Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter Review

As noted last week, I'm now posting the Bishop's movie reviews (farmed out to Catholic News Service), but there is only one film out new this weekend, so I thought I'd go a little more in depth with the film. This weekend sees the cinematic conclusion of the Harry Potter series with the second installment of "The Deathly Hallows"

My family and I have a history of "midnight showings" and since Friday is my day off - last evening (or this morning) I joined the fam in taking in the film at the stroke of midnight.

I must confess up front as well that I have not read any of the books. That being said, I really enjoyed the movie, while my siblings who are avid fans of the books left the theater disappointed. I'm not exactly sure what they were disappointed about, but I have no doubt they have their reasons.

Purely from a film standpoint, I actually found the only slow parts to be those times where you could tell they were trying to include something from the books that, in the flow of the film, was completely useless. One example - at the beginning of the film, Harry visits an older gentleman with questions about two wands - and the dialogue is lengthy, and I kept waiting for what was said in that meeting to matter but it never did. While apparently some readers were disappointed with the film, I'd give it a 8.5 out of 10.

Some Catholics and Christians have been concerned with the magic aspect of wizards/witches/spells since the series first took off in book form. I must say that none of it concerns me as a priest - although I would certainly talk to any of my own children about those aspects of the films/books. In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, considered by many the gold standard of Catholic fiction, one encounters all of the same elements of wizards, spells, curses, wands, staffs, elves, goblins, ghosts, etc. "Magic" in both the books and the films serves simply to provide a context for good and evil to do battle. I think it is no coincidence that we see this fascination with portrayals of good and evil actually doing combat as we've also seen a rise in the last hundred years or so of a scientific atheism that says everything can be explained, evil is fake, there is no mystery, etc. People know the message of a deconstructive atheism to be false, and so when bombarded with a message that people are moronic for believing that there is some sort of spiritual contest going on - most turn to stories as that which portrays what they know to be experiencing in their own lives.

Granted, the mediums of film and fiction can do a nice job of portraying more realistic, subtle, and nuanced forms of spiritual warfare, but sometimes we just need those stories of an all out royal rumble of good vs. evil - and I see "magic" serving as a catalyst in which that narrative can effectively play out. I'm also open to other takes on this from parents - leave a comment if you agree or if you feel differently.

After I watched the movie I told my brothers in sisters as we were breaking it down that I enjoyed it immensely, but there is something that kept the entire franchise from being included in that same pantheon with the likes of the Lord of the Rings films. For me, the Harry Potter films stand right along side the first three Star Wars films - they did a nice job of portraying good vs. evil in an exciting and realistic way. The main thing that knocked both Star Wars and Harry Potter down a rung from the LOTR series was the times where the characters slip in some theology/philosophy that seemed contrived (and also problematic from a Catholic perspective).

At the end of the film last night the priestly Dumbledore tells Harry two interesting things - "Don't pity the dead, pity the living, especially those who live without love" and "Of course this is happening in your head; that doesn't make it less real." These bits of spiritual talk are Yoda-esque and seemed like an attempt to fit in a sermon where it didn't belong. As a clarification, the Church teaches that being alive is the best gift we can receive - and dying is never a good thing - being raised to new life whenever that might happen for us is a great thing, but death in itself is never good.

All that being said, I'd be curious to hear other people's thoughts on this film specifically, all the films together, the books, etc. - let me know your take on any of this.

Finally, I leave with the movie trailer for the film and then the official Catholic review of the film which I found to be very well done.

John Mulerding (CNS) - One of the most successful movie franchises of all time goes out in style with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (Warner Bros.).

Though this eighth installment in the series that began with 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" may bewilder newcomers -- if there are any of the uninitiated left, they will not find themselves mollycoddled by patient exposition -- director David Yates provides a gratifying wrap-up to a decade of blockbuster adaptations.

Based, like its immediate predecessor, on the last volume of J.K. Rowling's run of phenomenal best-sellers, Yates' fantasy is too intense for the youngest viewers. But scenes of combat, although frequent, are mostly bloodless, while the dialogue is marked by only one mildly improper turn of phrase, making this climatic adventure acceptable for most other age groups.

As the titular wizard (Daniel Radcliffe, needless to say) continues to battle his nemesis, evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the epic struggle brings Harry's innate courage to the fore but also tests his willingness to sacrifice himself on behalf of others.

At Harry's side once again are pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) -- friends acquired, of course, during his student days at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once the scene of happier proceedings, during the tenure of its late headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Hogwarts is currently under the apparent misdirection of Dumbledore's enigmatic successor, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman).

Many of symbols deployed and themes highlighted in Rowling's narrative echo Scripture and comport with Judeo-Christian beliefs. Voldemort, for instance, is constantly accompanied by his pet snake Nagini, a slithering embodiment of wickedness.

Similarly, Voldemort's ambition to obtain immortality though illegitimate means parallels the serpent-inspired temptation to which Adam and Eve gave way. And here, as in salvation history, a path to redemption is opened by self-surrendering love.

As with many a time-honored tale -- ranging from "The Wizard of Oz" to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy penned by devoutly Catholic novelist J.R.R. Tolkien -- the element of sorcery in Rowling's story serves merely as a fictional device and a stimulant to the imagination.

Even impressionable audience members are as unlikely to think that the wands and spells they see in use on screen are things to be dabbled with in the real world as they are to believe that they may someday graduate from Hogwarts.

Like a poignant graduation ceremony, this final chapter in the adventures that have taken Harry -- and many of his fans as well -- from childhood to full maturity manages to strike notes both elegiac and exciting, thereby bringing to an apt conclusion one of the iconic sagas of recent years.

The film contains much action violence, brief gory images and a single crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.