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Lasting legacy of the boy who lived

By Amy Biancolli
Houston Chronicle

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:46 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2011


Ten years, eight movies, four directors, two screenwriters, four composers, two Dumbledores, countless broomsticks and one — just one — Harry Potter. The Chosen One. The Boy Who Lived. The Kid with the Lightning Bolt Scar.

Whatever you call him, he’s about to make his final appearance on the silver screen in, let’s see, forever — unless J.K. Rowling goes ahead and writes more novels set within her well-imagined wizarding universe, a prospect that lately gone from an outright impossibility to a vague unlikelihood. (“I feel I am done, but you never know,” she told Oprah last fall.) It’s also possible that some day, maybe half a century ahead, filmmakers will remake the entire Potter saga with the latest in 6-D holographic huge-o-rama.

For now, scant moments before “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is released upon the masses, we must prepare to say goodbye. A few of us may even prepare to watch all previous seven movies, totaling 171⁄2 hours, which would be an especially long goodbye. Somewhere, hard-core Potterphiles are weeping into their butterbeers.

But some films age more gracefully than others. One of cinema’s great joys is its flickering ability to survive the years — to shimmer and fade in an instant, yes, but to reappear, its power undiminished, in another era before another generation of audiences. Certain movies are always waiting to be rediscovered: All it takes is a decent print and a fresh pair of eyeballs.

What awaits them, exactly? A rich and well-realized fantasy other-verse. Witness the pert, faithful opener, Chris Columbus’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which whisks 11-year-old Harry off to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and introduces all the important folks: Harry, Ron and Hermione, best buds and comrades in the fight against evil; Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ kindly head of school; and the villainous, nebulous Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents and tried to kill him.

The second film, Columbus’ “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” pits Harry against a 60-foot snake and a smooth teen Voldemort sprung from a diary. The third film is the best: Alfonso Cuaron’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” a nail-biting mystery/thriller that comes equipped with dementors (soul-sucking security guards), a werewolf, some nifty time travel and the rat who ratted out Harry’s parents. The fourth is Mike Newell’s sprawling, sporting “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which reanimates Voldemort in human form (well, sorta) and whacks a significant character — the first of many deaths.

As for the last four, all directed by David Yates: “The Order of the Phoenix” introduces the candy-coated malevolence of Dolores Umbridge; “The Half-Blood Prince” has the bottle-blonde bad-boy Draco Malfoy in a plot to murder Dumbledore; the camping-intensive “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” follows The Big Three as they bicker and search for Horcruxes (magical thingamabobs that hold bits of Voldemort’s soul); and the upcoming capper, “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” should bring the entire story to a fiery conclusion.

Some of the films are unquestionably finer than others, though you’ll likely get seven different rankings from seven different fans — depending on their fondness for elves. And they’re unquestionably better when consumed in sequence. But in order or out of order, elves or no elves, the Harry Potter franchise should age quite well through the coming years. Here’s why:

REASON NO. 1
They don’t date themselves (chronologically or stylistically): Despite a few errant hair and fashion choices, “HP” is mostly free of cultural markers. It exists in a realm unto its own, running parallel with — but far removed from — the muggle world and its ever-shifting preoccupations with politics, technology and celebrity culture. You won’t find any Brangelina references in a “Potter” movie, and you won’t find iPads or cell phones, either. This will lengthen their shelf life.

REASON NO. 2
First-rate scores: John Williams set the mood — gothic, romantic, lilting and timeless — and his motifs appear in all of them. “Hedwig’s Theme” is arguably the most recognizable piece of movie music in 20 years. Can you even imagine a “Potter” flick with a crunchy alt soundtrack? Maybe you can, if you recall that awkward interlude in “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” when Harry and Hermione slow dance to a Nick Cave song. (We’ll wait and see how well that ages.)

REASON NO. 3
Eternal themes: Good. Evil. Life. Death. Love. Hate. Orphans. Plus: redemption, romantic quests, apocalyptic battles and hormones. What else is there, really?

REASON NO. 4
Nontrendy filmmaking techniques: Few things date a movie more than modish camerawork; check out those vintage camera zooms in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes.” With the exception of occasional shaky-cam (this means you, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1”), the “Potter” realm employs classic, well-framed cinematography with just enough magisterial swoop.

REASON NO. 5
Solid characters and story: Despite the prevalence of cutting-edge visual effects, which could look awfully cheesy in a couple of decades, the HP movies are rooted in the basics. As well they should be. All the computerized firepower in the world pales next to believable heroes and a gripping plot fraught with emotion.

REASON NO. 6
Hagrid: Hairy Scottish half-giants only improve with age. And finally …

REASON NO. 7
They’re actually pretty good movies: “Good” is a relative term — especially when applied to pop-cultural phenomena of the Now — but the Potter oeuvre ranks a far sight better as art and entertainment than, say, the entirety of “Twilight” (sorry, Twi-hards). And they have a far better chance of gaining new fans, even those who never crack open one of Rowling’s books.

So there they are: Harry, Ron and Hermione, about to embark on their final adventure. Some of us will watch them, then re-watch them, then head for conventions in costume; others will move on with a wave and shrug. Either way, the films will hold up. The stories will linger. As Dumbledore says in “Goblet of Fire,” “No spell can reawaken the dead.” But sometimes, the magic of cinema can keep them alive forever.

ANSWERS
1. C. And more will be revealed in the last movie.
2. B. “Rafe Fines” — that’s how the Brits say it.
3. C. Newton Scamander wrote “Fantastical Beasts & Where to Find Them” (with the help of author J.K. Rowling).
4. D. Confundo simply causes confusion.
5. B. Dementors.
6. A. In his will, Dumbledore bequeathed his Deluminator to Ron Weasley.
7. D. It’s also the birthplace of Hogwarts founder Godric Gryffindor.
8. A. Peter Pettigrew did it, but Sirius Black was blamed for it.

¯¯¯
Kansas City Star






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