Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mischief Managed!

A Harry Potter movie marathon should only take 19 hours and 38 minutes, assuming you're watching all 8 films back-to-back, in their entirety (including credits), with a one-minute break between films. A timeline of your day might look something like this:

7:00 AM - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone + breakfast
9:33 AM - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
12:15 PM - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban + lunch
2:53 PM - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5:15 PM - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
7:34 PM - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince + dinner
10:08 PM - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
12:35 AM - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
2:45 AM - Collapse into a heap

You might invite a group of friends over to your apartment, extend the offer for them to stay overnight, recommend they come in costume, and provide ample food and drink to keep everyone in peak marathoning condition.

How much food and drink does it take to survive a Harry Potter movie marathon? I myself polished off a half can of Pringles, a dozen powdered mini-donuts, half a Canadian bacon pizza, a pile of regular ruffly potato chips, a big glass o' grape juice, a big glass o' Hawaiian Punch, multiple cans of Barq's, Mello Yello, and Cherry Pepsi, know what? I don't think I actually want to continue this list.

While food and drink certainly help, just as important are the people subjecting themselves to this insanity with you. Watching all eight of these films alone, or for the first time, is an ordeal, both physically and mentally. Participating in a marathon with seven other people who've seen the films, and who have both thought-provoking and riotous commentary to share, is a party.

Two weekends ago, we had a party.

The setup: Facing the television were one couch, one loveseat, a papasan chair, a recliner, and some random chair we pulled out of the back room--sufficiently comfortable seating for all. A spare DVD player was in place, should the primary one catch on fire or explode after so many hours of continuous wizarding. Nearby, still within eyeshot of the TV, the dining room table was laden with a smorgasbord of snackery. Cold beverages and snacks occupied the majority of the refrigerator, save for the space in the back with the leftover chicken that really needed to be thrown away. Our chintzy blue Christmas tree, still up after two months, found a new festive purpose with my wife's papercraft Harry Potter tree topper.

The plan: Wake up, shower (please, for the sake of your neighbor on the couch), start the first movie at 7:00 AM sharp and proceed as outlined in the timetable above. Sit down to watch the first movie with breakfast in hand, make available lunch fixin's during the credits of the appropriate movie, and order pizzas for delivery at the appointed hour. Break for the bathroom if necessary between films, and during the films, enjoy all the Harry Potter-themed goodies my wife and our guests prepared in advance--butterbeer, pumpkin pasties, pumpkin juice (pictured earlier in this post), Hagrid's rock cakes, Cockroach Clusters (both pictured below), Wizard Wands, and so forth.

The hitch: My wife, who had spent the better part of the previous week with me preparing the apartment for guests, had run out of time to make anything before the marathon began, and the guest who was planning on bringing the rest of the themed snacks had taken ill about two days before the marathon, preventing her from making and bringing as much as she'd planned.

The other hitch: 7:00 AM sharp is more like 7:15-ish for most people on a Saturday.

The other other hitch: Apparently, activities such as assembling lunch sandwiches, taking photos of people in costume, and saying goodbye to friends who can't stay for the whole event, cannot be compressed into the 1-minute disc-switching break between movies, even if we start the process during the credits.

The end result: The marathon didn't actually end until closer to 3:45 AM. My wife spent half the marathon in the kitchen with experimental recipes. We suspect she was cooking with Ron's damaged wand from Chamber of Secrets, as we ended up with a plastic measuring cup destroyed by scalding butterscotch and a lump of chocolate pudding cake batter containing splinters of what was formerly my favorite wooden spoon.

Regardless, the important part is that we did watch all eight movies.

7:12 AM - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Having recently seen Deathly Hallows - Part 2 in the theater, it was jarring to return to the first movie in the series. It wasn't the drastic age difference between the heroes of the last movie and their considerably younger counterparts--practically toddlers, really--so much as the difference in production values. By the time the series ended, the filmmakers had settled on a dark, distinctive style, but in the beginning, production values weren't too far off from a particularly nice-looking film produced specifically for TV.

