Monday, February 25, 2013

Blimey! An Untimely 'arry Po'a retrospective Harry Potter Aug 13, 2011 10:30PM PST


I decided to do this to write out how I remember the series. These are not reviews, and they often discuss my visceral reactions more than anything substantial about the book’s message.

This is written entirely from my perspective, and for the most-part the series’ importance in children’s literature is glossed over. Even though I have personal opinions and memories about controversies surrounding the books, they’re more or less kept out of this blog. All I will say is this: it made reading feel less required and more fun, and wizards aren’t fucking real.

That said, I did give my respect to the series as a book phenomenon first by keeping this free of any pictures or videos, which I feel in cases like this where you already know what I’m talking about, are just unnecessary bandwidth guzzlers anyway.

This is definitely not a blog for non-Potter fans, as it’s mainly intended for comments about your impressions of the series and reactions to mine. Now, here it is.

Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone

My first introduction to the Harry Potter series was not necessarily of my own volition. My aunt was trying to get me into this great new series all the kids were into, but to this day I’m not sure exactly what made me decide to give in. Maybe it was her being my favorite aunt, or my best friend’s mother mentioning how the book became better when Harry left the Dursleys while she and I were both browsing at a Sholastic book sale.

I’m also not certain that I read any of the first three books even close to the time they were released; the fourth book is when Harry Potter became a day-after-midnight-release priority for me (I don’t like crowds) and I’m pretty sure that my aunt sent “Prisoner of Azkaban” (I know quotations are not what you use for novels, but they’re easier to use in Word so hush) to me in the mail after finishing the first two, so there’s no way I read that when it first hit shelves.

As for the book itself, I remember being intrigued, but not overly impressed. I wanted to know more about Harry… at least I’m assuming, since I recall reading these books in order, but I wasn’t willing to give in to the craze yet. It was a fun, relatively short read.

In this case, I believe I liked the movie better than the book. Usually of course, it’s vice versa, but the world in the movie was pretty much exactly how I’d imagined the book (minus, oddly enough, the British accents of the characters, because yes, seriously, I did not know this series originated in England at the time) and even made it somewhat more dramatic. Sure, the CGI Fluffy and Troll looked fake even back then, but the tone and pace made it very enjoyable. It was the right mixture of serious and silly.

*To get this out of the way early, I really only read each book, except three, once, then saw the movie, once. So my opinions should I re-read and re-watch everything again may have changed dramatically. This retrospective is more about my memory of the series than any serious critical analysis, so keep that in mind.

The Chamber of Secrets

I don’t know why I recall not liking this one as much as the first. The more I think about it, it’s quite a bit more important to the series and certainly a bit darker than the first one (although the cartoon sleeves on these books can be very deceptive about that), and is a much more substantial look into Voldermort (which is one thing I never thought could be adequately translated to movies and wasn’t; when you describe something as the most fearful entity in all existence more or less, you’re going to fail when you try to express it visually 99% of the time). Hell, it even fleshes Dumbledore out more with that scene where Harry snoops around his office.

Repeating myself, I really don’t remember why I liked this the least of the series at the time; of course, it might have been because others loved it so much at the time and I’m often a contrarian, but that’s because I genuinely tend to have differing tastes on so many things, despite being very mainstream in other regards.
In any case, my memory (which any Psycholgical study will tell you is not much to go on, but please read the asterisked and boldfaced disclaimer above) recalls the movie and book being pretty much equal in this case. Once again, Christopher Columbus basically just threw the book at the screen and made magic happen, this time with a giant snake, a book getting stabbed, and J.K. Rowling’s interpretation of The Simpson’s Troy McClure filling in that Dark Arts professor spot that just never seemed secure.

 I do remember my friend saying it was his favorite because he liked snakes, which seems irrelevant but I’m using it as a segway to my next thought. Recalling this series is not only an exercise in remembering the books, but also one in remembering what my tastes were when I was reading these at a young age, as well as throwaway moments from my youth that are sorta-kinda related to these books.

Prizoner of Azkaban

Of course, no book in this series relates to my taste at that age more than this one. If the second installment was where this series’ eventual dark direction was hinted at, this is the book where it came to the forefront for me. Being at that age where I was still a kid, but wanting my entertainment a few shades darker and more “mature,” this was the book that started it all for me in terms of semi-rabid fandom, as opposed to the first one.

