Remember James Cameron’s “Avatar” from 2009? You know, the 3-D epic about the blue cat people that quickly became the highest-grossing movie ever made? I’m the one guy in America — nay, the globe — who hated it with the passion of a thousand recon gyrenes.
Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy? I was so mind-numbingly bored by the first chapter, 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” that I never bothered to see the sequels.
that brings us to “Harry Potter.” I saw the first one when it hit home
video to see what all of my friends were peeing their pants over. While I
didn’t hate it, I didn’t exactly like it, either, finding it to be $125
million worth of “meh,” so like “Rings,” I felt no need to proceed
The polar opposite can be found in my co-worker across the hall, Jenny Coon Peterson. I think that given a choice between her husband and the “Harry Potter” franchise, she’d scream, “Muggle-dooby-doo!” or whatever the catchphrase is.
She’s read all the books more times than Rep. Sally Kern has inserted foot in mouth. She’s named her cats after the characters (it’s a good thing she has no children, because poor Dumbledore Peterson would be a magnet for playground torture). She and her friend take vacation days to see each film upon opening, and they even make T-shirts for the event.
She’s already informed us that when the eighth and final film in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” opens Friday, she’ll need the weekend to recuperate because at the end — spoiler alert — there will be no sequels over which she can spend the next year or two obsessing.
For all the time I’ve known her, Jenny has tried to convert me to being a “Harry Potter” fanatic, much like the people who needle you constantly to attend their super-awesome MegaChurch®. In her anticipation of “Hallows: Part Deux,” I gave in. She loaned me her DVDs (some fan, what with all her full-screen editions) and I was to answer questions after each chapter screened.
But first, you can save your hate mail. Let it be known that:
1. I get why people love “Harry Potter.” I’m just not one of them, and I’m not knocking those who are. (“Twilight,” however, is another story, and don’t get me started.)
2. My dislike of “Potter” isn’t a case of me being a snobby film critic. For one, the movies are critically acclaimed (as are “Avatar,” “LOTR” and their ilk). For another, while my DVD collection contains many Oscar winners, it includes many more flicks involving terrible things done to people with machetes and other various stabby items.
Would a marathon reverse my stance? Would I discover what makes grown adults run in fields with brooms between their legs? And, most importantly, when does Emma Watson get hot?
checking into my Miso account (movie lovers, follow me at “rodlott”!)
with a curt “Don’t ask,” I took a deep breath of hesitation and let
2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” start spinning in the ol’
DVD drive. As noted, the Chris Columbus work is the lone franchise
entry I had seen before, and it was surprising how much of it I
successfully had wiped from my mind in the near-decade that has passed.
For example, it’s rather odd for a family film to contain a scene in which an obese, bearded stranger breaks into the tween protagonist’s bedroom at night, offering cake and telling the boy he’s a wizard. On-screen, this gets the plot ball rolling; in real life, this has Pedophilia 101 written all over it.
I was officially bored all over again well before the three-headed dog showed up. I believe the first time I checked my watch, I was only 29 minutes in, with more than two hours left to go. This is one of my main problems with deeply beloved fantasy films: They are too damned long. If you can’t tell your story in under two hours, you either need a more serious editor or you better be named Paul Thomas Anderson.
Jenny: Was Quirrell a surprise?
Me: There was a squirrel?
Jenny: If you could shake one character off his broom to his untimely death, who would it be and why?
Me: Hagrid. The sight of him grosses me out and makes me glad the movie’s not in “Smell-O-Vision.”
Jenny: Can you understand at all why adults would find “Harry Potter” enchanting?
Me: I do acknowledge that an estimated 4 percent of the population harbors sexual interest in children.
Jenny: You’re being sorted into the Hogwarts houses. Which one do you think you’d end up in?
Me: Thanks to an online quiz, I’d make a mighty fine member of Hufflepuff. Geez, I can’t believe I just typed that.
Columbus returned for
2002’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and I was forewarned
by Mrs. Peterson that it was her least favorite of the series,
partly because it introduces its own Jar Jar Binks in the form of Dobby,
a wiry, wife-beaterwearing elf who looks as if he has a few more rounds
of chemo to go.
To me, it felt like more of the same, starting with the kids’ trick of running through brick walls at the train station. At least it also throws in some new alien concepts, like invisible cars, a potion that makes green fire, Kenneth Branaugh and a giant spider that gives me the willies just thinking about it.
