This film review showcase wouldn’t seem complete if I didn’t mention Harry Potter. The books and movies are a megalithic entertainment commodity that is now entrenched in our American culture. Harry Potter is like Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown, and the Beave!
But how do I review Harry Potter? Which movie do I review? What more is there to say that hasn’t been said, considered or debated? Maybe the best approach is to toss out the movie review idea completely and talk my visit to ”Harry Potter land” (a.k.a. Universal Studios)?
Two words: Butter Beer!
In all seriousness, the Harry Potter series of films is an example of very well-constructed and balanced story telling. Filmmakers saddled themselves with the daunting job of converting a series of successful novels into a series of successful movies. That is not easy. The two art forms work entirely differently and very often a movie adaptations of books fall flat. (Dune 1984; Mists of Avalon 2001.) There time and space limits of cinema do not exist in the literature.
Die-hard Harry Potter book fans may have been disappointed at times. But this is the nature of adaptation. Elements must be omitted to make a movie work. And the Harry Potter movies worked. .
How did the Potter filmmakers accomplish this task? The films are story-driven – not special effects, not music, not character and not philosophy. These are stories and every other filmic element is a slave to telling that story within the confines of the film medium. When asked about the darkness of the last films, David Heyman says “We did what’s right by the story.” This can be applied to all of the film choices made. This is why Harry Potter works.
What I find interesting is the religious-based reaction to the books and films. Since the books grew in popularity, the Christian right has contended Rowling’s stories are evil and promote Satan. In some cases, the stories are linked to the growth in Wicca and an interest in Witchcraft. In my world view, these are two separate concerns that need addressing.
The first argument is purely based on Rowling’s use of witchcraft and the surrounding age-old tired mythology. Nothing more. If someone feels that Rowling’s books and movies promote evil, then my response would simply be: “Don’t read them. Don’t watch them.”
Of course, I disagree.
The second argument is more complicated. Here is where Wiccan practitioners and other Pagans need to be careful. While it is fun to pretend that the World of Harry Potter is synonymous with the real Wiccan world, it isn’t. Rowling’s Wizarding World is fantasy. Yes, it is wonderful to see positive and non-stereotypical constructions of witches (Hermione and Professor MacGonagall, in particular) and to imagine a world centered around magical practice. However, distinctions need to be made and maintained between a Wiccan reality and the Harry Potter fantasy.
As many Christian groups claim, people may in fact seek out Wiccans in order to “become a witch” assuming there is a sorting hat on every coven shelf. Is that a problem? Yes and no. Increased interest brings increase awareness. That is good. However what happens when the sorting hat isn’t found? Disillusionment? The creation of covens that mirror Harry Potter and are devoid of spirituality? Is that a problem?
As Wiccan practitioners, we can also fall into a trap of feeding this confusion by publicly using Potter language in jest which can open us up to mockery. I have heard comments like, “She thinks she’s a “real” witch” followed by patronizing giggles. The implied tone is that the said woman is “one witch short of a full coven” so to speak.
Confession: We have four Harry Potter wands in our house – all purchased at Harry Potter land. While visiting I periodically found myself speaking in an awful British accent. “Remember the wand chooses the witch.”
What I present here is a tiny example of a greater sociological issue that concerns the “cross-contamination” of reality and fantasy. When is it harmful? When is it beneficial? I’ll leave you with those questions to consider as you enjoy your coffee and crumpets.
Overall, the Harry Potter movies are undoubtedly an amazing accomplishment in the entertainment industry. All eight are entertaining on many levels. In addition, the films offer a new presentation of witchcraft and witches – one that contains depth and moral ambiguity. That is very refreshing.
One last trip back to Harry Potter Land: The Hogwarts ride is hands-down the best ride that I’ve ever been on. It was is worth the 1.5 hour wait. Here’s one warning. You will wait for over 2 hours if you don’t get to the park as it opens and race at top-speed from the front entrance directly to the ride. You may have to push over a few people and hurdle baby carriages to accomplish this task.
Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer: John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks