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Friday 30 November 2001
Harry Potter takes over the world
Harry's success means the dweebs have won. It's gone too far.
What to do with a nation of little nerds running around with capes and wands? Should we be more concerned? Is there a coolness shortage coming?
Yes. Kids who are this self-satisfied and fairy-tale-obsessed cannot be good news for the future of angry art, biting comedy or radical politics. Worse, it could foretell a spoiled-brat pandemic: The Harry Potter phenomenon is a symptom of what happens when every child is told that he or she is very special.
The people upset by witchcraft in the Harry Potter stories should worry about more important things.
Having a problem with Harry isn't really a question of having religion. It's a question of not having a sense of humor. An article in the satiric newspaper The Onion, after publication last year of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," told how millions of children had turned to Satanism after reading the book; one kid declared that Harry had made her realize that "the Bible is nothing but boring lies."
What happened? The story was taken seriously, circulated as fact on the Internet and used to increase opposition to the wizard kid with the lightning scar on his head (aka the Mark of Cain, or an homage to Hitler's SS).
John Anderson, Newsday, November 25, 2001
What will these people make of the news that Harry Potter paraphernalia was found in an Al Qaeda hideout?
Items found on the floor of an Al Qaeda operated ice cream truck in Kabul, apparently show that one of the
research tools favored by the network is the Harry Potter book series.
The Discovery further supports rumors that Osama bin Laden is infatuated with Harry Potter and may be using techniques learned in the book to wage war on Christianity.
The Once and Future Rings
Is Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings unfairly maligned?
Yes, it's universally loathed by Tolkien loyalists as a mélange of cheap-looking effects, dated hairstyles, mispronounced Elvish names, low-tech techniques, and a missing ending. But Bakshi's version is also a showcase for inspired imagery and sheer strangeness, a near-miss magnum opus from another era, before the cult of Tolkien went Hollywood.
Glenn Gaslin, Slate, November 21, 2001
Questions for Ian McKellen.
Alec Guinness was annoyed that he became so closely identified with his role in ''Star Wars.'' Do you worry that after ''Lord of the Rings'' you'll be remembered as Gandalf and your Richard III will be forgotten?
Perhaps a clearer way of putting it would be to say, Would I regret forever more being associated with Magneto in ''X-Men''? I'm not perhaps as much a snob as Alec Guinness, and I have perhaps more catholic tastes in entertainment than he had. I don't make any distinction between what I do and what a hoofer on Broadway does. We are all in the business of keeping an audience quiet for two and half hours.
Monday 19 November 2001
Harry Potter: It's Not for Adults
Still skeptical, or cynical, about the Harry Potter books and their massive success, now with the first of a series of films? Well, when was the last time a fantasy novel was the subject of a New York Times op-ed? Consider, from Friday's paper, this piece about how people become, even as adults, attached to books from their childhood:
...[S]ome days I find myself puzzled that a book has gained cult status. Such is the case with J. K. Rowling's books — the first of which, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," opens as a movie today. Some reading and viewing experiences slip under our intellectual radar screen, remaining resistant to analysis. As Jean Cocteau notes, the substance of childhood can't withstand "the brutal touch of adult inquisition."
... Sometimes they [children] entered that world with a parent, a sibling, an aunt or uncle. But often they crossed a threshold on their own: accompanying Charlie and Grandpa Joe into the chocolate factory, falling down the rabbit hole with Alice — and now catching the train on Track 9 3/4 to get to Hogwarts. The stories are different, but the nature of the discovery is the same: finding a parallel universe that stirs the imagination through its magnification of everyday anxieties and desires.
Whether they are classics for all time is irrelevant. Regardless of what we adults think, we aren't the intended audience. Roald Dahl believed that it was the duty of every author of children's books to conspire with children against adults. With her books, J. K. Rowling has formed a powerful alliance with our children.
Friday 16 November 2001
Skiffy Flix: All About Harry
Locus Online couldn't begin to compile links to the massive coverage of the first "Harry Potter" film, which opens today, but we will offer this Los Angeles Times article from last Sunday about the attempts to translate fantasy to the screen, with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, that includes comments from, among others, Mythopoeic Society editor Ted Sherman, and John Clute:
"What great fantasy does is provide a kind of noise and thunder to announce, 'Here are ways in which human souls test themselves, lose themselves and recover themselves," says John Clute, co-author of "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy." "It provides escape but is also quite capable of being tragic. 'The Lord of the Rings' is as much an elegy as a great adventure. But fantasy fulfills the need humans have for stories, quests, that go from one point to another. We are parched, starved for these sorts of tales."