Jenny: Harry can talk to snakes just like Voldemort. Strange, right? What do you think that means?
Me: That he could find gainful employment as a serpent whisperer.
Jenny: Let’s talk about Dobby. I like him in the books, not so much in the movies. Thoughts?
Me: Anything named after a bingo accessory and resembling Nicole Richie in a potato sack is worth every ounce of ridicule.
Jenny: Lockhart is the second useless Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Do you think Snape’ll ever get the job?
Me: Sure, why not.
Jenny: How long did it take you to figure out Tom Riddle was not the type of guy you’d name godfather of your child?
Me: Instantly. Any smug bastard with a face and hair parting like that is up to no good.
‘PRISONER’ NO MORE?
Things looked up with 2004’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the last word of which sounds like a magic sneeze. For starters, I had more than one person — three, to be painfully exact — tell me it was the best of the seven to date.
For another, Columbus — who, let’s face it, peaked with 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting” — ceded the director’s chair to Alfonso Cuarón. “Azkaban” was Cuarón’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated “Y tu mamá también,” so obviously producers saw something in the Spanish-lanugage film’s explicit threesome that made them say, “Just look at that multiple stimulation! This is the guy we need to entertain children the world over next summer!” How else to explain “Prisoner”’s opening sequence, depicting Harry playing with his wand under the bedsheets at night?
I’ll admit that Cuarón’s far less ham-fisted approach results in a
finer crafted film, it still didn’t click with my tastes. For every
element to admire — say, a black widow on roller skates — there are two
others that aggravate, like Emma Thompson or the kids making animal
noises, which had me clenching my fists, thirsting to deliver a
Jenny: You’re a convert now, right?
Me: Ha-ha! That’s precious.
Jenny: Let’s talk young love. Which ship would you set sail in, the HMS Harmony (that’d be Harry + Hermione 4 eva) or The Good Ship/HMS Heron (that’s Ron and Hermione)?
Me: Something tells me you have that written on a Trapper Keeper.
Jenny: What would you use a Marauder’s Map for?
Me: Toilet paper.
Jenny: Thoughts on the actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione? Do you think they’ve grown into their roles?
Me: Obviously, as evidenced by Daniel Radcliffe showing his magic wand on Broadway.
Jenny: The book fleshes out the backstory of Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs a lot more, but it’s still really cool in the movie. If you could train to become an animagus, which animal would you choose?
‘FIRE’ IN THE HOLE
The “Azkaban” increase in quality more or less remained for 2005’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” directed by Mike Newell. Although the darker, PG-13 jump was welcome, its story has grown to a point of maddening complexity — at least for those of us who haven’t digested the previous ones a dozen times.
It’s like that for me with so many fantasy films: elfin creatures, soundalike names, made-up words, a surplus of
characters, and backstories and relationships that require a flowchart
to keep straight — they all add up to keep this viewer at an arm’s
length. My brain cries foul and gives up.
Jenny: The series is quite the “who’s who” of UK cinema: Just in this movie alone, we’ve added Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant and Ralph Fiennes. Is there any British actor you think is missing?
Me: Gemma Arterton, who should be in everything.
Jenny: Harry is a Tri-Wizard champion! Which of the three Tri- Wizard events do you think would be most frightening to face? (A refresher: Harry faces dragons to snatch a golden egg; has to survive under water to rescue Ron; and faces a super creepy maze to reach the Tri- Wizard Cup.)
Me: I don’t know, but a Tri- Wizard Cup — is that required equipment for boys to play Quidditch? Can it be purchased at Academy Sports + Outdoors?
And with that — not to mention this looming deadline on a holiday weekend — I called the experiment over. Admittedly, with three DVDs untouched, I have failed, but at least I tried. It’s like Brussels sprouts: I sampled half of what was on my plate — enough to know they just aren’t for me.
But you, Potterheads, or whatever you call yourselves, do enjoy “Hallows: The Smell of Fear” when it streets Friday. Feed off the energy of the crowd. Have a ball. Shed tears together.
I’ll be at home, enjoying the silence, or maybe watching a Blu-ray containing either a shark attack, a women’s prison shower or a zombie uprising. Hey, to each his own.
Think you're a true wizard? Head over to Jenny Coon Peterson's super-tough Harry Potter quiz at SurveyMonkey and put your spell-casting skills to the test.