing—developed from That Guy to a Good Guy who may be quirky and a little dirty still, would always be there for Robin.

And Robin needed that quirky guy.  She had grown from too self absorbed to really see Ted for what he could be in early seasons to someone who dealt with so many issues, to realizing that her quirks and Barney’s quirks would make them the perfect quirky couple.  I LOVED how that developed over three seasons of courtship and loss and then this whole, I think well executed, final season just focusing on all those pieces falling into place.  And then, boom, suddenly season 2 Robin is back, too self absorbed to be part of Barney’s (or the gang's) life.  It doesn’t work anymore, because those characters developed.  Really HIMYM's nine seasons gave us some of the best examples of character development I think TV has ever given us, much less a gimmicky sitcom.  

And then in 42 minutes, for me at least, they destroyed nine years of extremely good will.  

As a writer, William Faulkner is credited with giving this piece of editing advice: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”  Thomas and Bays had a darling in Ted holding up the blue French Horn to mirror that first episode.  And there would have been a good place to do that a few years back.  But the characters outgrew that little darling, and Thomas and Bays did not see how much it needed to be drowned before it made its appearance.  That’s a shame, because it reduces so much great writing over the last few years to an anecdote best forgotten by the long suffering children hearing Ted’s story, and by proxy by the actual audience.  It’s sad really, because those last nine years proved these were better writers than to make such an obvious mistake.  At least no one broke up Marshall and Lily.

So, in the end, I’m very disappointed, frustrated, and even angry over how How I Met Your Mother ended.  You took characters whom we as an audience grew with and as observers befriended over nine years, and returned them to the same dumbasses they were when we came in.  At least “The X-Files” took two years to screw me over and I could watch the decline.  The hell of it all is those first eight and 23/25ths seasons are indeed so very good.  The second to the last episode would have been JUST FINE as the ending.  Hence my advice up front.  If you haven’t watched the finale, don’t.  You’ll be happier than me. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Official Black Owl Review of the “Harry Potter” films: All of them.

Let me freely admit, I am a little late to the party on this one.  I read the first book when it became available in the States and was decidedly…ambivalent.  Sure, it was cute, but there was nothing particularly new here, and Harry came off a little too coddled for my tastes.  The book was a child’s book meant for children and that was fine, but it didn’t draw me in the way something like a John Christopher story, or early Heinlein—also meant for children—would.  I saw the movie when it came out, and left it feeling about the same way.

So I didn’t go back.  It’s not like there was any shortage of entertainment; hell, I think Entertainment is going to be the Western 20/21st Century world’s cultural legacy.  That’s for another blog though.  Suffice it to say I didn’t think I was missing much.

Then, about a year ago I got a bug that if soooo many people were into this, that maybe it got better.  Some friends told me this was so, so all the movies went in my Netflix queue.  And then the Lovely Jennifer and I kept bumping them down, until finally about a month ago, we let the first one hit, since I’d not seen it since it came out.  As of last night, we watched part II of “The Deathly Hallows” and I am struck enough by the series to make some comments.  Please keep in mind, I have not read any but the first book.  I likely will now, so please save your “the movies suck next to the books” comments.  I have experience with what it takes to convert a narrative prose into a visual medium, and it’s far more difficult than you think.  I’m judging the movies here, and the movies only.  And if YOU have not watched the films, spoiler alert.

I don’t think I am going to become a PotterHead, or whatever it is they call HP Fandom.  However, I was quite entertained by the series, and really appreciate the fact the stories grow up with the lead characters.  By the third (Prisoner of Azkaban) the universe that started out pretty derivative of any magic based story has become a fuller tapestry of specific adaptations of those old standards to a new world.  The threats are far more than just which house wins the Quidditch cup this year.  Larger themes of death, betrayal by authorities in which we place our trust, loyalty, and legacy are now entwined with the stories of characters who are not cute little kids with magic wands, but troubled adolescents making life or death decisions, living in a world dictated to them by the generation gone before.  That’s a great allegory for life in general, and I came to understand that that first couple of books use familiar artifacts—magic wands, broomsticks, witches and wizards—as a shorthand.  It’s a similar trick that Lucas uses in the Holy Trilogy: we know the Jedi are a chivalric order because they are “knights” who wield sabers.  We know Darth Vader is bad because he’s dressed like a dark Knight.  We know Leia is good because she’s a Princess locked away in an evil castle, and she’s all dressed in white.  Those old, old concepts are in place so Lucas doesn’t have to describe the world step by step; he can bring the audience in with some base knowledge and then build on it with “Sith” and “Wookies” and for whatever reason “Ewoks.”

