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The Best Harry Potter Performance

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Well, I now have two Harry Potter movies under my belt, and, although the movies are very entertaining, I can’t say that they’re my favorite form of the Harry Potter oeuvre. For that matter, the books aren’t my favorite, either. By far the superior version of Harry Potter is the audio version recorded and read by Jim Dale (Who is not only an actor on film and stage, but also the author of the lyrics to Georgy Girl.)

I confess to a natural bias towards the tapes. You see, Mr. Dale’s interpretation of the Harry Potter books has been the saving grace of our family vacations for the past four years. We usually have to drive ten or more hours each way on our vacations, and having story tapes that go on for up to 19 hours (The Goblet of Fire) keeps our four kids quiet. It doesn’t completely eliminate the “Are we there yets?” but it cuts down on them considerably and more importantly, it keeps them from squabbling.

But it isn’t just their child-quieting properties that makes me favor the audio tapes. It’s that when it comes to conveying nuances of character, Dale has the films beat hands down. He manages to convey more with his voice about Gilderoy Lockhart, the oily, vain, pretentious visiting instructor played by Kenneth Branagh in The Chamber of Secrets, than Branagh can with his voice, body, face, fancy costumes, and wig. The same can be said of the majority of the characters, from Harry Potter himself to Dobby the house elf.

There are exceptions, of course. Alan Rickman does a fine job as Snape, the Potion Master and headmaster of the sinister Slithering House, the one character who isn’t easily pigeon-holed into the good/evil dichotomy of the story. His physical appearance alone gives a better portrayal of the character than Dale has been able to do with his voice. But Alan Rickman has a face and demeanor that’s well-suited to that sort of character. Then, too, the audio tapes can’t convey the thrill of the Quidditch matches (a mix of soccer and rugby on brooms with a ball that has a mind of its own) quite the same way the special effects of a movie can.

For the rest, however, the special effects, as good as they are, just can’t live up to the the images inspired in the imagination by Dale’s reading of the books. Given the choice, I’d still rather listen to him than watch the movies.

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