So we’re in the middle of that extended, sort of oblong, Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Other than the obligatory Thanksgiving eve night out (the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving is often the biggest night of the year for bars, clubs, bistros, etc) and the Thursday stuff-fest itself, the rest of the weekend is pretty open-ended, which typically translates to shopping and movies to fill the family-oriented abundance of leisure.
So, ably fulfilling our roles as cogs in the great media-manipulation machine, twelve of us in the extended Olsen family – ranging in age from 3 to 69 – went to see the new Harry Potter movie late yesterday afternoon. All were reasonably well satisfied other than my 15 year-old son who isn’t much interested in “wholesome” fantasies about kids his own age, and our 3 year-old who ate too much candy, got sick and fell asleep. But everyone else liked it fine.
I am probably a litmus test for the appeal of the film beyond its natural audience of the young and those who swear by the books: I haven’t read any of books, haven’t seen the first movie all the way through yet even though we own the DVD, and am indifferent to fantasy in general.
As such I would give it a qualified thumbs-up. As most other reviewers have noted, the real magic is not in the somewhat creaky and belabored plot, but in the characters and the successful creation of an alternative world alongside and intersecting with our own in a fairly plausible manner. The social relationships among the students, and between the students and the faculty seem almost frighteningly authentic to me. The festering, multi-generational animosities flaring to periodic open hostility generated a few all-too-real flashbacks of my own. And none of them involved snakes or spiders.
The movies’ best moments aren’t the big battles and action sequences, but quieter scenes that generate layered apprehension that the young wizards’ boarding school is a real place where its denizens have subtle, complicated relationships, and magic is a craft to be learned, honed and refined – where gifts are unevenly distributed, just like on the other side of the screen.
Equally compelling are the familial relationships, particularly the sad, ugly relationship between Harry and his replacement family – his porcine, Philistine uncle and cousin, and craggy aunt – who don’t appreciate him or his talents, and who want nothing more than for him to shut up and play invisible. The death of Harry’s parents and his mistreatment by his adoptive family lends tragic weight to Harry’s need to be successful and accepted at school.
Hey, we have to go move yet another load from the almost-empty old house into the almost full new house: more later on the hidden relationship between the Harry Potter series and The Wizard of Oz, the 3 year-old’s new favorite flick, which means we will come to know it intimately before she moves on to the next cinematic victim.