Tuesday, November 29, 2005

hp sauce and ketchup

Sometimes you want to say something smart. You amble out of a movie theatre, drop from a book, pass by a snip of conversation, and you want to deliver something witty about the experience to the next friend you encounter. So when Schmutzie asked me what I thought of Hoary Putter and the Giblet of Fur, I wanted to knock it out of the park. Instead I said, Oh, it was okay, I guess.

PaliDude, you say. What's wrong with you? Where'd your mojo go, Schlomo? (Would you really say that to me? My name's not Schlomo.) Can't raise a phrase to swat down a franchise flick for kids? Not this time, I say. Then tell me what's going on, you say. How did it beat you?

Simple. Harry Potter was stronger than I, and I submitted. Not just brute strength, either: a imperturbable Zen strength, a reed-in-the-wind strength. And a craftiness that made up for its lack of intelligence.

Its first weapon was the smell of stale ketchup. As I picked out a seat I noticed it: sugary, ripe, slightly sweaty. The whole theatre reeked of it. I realized that the day's matinees, packed with Potter kids, had been filled with people eating movie theatre wieners (the theatre I went to was not of the grade to sell fries). Imagine a movie whose primary audience was a bunch of wiener-eating kids. I knew that I was no match for such a mass, since there were certain to be wiener-eaters all around me, waiting for the signal to start munching away and going back for nachos.

Its second weapon was its crazy heft and density. I know who Harry Potter is, and I know what Muggles are, but I've never read the books and I'm not familiar with the whole backstory (like the mark of Tiny Zorro on his forehead). I've seen the second movie, but it was so bad I just emptied it from my mind as soon as I saw it, like an airplane toilet emptying itself at 40 000 feet. I watched the third one somewhere around the tenth hour of a fourteen hour night flight across the Pacific, and I think I was delerious at that point. All I came away with was the impression that David Thewlis played a gay teacher who cruised the moors at night in a butch getup. Therefore I had no idea what the Goblet of Fire was going to be about. But I think this is what I watched:

First there's a tower with a little scaly guy who's friends with a giant snake who lives in a skull, or at least the skull is the door to the snake's house. The snake and the little scaly man and his friends look at someone, and it's a Bad Look. But it was a dream and the dreamer was Harry Potter. Harry Potter is fourteen years old, and he looks fourteen the way Wilford Brimley looks twenty-two. Harry's friends make him get out of bed and touch a boot in a field. Somehow touching a boot in a field is related to painful teleportation and adolescent sexual tension. Why not? Then they're at a gigantic sports match that the entire world knows nothing about but appears to equal the GDP of Ireland. Then a bunch of guys with pointy hats show up and that means all the tents are going to burn and some guy in a leather coat is going to light up the sky with the Sign of the Snake and Skull, which probably means that Iron Maiden is signalling its lordship over the magicians. Then there's a scene with people talking in the ruins of the tent field and every so often they look up and yes, the Sign of Dickinson is still there. Then there are exchange students, dancing, tears, dragons and eggs, squabbles, ugly mermaids, hedge mazes, and a cup that everyone wants. And then there's the little scaly guy, who turns out to be Ralph Fiennes looking pretty much like he does on any given day at home, except for the lack of a nose (I tell you, Ralph Fiennes has overinvested in consonants). He touches Harry's Tiny Mark of Zorro and it seems to be a Bad Touch. He and Harry Potter point their wands at each other and spray magical fire for a few minutes until Harry's parents show up and tell him to stop that right now. And a beloved character dies, but it's not Harry or Hermione or the bitter red-haired guy so it carries the emotional impact of shaving cream, but everybody's upset anyway. And that turns out to be a typical year at Hogwart's. Given all that - and I'm leaving the whole Brendan Gleeson bit out - what possible response could you muster?

But its third and mightiest weapon was its obviousness, its happy indifference to subtlety and irony. The movie goes to some lengths to show that the pains of insecure adolescent wizards are just like the pains of insecure adolescent muggles, and it is to this keel that critics have attached themselves. Look at Hermione hang off the arm of some jock while sensitive red-haired guy moons on and rakes in the bitterness. Look at Harry struggle with asking girls out to a dance. Aren't these weak and distant pulses of recognizable human behaviour a sign of intelligent life? Isn't this proof that the whole Potter enterprise is worth our obsession with it? Sure, you want to believe. You've thrown down ten bucks and spent two a half hours surrounded by wiener-eating tweens in a fug of old ketchup smell. You'll take any old stool to lift yourself above that experience. But it seems to me that the Goblet of Fire gets childhood and early adolescence exactly wrong: the world of magic is not overt, and conducted under the guidance of authority; it is covert, performed with a tiny band of friends, out of sight of the difficult and unresponsive world. But the difficult world is left far behind in this movie - not a single normal human being shows up - and it makes the magical seem muggleish, which causes the muggleish to lose its magic.

