Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer 2011 Movies: Super 8 and Harry Potter 7.2

Most of the movies I write about in this blog tend to be a bit older, but in the past month, I've had a chance to watch two good films currently in theaters.

Super 8 

Super 8 is about a group of friends who witness a mysterious train crash as they are filming a movie.  Super 8 refers to 8 mm film, which is the film that people used to use to film movies.  It really plays up the nostalgia factor, which it does effectively some of the time, to try to be this generation's ET.  Even the score by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Ratatouille), who is quite good, is a bit reminiscent of ET.  Both scores convey a sense of mystery and innocence.

There is a lot to like about Super 8.  For one, it is one of those movies about kids, in this case, 12-13 year olds, that treat the kids with respect.  All the kids in the movie are believable and their interactions and dialogue very real.  Elle Fanning, as Alice, is, in particular, fantastic and I was surprised that she is actually only 12 because she portrays Alice with such poise and maturity that you'd think she was much older.  There are a lot of little things that make me love how well they fleshed out the kids characters: at one point, Alice refuses to drive the protagonist, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) to their filming site b/c his dad is the sheriff and his first reaction isn't to persuade her to drive him, but to be surprised that she actually knows who he is.  In a tenser situation, when the kids are doing some important research, one of them starts playing video games.  There's also a great scene where Alice and Joe talk about their friendship and you can't imagine it happening in any other way.

It's unfortunate then that the movie doesn't do the same with the adults, who are one-dimensional cut-out characters.  The general main plot of the movie, while it does a great job with the build up (why are there appliances missing?  why are all the dogs running away), it wraps up tepidly.  Besides the beginning train sequence which is fantastic- it is one of the best old school action scenes I've seen in a while, the other action in the movie isn't great.  It relies too much on the same sort of suspense sequence.  While I didn't mind that they did the cliche "mysterious creature approaches as unobservant townsperson goes about their business until they notice something amiss", it got old pretty quickly.

I would have not minded if they down played the main plot of the movie.  I liked the character development of the kids more and would have preferred to watch a movie more focused on them- about them making their movie.      

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

It's the very last one, and it's a good one.

A major part of Harry Potter culture is waiting in line with fellow fans.  For this last movie, we definitely weren't disappointed in that aspect.  I went to a Friday night (opening night) showing and even though we got to the theater an hour early, there was already a very long line.  I dressed up as did quite a few other people for the show.  

Over the decade of Harry Potter movies, I've learned to manage my expectations for the movies.  I still think that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are the two best Harry Potter movies, mainly because they can stand on their own and there were extra elements that distinguished them from the books.  In POA, it was seeing the time travel paradox in action and seeing my favorite rendition of Hogwarts: messy, old, but very much magically alive.  In HBP, it was seeing the characters actually be friends with each other, added humor, the Draco plot making a lot more sense, and the characters be in many ways, much more likable then their counterparts in the book.  Harry, for example, is actually extremely focused on his task to get that memory from Slughorn.  

On the other end, there was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which really just seemed like a collection of the major scenes from the book put together in a movie.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 7.1, while it followed the book closely, and did maintain some semblance of plot, it really did not flow well and was too bleak and hopeless.  The first half of the Harry Potter 7 book was super hopeless and dark, but even that had more levity than the movie.  If I'd made the movie, I would have included the Wizarding Wireless Network, all those words at Godric's Hallow cheering Harry on, and Harry pulling out the Maruder's Map just to see Ginny's dot on it.  Also, you can still make a perfectly good movie about dark times without filming a movie completely in bleak, gray tones (See Lord of the Rings.)

(*SPOILERS start here*)

HP 7.2 is a much better movie than HP 7.1.  It flows better, is more focused, and the soundtrack is really great- much better than 7.1.  The movie doesn't incorporate too many additional scenes, but instead amends some of the existing ones.

The trio's Gringott trip is a fun one as Hermione uses Polyjuice Potion to become Bellatrix Lestrange.  Helena Bonham Carter does a great job pretending to be Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix.  It really bothered me in the books when the good characters used any of the Unforgivable Curses.  I'm glad they took most of that out in the movie, but I still cringed when Ron uses it on the teller in Gringotts.

They do touch upon Dumbledore's past and his penchant to keep secrets, but it's so brief that I think it would have been better if that had all been taken out all together.  They also downplay how terrible Hogwarts becomes after Snape becomes headmaster- they do hint at it in the beginning but shrug, the movie can only be so long.

The beginning of the Battle of Hogwarts is well done.  The scene where the Hogwarts professors cast a  protection spell is a welcome addition and then there's a scene where the trio runs through the battlefield and there're magical spells being cast all around- the music swells beautifully, and it's really an amazing scene- the scene to rewatch from the Battle of Hogwarts.  

I'm glad Neville is semi-featured in this movie.  In the books, it was amazing and really moving to see him grow, lamentably in the background of course, from this shy, clumsy awkward kid to the badass de-facto leader of students at Hogwarts who chops off Nagini's head in a moment of complete despair when everyone thinks Harry is dead.  On that note, I'm disappointed in the way they amended the Nagini's death scene.  I understand that they wanted to do it concurrently with Voldemort's defeat, but I thought it was handled more  aptly in the book.  In the movie, Neville still shows that he's brave but he does it Samwise Gamgee style and Samwise did it better.

There is, also, of course Snape.  The Prince's Tale is one of the best chapters in the whole book series.  In the book, you actually get to meet Lily, see her friendship with Snape, and see that despite everything, she and Petunia still cared for each other.  In the movie, it's just glimpses in Lily and since it's all from Snape's perspective, you do really wonder if they'd been more than just friends.          

Anyhow, it's a decent movie and a great way to end the series.  Also has a fantastic soundtrack- a great improvement on 7.1.

Goodbye Harry and friends- it's been a fantastic ride.