The Harry Potter phenomenon

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 16, 2011, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

We went to see Harry Potter "7.2," as the kids like to call it. Fantastic ending to the series of films. But I'll get to that in a moment.

There are a great many things to like about the Harry Potter phenomenon, not the least of which is that it got a great many kids reading. I also love the story of JK Rowling, the single mom on welfare who becomes a billionaire author. Let's be honest, few people can turn their art into something that lucrative, whether intentional or not. I think more impressively, her work with the Potter books, and by extension the films, represents a fantastic work of fantasy that people have been able to lose themselves in, for more than a decade.

I often wonder what the long-term literary value of the series will be. Most of the criticism I've read about the books has been fairly positive, but the hardcore scholarly types certainly differ on opinion. I've only read the first two books (and the last few chapters of the last, you know, in case I got hit by a bus before the film came out), but I found them to be well drawn in the way they describe Harry's world, and also stylistically accessible. She doesn't try to be clever in her prose. I think that's why the books are so successful, with kids and adults, because while she employs many themes, she doesn't wrap them in metaphor and misdirection the way many "classic" authors did. Ultimately, what I think will work for the series in the long term, is that she has crafted an enormous mythology that's just different enough from all previous fantasy, coupled with a fantastic coming of age story.

As for the film, it would actually be kind of neat to watch both parts of the final installment together, though four and a half hours is a long time to commit. Still, the second part wastes no time. There's just enough flashback to remind you that Voldemort scored the Elder Wand, and that Dobby just bought it. What I really enjoyed about the last book, or the films based on it, is that Rowling really didn't invent a lot of new things for it. So much of what goes on is based on existing mythology established in the previous books, so it feels familiar, like you've been around this world before. The loose ends and the twists are all handled well, in a way consistent with the universe you know. It doesn't feel disjointed in any way.

I have to give a ton of credit to the studio for keeping this enormous cast together across seven (or eight) movies. I think other than the original Dumbledore dying, they hung on to everyone. Kind of surprised they held on to Maggie Smith (who IMDB says is only 70-something, but I thought she was older). Perhaps the greatest risk was that of the kids. There was no telling if they would be able to grow up and act. It's hard to say if most of them will even pursue careers going forward. I think the principals will probably continue to work. I hope the girl who played Luna keeps at it, because I loved her character.

It's kind of sad that it's over. I'm sure there will be a Blu-Ray boxed set before too long, and along with the Star Wars boxed set, will sell a bazillion Blu-Ray players for holdouts like me (I chose poorly and bought an HD-DVD player). There have only been a few truly epic series of films in my lifetime... Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. There have been other series, like Indiana Jones, but those were one-off stories with shared characters. With all of the disposable crap media generated in the last ten years, Harry Potter was definitely something that stood out.

Speaking of HD-DVD, I might have to unbury those first few movies I bought on that format.


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