Early reviews of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone are fairly consistent: a scrupulously faithful adaptation, but safe, lacking in risk, lacking in magic.
The most highly awaited movie of the year has a dreary, literal- minded competence, following the letter of the law as laid down by the author. But it's all muted flourish, with momentary pleasures, like Gringott's, the bank staffed by trolls that looks like a Gaudí throwaway. The picture is so careful that even the tape wrapped around the bridge of Harry's glasses seems to have come out of the set design. (It never occurred to anyone to show him taping the frame together.)
But copies, even ones as impressive as "Harry Potter," can by definition only go so far. Copies don't provoke passionate responses of either agony or ecstasy; copies don't leave much to object to or get excited about. Ideally, as in something like "The English Patient" or "The Godfather," a film will extend or even transcend the book's emotional territory and bring a touch of cinematic poetry to the proceedings. But to get that, you have to take risks, and risk is something no one associated with this project wanted anything to do with.
As any reasonable person would have expected, it's a big and often sloppy Hollywood production with some bad computer graphics, a syrupy score from John Williams and a focus on storybook adventure rather than Rowling's oddball characters. ...
[M]ost viewers will hardly notice or care that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" gradually loses something as it goes along, something that might be called its mystical and emotional traction. The heart of Rowling's book lies in the wonder and delight of Harry's discovery that he really is someone special, despite the evidence of his life so far. In Kloves' screenplay, this transformation happens so quickly we barely notice it.
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon, Nov. 16, 2001
[T]he filmmakers haven't reshaped the story to suit the dramatic needs of the new medium. They didn't write a screenplay so much as cautiously string the book's chapters together like imitation pearls.
Wednesday 14 November 2001
2001 in 2001
To film critic Stephen Hunter, 2001: A Space Odyssey is pretty ridiculous, 33 years later, because it didn't come true.
Now, seen in the actual 2001, it's less a visionary masterpiece than a crackpot Looney Tune, pretentious, abysmally slow, amateurishly acted and, above all, wrong.
Earth to Stanley Kubrick: Gee, Stanley, up there in movie god heaven, you know what, Pan Am didn't get the space shuttle franchise and zoom us up to the orbiting wagon-wheel stations in sleek ships complete with stewardesses in super beehive hats and Velcro slippers so the zero grav wouldn't set them afloat. Here's who got the franchise: nobody. Stanley, read my lips: Commercial space flight is dead, unless you're a zany dot-com millionaire.
Stuart Klawans avoids such stupid-critic-tricks with a genuine insight or two.
What Kubrick and Clarke did predict was our indifference. In "2001," characters voyage to the moon much as they would go from New York to Los Angeles: snoozing, making credit-card calls, idling away the time with videos and dubious meals. Beyond the membrane of their little capsule lies nothing less than the universe, which Kubrick depicted with all the beauty and grandeur he could muster. Inside, people have filled the capsule with routine speech and behavior, brand names and banality.
Klawans goes on to describe a great technological irony: it's virtually impossible to see a 70-millimeter film like 2001 in a theater anymore; such theaters hardly exist, gone the way of the roadshow.
Meanwhile, Dan Richter has sold The Moon-Watcher's Memoir, with a foreword by Arthur C. Clarke, about Richter's role in developing (with Kubrick), choreographing, and performing in, the opening Dawn of Man sequence from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Carroll & Graf for publication in Fall 2002.
Movies That Never Were
* Hughes, David The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made
(UK: Titan Books 1-84023-325-7, £18.99, 255pp, hc, October 2001)
Here's a book of cinematic alternate history: the stories behind famous or notorious SF film projects that never made it into the theaters. Some of these are well-known: Hughes explains why, despite repeated options taken on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Childhood's End, and The Stars My Destination, nothing ever came of them. Some chapters are overly detailed: the one on Star Trek recounts all the films that were made, as well as the aborted mid-'70s TV series, and the difficulties in finding a suitably grandiose script for the first film (with rejections to Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison, among others). In contrast is a fascinating chapter on The Tourist, a post-Alien Ridley Scott project that became one of the most famous unproduced scripts in Hollywood, languishing so long that other films have rendered it obsolete. Other chapters cover Ridley Scott's I Am Legend, Richard Stanley's The Island of Dr. Moreau, unrealized versions of Dune, and Steven Spielberg's Night Skies. The book has a foreword by H.R. Giger, and afterword by Harry Knowles, an index of quotations, bibliography, and index.
(Received for Review 20 Oct 2001)
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