I enjoyed the Potter books’ first two entries, but this one managed not only to genuinely frighten me a bit with the introduction of beings meant to drain the soul of prisoners called dementors, it also introduced my favorite character in Sirius Black, who may very well have been key in my obsession with the judicial system as it relates to wrongful imprisonment. Also, he was a bad-ass and the only sympathetic member of Harry’s family still living it seemed.

I’m not going to pretend that this being my favorite book by far in the series isn’t heavily based on the character of Sirius Black, because it is. In comparison to Hermione’s workaholic time travel and other non-Sirius related plots, Black’s introduction was far more important to my experience.

One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Sirius was thought to slash into Harry’s four-post bed (which thinking about it now, just makes me jealous there would be a school that provided you with a damn four-post bed, and not a twin mattress with a prison tag like in college). I was pretty sure Sirius was innocent throughout the book, but that was the moment that solidified in my mind what made the latter books so appealing: they were mystery books with the backdrop of magic and clever literary references, and they were essentially told in a medieval setting once the students arrived at Hogwarts. While I defended the series as an epic in a previous blog, what I can say for it now is that its greatness was in how its mysteries unfolded, not its battle scenes (a la Lord of the Rings).

Sadly, that may have been what made the translation to the big screen in this case such a letdown for me. There was so much build-up to Alfonso Cuaron’s directing the movie fresh off Y Tu Mama Tambien, resulting in much ado about Harry perhaps “playing with his flashlight” in the opening sequence being a reference to masturbation in Y Tu (which I’ve never seen), and an inordinate amount of praise for a CGI tree shaking its snow onto the camera (still don’t know why every review seemed so taken by that) that I couldn’t help but be excited for my favorite in the series come to life. And oh, if people didn’t like Harry Potter because they wrote it off as a kid’s series, they were gonna get a wake-up call when they realized how dark this was.

What I got was a movie that seemed shorter than the first two, despite that I can’t recall anything too major being glossed over, and one who’s ending seemed a lot less climactic than the book. I think it was because the movie wasn’t quite the type of dark I expected. Where the book had been noticeably darker in tone and presentation, the movie, while obviously under new direction, seemed more in line with the first two than I had imagined it to be. I can’t fault Cuaron for not bringing exactly what my imagination saw to the screen, but nonetheless I was let down.

Of course, Columbus never had to impress me as much as Cuaron would have, seeing how the book had grabbed me so much more in this case, but what can you do? At least I thought the scene where Harry rides the Knight Bus was well handled, as well as the Dursley scenes, but I digress.

The Goblet of Fire

This was, as mentioned before, the first book I went out to buy the first day or close to of its release. It did not disappoint, as my only complaint was that it lacked the proper dosage of Sirius, the proper dosage being to turn him into the main character.

This book did even more to solidify the series as a mystery drama in my mind with the Mad Eye Moody subplot (and it was a subplot compared to the games) and the contest rigging. That sounds weird, given how much broader in scope the not-all-Quidditch competitions made the overall narrative. Actually, now that I think about it, this might be a better example of the mixture of mystery and epic, but oh well.

At any rate, I read this in about a day, maybe two, on a road trip to I don’t remember where though I’m sure we were visiting family for some reason. That I read it so quickly is relevant perhaps because of how much thicker these books began to look. J.K. must have known that the third time was the charm that would make everyone willing to endure the tomes to come.

I remember this mainly as the dragon-centric installment, since one of the best scenes involves dragons playing a central role in a fight, and of course Hagrid’s pet raising antics were always amusing.

I remember other people and critics championing it as the birds and bees installment, once Cho Chang and the concept of school dance and rejection is introduced.

Speaking of Cho Chang, this is also where the movies started losing people who never read the books. I can’t recall all of what was cut out, though I seemed to enjoy the movie more than most, but Cho Chang was definitely a head-scratcher for moviegoers I’ve spoken with. Who was this random Asian girl? Why did she wink at Harry? Why is Viktor Krum this movie’s equivalent of a downsized Fabio on a broomstick in terms of sex appeal?