The HP story does the same thing.  We know unicorns are special, so when someone feeds on one, we get it.  We know if someone is so bad they cannot even be named they are likely going to be the heavy.  That’s fine.  We’re pulled in with the shorthand so the story can hit the main theme: Death. 

These movies start with the death of Harry’s parents and Harry’s journey only ends when he has rejected the Deathly Hallows, trying not to overpower death with the Elder Wand, avoid death with the Resurrection Stone, or hide from Death with the Invisibility Cloak.  He walks right into it, and in doing so finds victory.  Throughout, Harry loses people he loves, sometimes senselessly, while people who deserve death live on to cause trouble in subsequent films.  Even people like Gandal…uh, Dumbledore whom Harry trusts, are leading him to his own death, or themselves succumb to the Reaper.  This may sound like that makes the whole narrative pretty much a downer, but not really.  We see death is part of life, it is capricious, but you keep going.  One may die, but life continues.  Harry, the very Messianic figure in these films dies, is resurrected, returns to defeat Vade...uh, Sauro...uh, Voldemort and then…

…gets married, has kids, and sends them off to school too.  Life goes on.  And those kids will have adventures and love and have their own kids and life goes on.  It’s not about the futility of life that death hangs over us and will eventually claim us all, but rather the joy that comes from the chance to have faced life and death on your own terms, and how well you treated the ride when you were on it. That’s a neat theme, and it ties the films together nicely.

That tapestry I mentioned is neat.  It’s an intriguing world in which details matter.  Hints in “Sorcerer’s Stone” (ha ha, Harry can talk to snakes in the zoo!) come to play in “Deathly Hallows” (because he is one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, yikes).  “Order of the Phoenix” finally tells us why Quidditch exists when Mad-Eye leading the Order to help evacuate Harry from his Aunt and Uncle’s house mentions to everyone on a broom, “stay in formation.”  If you grew up playing Quidditch, you know exactly what he means.  The slowly revealed backstory of Harry’s Parents and Tom Riddle and Severus Snape, all lend a credibility and depth to the overall narrative.

Along with that, you get some deep and intriguing characters, which develop nicely.  I am still wondering if Severus Snape is my favorite in the series.  He’s at first glance a heavy, not really nice the whole time, apparently betrays the heroes, but in the end is acting out of love and for the greater good.  I like that.   I also want to give a shout out to the Wedge Antilles of the HP movies, Neville Longbottom.  From goofy looking kid, to knight wielding the Sword of Gryffindor against Voldemort’s giant freaking snake, Neville isn’t a child of destiny like Luk…uh, Harry; he’s someone who steps up because he can, and makes all the difference.  I have heard in the books he goes on to become a professor at Hogwarts.  Good on him.

So in the end, I don’t know if I will ever watch all of them again, though I do have Grandkids on the way and the series is certainly something I would think should be part of a kid’s life.  Should they decide to emulate Hermione’s studious nature, Ron’s loyalty, or Neville’s sense of duty and responsibility, there are role models to be found, and the series deserves to be considered among child and young adult classics.  I am pleased if not blown away, and now understand a lot more of the jokes on Tumblr.  I do think though on any subsequent viewings, I will watch “Deathly Hallows” in one sitting; the second half suffers as a film on its own when separated from the first half.  Nonetheless, I am glad I watched, and would recommend them to those who have not.  They get pretty dark from about “Order of the Phoenix” on but spin a good tale that grows with the characters.

Now where’s my Neville spinoff?