"Whimsical." I think that's the word I'd use to describe it. There was a real emphasis on the colorful characters and the unusual world they lived in. Storytelling and cinematography seemed secondary, though the whole thing still held together quite well. Perhaps even more striking was how British everything felt. The later movies are not so rooted in their country of origin; the cultural peculiarities and even the accents gradually soften into an innocuous Americanized British that neither contributes nor takes away much of anything to/from the feel of the films.

I made the observation that, if this were a video game, I would be casting Wingardium Leviosa on everything. Similar to my fondness for levitation in Morrowind, my enthusiasm for inflicting flotation on others is a matter of both amusement and practicality. Confronted by a three-headed dog sitting on a trap door? Wingardium Leviosa. Attacked by a troll in the bathroom? Wingardium Leviosa. Both you and your club can hang out on the ceiling a while.

Oh, and bathrooms! We didn't realize it at the time, but J.K. Rowling apparently is fascinated by bathrooms. And socks. Or so one of my guests pointed out.

Props to the child actors, by the way. Rupert Grint was especially emotive as Ron Wonderstruck By Everything Weasley. Props also to the casting department; selecting a trio who can effectively and convincingly stay in the shoes of these characters for an entire decade is surely no easy feat. Lastly, props to the props department. Obviously.

One thing that stood out is how neither Draco Malfoy nor Severus Snape ever reached the heights of antagonism one might expect after reading the books. Up until You-Know-Who returns at the end of Book 4, Snape and Malfoy are the real villains of the series, with occasional distractions by the likes of Professor Quirrell and Tom Riddle. At least, that's the way it always appeared to me--the movies, on the other hand, downplay the Malfoy rivalry to an extent, and Snape never once looks like a bad guy (up until the end of the sixth movie) if you can separate poor people skills from villainy.

9:48 AM - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I'm not sure what happened here. I was awake, comfortable, and totally in the marathon zone...but I had enormous difficulties keeping focused. For starters, we had a disorganized start--after shouting at the other viewers a few times that we were STARTING THE MOVIE NOW TEN NINE EIGHT SEVEN SIX, I still got some baffled looks from people wandering in from the kitchen wondering about why I had started without them.

After a while I realized it wasn't just me--it was the movie itself. Whereas the first film flowed rather smoothly from one scene to the next, the second film seemed somewhat scattered, a little unsure of where it was going for a while, and what was important to show. Strange, considering I had previously believed the second movie to be superior to the first in most regards. Random spiders at the scene of the crime? ANOTHER BATHROOM? Alright, so I don't actually have a complaint against the den of Moaning Myrtle, but we started to notice the pattern here.

One of the most disappointing parts of the film--and it almost hurts to say this--was Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. Now, a decade ago, I would've told you he was my favorite part of the movie. However, following some discussions with my fellow viewers, a consensus arose that Branagh's Lockhart forced his charm on others to make them like him, while Rowling's Lockhart was so self-centered that he couldn't help but suck others in. It's the subtle difference between an arrogant teenager dragging you by the arm, and a black hole. Someone proposed Ewan McGregor as a better fit for the part, and despite the group's deep respect for Kenneth Branagh in his other endeavors, no one seemed to disagree.

What really sealed the Chamber's fate as a low point of the series was the ending, which did not strike me as anything particularly terrible until one of the guests pointed something out to us: there is NO reason for Hagrid to get that kind of applause when he returns. The man was gone for a trivial amount of time, he's ignored, disrespected, or downright hated by half the school, and thoughout the entire movie he did absolutely nothing!!! YAAAAAAY!!! STANDING OVATION FOR HAGRID!!! We were in stitches.

12:37 PM - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The third film, as well as the third book, are my favorite in the series. I always chalked it up to clever time-travel, a good balance of seriousness and good cheer, the Knight Bus, two of my favorite characters from the series--Sirius Black and Remus Lupin--and the wonderfully creepy Dementors. Upon further inspection, I began to understand that my appreciation of the film goes a bit deeper.