But hey, you can’t really say Harry Potter is like Twilight in that regard: in the latter case, the crushes are the point, in the former they’re subplots and ways to confuse the theatrical audience who could have used a playbill of some sort.

The Order of the Phoenix

Sirius dies, fuck J.K. Rowling.

Oh, I actually like this book quite a bit despite its 800+ page length, but that may as well have been my reaction to its ending.

That being said, the government takeover and Proffesor Umbridge’s role as the love-to-hate character did a great job of delivering on the grander scale of consequence promised throughout Goblet.

Not only did the plot succeed in steering me through so many pages (this time in a slower fashion than a couple days, but still), the Weasleys’ joke shop subplot was the most rewarding of the series. Too bad it wasn’t made as big of a deal in the movie, though personally I think it was still handled much better than people give it credit for and the fireworks FU to Umbridge was pretty damn sweet.

In fact, I’d say this is my favorite interpretation of one of these book’s endings. The ending fight scene was actually the most climactic thing in the series as far as on-screen for me. That was one hell of a battle.

Anyway, despite my bickering about Sirius, I still consider this a very worthy installment to both the film and book franchise (which frankly, I do consider separate whether or not Rowling’s pocket book does).

The Half-Blood Prince

I had the ending spoiled for me by a friend a few months after this came out, meaning I didn’t get through it very quick at all. I don’t know why, since it was my third favorite once I did (behind 3 and 7).

The mystery aspects were in full force in this one, hinting at the climax to come with the death of an untouchable wise-man, the seeming solidification of a long-suspected villain, and a dark ride into the psyche of Voldermort that all adds up to one of the best beginnings and one of the best endings, and of course one of the best second acts in the series to boot.

In this case, my feelings towards the film translation echoed both the audience-at-large and my feelings about Prisoner’s translation: really remembering the climax being a lot more climactic. Not only that, but one of the most touching examples of falling action in the series, Dumbledore’s funeral, felt glossed over in comparison to the book.

Snape’s genius and compassion were greatly hinted at while not necessarily making his intent too obv… ok, I saw it coming, but I can see how you wouldn’t. The point is, this was one of the best in the series largely because its focus on the villainous psyche. In that sense, it more or less echoed my impression with the third book as a dark and psychological thriller/mystery. Only problem was the movie’s direction in those final moments, but the book is still awesome.

The Deathly Hallows

Obviously, the movie is fresher in my memory, but as per the route I’ve taken so far, I’ll give my impression of the book.

The opening scene with someone dangling above a table bleeding is, like the sixth book, an excellent dark opening. The Horcrux collecting, in the book, seemed less tedious to me. The final battle, in the book (and I do believe some battle scenes/settings were changed to not my liking in the movie) seemed much more extravagant… and bloody.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movies. The first part got me stoked for the second, and celebrating a friend’s birthday at Chili’s led to a good hour-long plus conversation about it between 10 or so people. I’m also still trying to find out what the animation style used in the explanation of the Elder Wand’s formation is.

The second part gives you no recollection of the first past Voldemort’s raiding of Dumbledore’s grave for a good two seconds. Where people have compared the battle scenes of Return of the King to this, that doesn’t make sense when you consider how much more quiet and dark they are in this movie (the bright white costumes, elephants, and much bigger sense of grandeur made me like Return’s battle scenes more honestly; the Potter movie feels more like everyone loses until the very end).

I should mention that my disappointment with Part 2 may be for personal reasons. I didn’t get to see the midnight showing with a friend, so I saw it with family in a not-crouded theater the Tuesday after the week of release. That may not have served the film’s “epicness” well.

I will say the Gringott’s dragon is a great CGI creation, especially given how much I was looking forward to it, and the roller coaster sequence in the bank was worth the theater price (matinee though it was). I just don’t think the two-parter left me with the lasting impression of the final book though. It kind of felt like the craze had been over by the time the movie hit.

… And yes, as many non-fans have said, this school would be closed by book 3. I never really thought about that at the end of book 7, but that’s cause I understood the emotions surrounding Hogwarts. And that’s why I did this retrospective. Amen.


This was done in one sitting, so forgive me not going over the series in any real meaningful detail and knowingly glossing over details in the actual books meaningful to me.

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