13 comments:

blackbird said...

You pretty much lost me at the tower.
Not for your description - I would, actually, like to drop by and have you sort of pantomime it out for me.

I came back tho -- just in time to completely comprehend the magical muggleish.

These are two hours you will never get back, hence my reluctance to bring Youngest. (who could give a rats ass anyway)

Blanche said...

Hurrah, someone else who thought it was pants! Not surprised you found it difficult to understand - I reread the book a mere five days before I went to see the film, and I was still totally lost. Film critic boyfriend and I were sorely disappointed. Plus, I'm distraught that the custom of selling revolting hot dogs in cinemas has spread like mould over to the UK. The whole time I too was nauseated by the stench of poor quality foodstuffs.

Another disappointing film of a children's classic: Narnia. I grew up reading these books and had such goodwill towards this film, I desperately wanted it to be good, and it was just - embarrassing. 'I name you High King Peter, Lord of the Northern Skies' - cringe. Maybe you have to be a kid to revel in that kind of thing. I am now Too Old for Narnia. sniff.

schmutzie said...

This is the level he sinks to when I am out of town for but one weekend!

palinode said...

I should say that I didn't find the film completely bad. I was entertained at some points - the sequence with the dragon and the golden egg was fun - and the filmmakers did as good a job as they could of turning some 20 000 pages into 150 minutes of film. And it was better than the Chamber of Secrets by a long shot. But I suspect that the franchise is beginning to suffer from diminishing returns as the strangeness of the wizard's world becomes the norm.

Blanche - you've seen Narnia? It's not out yet here in Canada. I grew up with those books so I know I'll end up seeing the movie.

abigailroad said...

"it makes the magical seem muggleish, which causes the muggleish to lose its magic."

I couldn't have said it better myself, mr palinode.

You really should read the books though....I've got 'em all if you'd like to borrow them! i have always found that no matter what the movie, if it is based on a book, the book is always better.

Mathew said...

i watched the film with a grim fascination, gripped to my seat as if Mike Newell has cast the imperio curse on me. i didn't know what else to do, other then to sit there and watch the whole rushed thing muck along in the dregs.

it was, after all, a harry potter film. i was glad for less draco malfoy and not at all displeased to dispense with the dursleys, but where was the bite in this film? i don't believe the viewer was ever invested enough in the film to really care if harry won the tournament, whether he saved flora's sister and ron, etc. etc. etc. it was all just there and we were supposed to ooh and aah. and by the way? voldemort's nose... while it was quite obvious (oooh, snakey guy), it was entirely too distracting. (let's not even talk about ralph's (up)stage acting).

it didn't feel magical, it didn't feel angsty, it just felt tiresome and entirely too long and disinteresting. but then again, what can you expect from a franchise that has relegated gary oldman, maggie smith, alan rickman and emma thompson to bit players?

palinode said...

No bite. Exactly. I went because I'd heard that H.P. IV was supposed to be dark and emotionally painful. The death of Cedric was supposed to hurt. The Tri-Wizard was supposed to be downright dangerous. But none of those things really worked. I suppose if I were an HP fan then Cedric's death would mean a lot more to me, but I never once felt that the characters were in any real danger. Maybe if someone said "I am a leaf on the wind, watch me soar," then I could expect a brutal and sudden death.

Ralph Fiennes appeared to be playing an angry penis. And I don't think it was accidental. It seems pretty clear that the transformation of Voldemort, from a little weak homunculus to to a tall potent reptilian villian with a wand, is all about Harry's sexual anxieties as he morphs slowly and painfully into a grownup. But that bit where Harry says that his wand connected with Voldemort's? Ugh.

Helvetica said...

Hm. Makes me glad not to have a penis.

Mathew said...

the shriveled voldemort's neck now springs foreskin to mind.

there's some harry potter slash fiction out there, if you're really interested in harry and voldemort's wands connecting.

palinode said...

I don't think I'm that interested.

katie said...

i went to this film entirely hung-over, and had to leave several times to vomit in the ladies room. and while i am a harry potter book devotee, i had not an ounce of remorse at missing such large portions of this movie.
that's not to say i minded watching it. it was just... there. not good, not overwhelmingly terrible. it just was.

Blanche said...

Yes Mr Palinode Sir, I did see Narnia, but only because aforementioned film critic boyfriend got me into an advance screening (is it wrong that that's the thing I love the most about my boyfriend? Along with the fact that he casually emailed me this afternoon saying he was waiting for Kevin Spacey to call. SO COOL). It's not out here in the UK for a few weeks yet.

palinode said...

I'm waiting for Kevin Spacey to call me too. I don't know if it's ever going to happen, though.