Monday, August 01, 2011

An exhaustible source of magic

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.


It all ends. This was the main blurb—and the whole essence—of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which opened in theaters worldwide the other week. This movie had farewell written all over it and did so with a flourish.

The movie brought to an end a phenomenon that has preoccupied billions of people for almost two decades now. Harry Potter is considered the most successful franchise in history. The mere wait for all seven books to come out one after the other was already a major story in itself worth telling and retelling—I know quite a number of people who counted the days and the hours for each of the book to be released.

As can be expected, the making and the subsequent release of each of the eight movies were also widely anticipated.

Thus, the reverential attention to Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Part 2, at least among loyal muggles (non-magical creatures; and if you needed the translation, it means you didn’t read the books), was understandable. When I brought my caboodle of kids, nephews and nieces —ages ranging from 7 to 28— to watch the movie the other weekend, the occasion was ripe with significance; it was like the culmination of a pilgrimage. One nephew said it was bittersweet occasion, like saying goodbye to a dear childhood friend who was moving on to a better place.

I’ve said this before and I am going to say it again: I have great admiration for JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, for singlehandedly accomplishing what thousands of other writers have failed to do, which was encourage children to read books once again by opening a magical world for them to get lost in. As a parent and teacher, I’ve been fighting this almost losing battle to get younger members of my clan as well as my students to read, read, read. I know there are people with intellectual pretensions who turn their noses up at the Harry Potter series pointing out that the series is not literature nor stimulating enough; I would love it if kids read Huckleberry Finn but I would be happy if they just read, period.

Besides, I think that it is a great idea to get kids to read about magic and sorcery and wands and dragons and invisible cloaks. It’s what childhood is about—wonder and dreams. I personally grow up reading and rereading King Arthur, Beowulf, and yes, The Lord of the Rings and I firmly believe the hours and hours I spent imagining my own make-believe world were largely responsible for many of my adult competencies. Still another digression: I would rather, if it were an option, that kids read about dragons and spells than about vain bloodsucking creatures with insatiable lust.

Anyway. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was obviously designed as a form of closure for people who followed the adventures of Potter and his friends from the magical world and therefore know the context and backstory behind each character. Thus, people who haven’t read the books would most likely get lost in the complications of the hunt for horcruxes (objects that held shards of Voldermort’s soul) and the tangled personal histories of Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. A friend of mine who has not read the books whined that he couldn’t make heads or tails of the storyline; he found the movie convoluted.

I have only one thing to say to these people who keep on complaining about how the Harry Potter movies are incomprehensible: There are very few short cuts in life, so just find the time to read the books if you really want to understand the whole phenomenon. You can’t judge something based on hearsay. Besides, it would have been impossible to cram the whole storyline that spanned seven relatively thick tomes into eight movies.

In fact, many of the characters that played key roles in the whole series have been reduced to brief cameo appearances. Great actors Emma Thompson (the loony astrology professor Sybil Trelawney, Gary Oldham (Potter’s godfather Sirius Black), Robbie Coltrane (Hogwarts gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid), Warwick Davis (goblin/wizard charms master) and the rest were still there, but their screen presence seem like curtain call. This movie was about Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and while his friends Ron Weasley (Ruper Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) provide valuable support, Potter hogs the screen time two-thirds of the time.

This movie was about resolving the conflict between Potter and Voldermort (unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes) and while filmmaking technical wizardry attends the final confrontation, the grueling duel was simply a good old-fashioned clash between good and evil; Potter driven by love and the desire to sacrifice himself for his loved ones and on the other hand, Voldermort’s desire to rule and destroy.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II was dark and moody and the only time the screen burst into color was during a flashback scene showing the childhood romance of Harry Potter’s mother and Snape. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was bathed in gloom, a far cry from the way it was presented in all previous movies, which was as a place of endless wonder and excitement. At the end of the movie, the whole castle resembles what Metro Manila must have looked after World War II, all rubble and ruins.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II had to showcase filmmaking technology and the Mission Impossible-like heist at the beginning when Potter and friends break into Gringotts Wizarding Bank and escape on the back of a white dragon as well as the final battle showing Hogwarts’s protective cloud being bombarded by all kinds of magical spells and curses are a sight to behold. But to my mind, these really were not necessary to readers of the Harry Potter books who, based purely on what they imagined from reading the books, knew what the avada kedabra curse would produce.

In the end, the movie that really mattered was the one that played in people’s minds. “Of course it‘s happening inside your head, Harry. That doesn’t mean it’s not real Dumbledore chides Harry towards the end of the movie. He could have been addressing each member of the audience in the theatres.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II , just like the seven other Potter movies that comprised the whole movie franchise, was a good interpretation of the Harry Potter book but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the images one can conjure in one’s mind from reading the books.

As Dumbledore ponderously intones in the movie: “Words are our inexhaustible source of magic.”

One hopes that the message is not lost among a generation spoiled by technical wizardry of computer generated images and advances in filmmaking.

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