I solemnly swear I am up to no good…
As you may have guessed, my stalled-at-17 obsessive streak was in full swing with the advent of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in theaters on July 15th. My commitment was so great I drove to New Jersey (SERIOUSLY. NEW JERSEY.) to see it with my cousin-in law, Shannon, who is one of my very favorite people and a Potterfanatic of the highest order.* I anticipated the possibility that I might get a little verklempt during the show– #6 is very emotionally high-pitched– but I didn’t expect to begin weeping DURING THE PREVIEWS.
Why, you ask? Here, I’ll show you:
On my way back from NJ to visit family in Newark, DE, I actually took a minor, 2.5-hour detour through a crappy strip-mall cineplex in northern Delaware to see the movie again. I have to admit a large part of my motivation was the Where the Wild Things Are preview–I had to see it again. When I was a kid, Maurice Sendak’s books were perennial favorites, and Where the Wild Things Are was the gold standard. The children’s section of the local library (where I would later work as a page for my first job) had a huge mural of all the Wild Things swinging from trees, and I loved hiding in a particular corner of the storybook shelves under the Wild Thing with Bird Feet. The trailer, of course, visually taps this deeply nostalgic trigger–the video just looks so much like my little-kid imaginations– but I think the music is the element that really does me in and starts the unabashed public waterworks. When Arcade Fire’s Funeral came out, I played it on a loop for weeks, till I swear my heart beat in time with the music. The trailer is set to the acoustic version of “Wake Up,” a song that never fails to make me feel like my sternum is splitting down the middle under a strange pressure chimera of joy and grief. I think the lyrics alone are enough to crack less squishy people than me: Children / don’t grow up / our bodies get bigger / but our hearts get torn up… I mean, really. I’m misty just typing, here. October 16th will definitely find me in the theater with a package of Twizzlers and a whole box of Kleenex.
ANYWAY…back to our Featured Presentation… It was an absolute blast hanging out with Miz Shannon, indulging our giddy, fanatic excitement, and discussing various techniques for viewing movies-based-on-much-adored-books. I think we have perfected our system at this point, and this is what we came up with: the first step is to acknowledge that you will never, ever be completely satisfied with anything less than the thirty-part miniseries in which not a single detail or line of dialogue is dropped. Once you come to terms with the fact that jamming a 500+ page narrative into a 2.5 hour film requires quite a lot of visual shorthand and editing, you are in a better position to allow the film to be what it is, which is basically visual cliffs notes for the main plot and the emotional pitch of the book. The best way to be open to how a film adaptation relates a story is to resist the temptation to “prepare” for the movie by re-reading the book (honestly, if ever there was a perfect litmus test for geekery, prepping for a film is it).
Shannon and I were both disappointed by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when it came out a couple summers ago. I had done my usual marathon geek-prep by reading all five books and watching all four movies, and I spent the duration of the film obsessing over dropped details; I left the theater upset and annoyed because of it. But this winter, after some time away from the elaborate and perfect details of Rowling’s story, I popped the Phoenix DVD in while wrapping Christmas presents, and lo!, I found that it was really pretty great! It did all sorts of visual work that I couldn’t pay attention to properly the first time I saw it, because I wasn’t open to how the film told the story and was too busy flipping my shit over how it wasn’t exactly like the book, goddammit! Well, duh.
I felt a lot better this time around with my Half-Blood Prince experience. It truly was a Pottergasm, and I can say that for me, this installment holds up well to multiple viewings (three and counting, since I cannot seem to avoid accidentally making cinema detours). I’m in pretty deep, so I don’t know how the movie would work out for someone who hadn’t read the books (anyone want to weigh in on that?), but I’m pretty happy with my new BookMovieViewing Protocol. I am definitely going to use it for the next two Potter movies, but I’ll get the chance to test it again in a few months the next installment of the Twilight films when New Moon hits theaters on November 20th. I’ll be sure to record the results of this experiment here…you know, for science.
*So, how fanatical, you ask? Allow me to illustrate:
Exhibit A: This woman has Potter-themed t-shirts and wears them under her blazers to her job at a bank. (My fave is the one that says Mischief Managed, of course)
Exhibit B: She owns the absolutely gorgeous leather-bound collector’s copy of The Tales of Beedle and the Bard,of which only 150,000 copies were printed. She also has plans to frame the illustration print for “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” which may be the best fairy tale ever written.
Exhibit C, D, E….Z: And…she is planning a Potter-themed baby shower for her sister, who is having her first baby in November. But more than that, she put quite a lot of effort into trying to convince said sister to name her son “Sirius James”… NO JOKE. (In a compromise Shannon describes as “a pussy move,” the sis settled on the deeply oblique “James” so that her kid does not get his ass beaten on the playground).
You can see why she and I are tight!