I enjoy a certain amount of mystery and surprise in my stories, but I also like to have a sense of direction; within fifteen minutes, the main focus of the movie is clearly in place (with some GREAT setup), and the pacing remains consistently tight throughout the rest of the film. I also enjoy a story where everything matters. From the lesson on riding a Hippogriff to the fleeting glimpse of Lupin's fear when facing the Boggart, details both great and small come full circle, which makes for a very satisfying tale.

The group seemed to agree with me: moving from director Chris Columbus to director Alfonso Cuarón for this film was the right choice.

3:03 PM - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I must have miscounted somewhere, because at the beginning of the third movie we were 22 minutes behind schedule, and now we're only behind by 10. I chalk it up to clever time-travel and good pacing.

One guest celebrated Goblet of Fire as the best in the series, as it was sufficiently mature and dark for her tastes. Given her criteria, I can understand where this film would be a favorite, but given mine...I think only the special effects put this a notch above Chamber of Secrets for me. It didn't help that this is where it was brought to my attention that Cedric Diggory was played by Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame--Diggory was totally hip until I was no longer able to separate the character from the series I'm supposed to be innately angry at despite never having read or watched any of it.

We took this opportunity to make our own butterbeer--a combination of cream soda, butterscotch syrup, and unicorn giggles--which turned out to be the single most delicious thing anyone could have hoped for that wasn't an actual stick of butter in a mug of beer. Which would be pretty terrible, actually.

Our viewing of the film started off disjointedly, and the film itself--directed by a new guy, Mike Newell--felt a bit aimless at first. After the last movie, I had started counting how long it took each film to get to the main plot. Despite the basic explanation of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, I counted 36 minutes until the story finally moved past the exposition phase--more than double the time it took Prisoner of Azkaban to get rolling.

I had difficulty putting my finger on it the first time I saw the movie, but it had always felt a little "off" to me. Part of it was the sluggish start, and part of it was the overwhelmingly darker atmosphere (both visually and figuratively), but the missing part of the equation revealed itself as Angry Dumbledore.

Pick any other movie--any other movie--and Dumbledore is consistently a man who is calm and in control in every circumstance; even when he's losing his mind drinking crummy Horcrux water in the sixth movie, he's at least prepared for it. Here, Dumbledore resolves every situation by shouting until the problem goes away. Monitor the volume and tone of the man's voice; I think you'll find that it never dips below "mildly annoyed at the person across the room."

This must've been the movie I was thinking of when I first decided I preferred Richard Harris as Dumbledore over the man who later inherited the role, Michael Gambon. Looking back, my opinion seems to have been primarily based on my initial interpretation of Dumbledore as merely a kindly old wizard, and on my general resistance to new actors in familiar roles. This time around, Gambon ultimately felt like the right fit for a successor.

The first sign of Marathon Fatigue set in at 4:55 PM: for a brief moment, I caught myself beginning to nod off.

Also...we ended up back in the bathroom again, cracking the mystery of the screaming egg.

5:55 PM - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Dinner arrived in the form of pizzas during this movie, marking the last concerted effort of the day for any kind of special food outside of the snacks already on the table and in the fridge. I was initially concerned about our ability to stay focused without another meal or major snack to boost us, but the cohesiveness of the films from here on out helped the flow of the evening significantly.

For one thing, the last four films were all directed by the same person, David Yeats. For another, the Harry Potter novels were still very much in development when the first four movies were released, and it wasn't always clear which characters and details would be important in later books.

Columbus focused on whatever would make a good tale for the kiddies; Cuarón focused on whatever would allow the movie to stand on its own as a creative work; Newell focused on whatever seemed most likely to be relevant to future sequels; Yates, however, began filming Order of the Phoenix the year before the final book was released, minimizing the amount of guesswork required in his storytelling. The direction and tone of the series were clear from here on out, so Yeats was able to focus on simply telling the rest of the tale.

Order of the Phoenix was and is my next favorite film after Prisoner of Azkaban in large part because of how much detail it manages to cram into such a short amount of time without feeling at all overwhelming. And 17 minutes to get to the main plot? Atta boy, Yeats.

One major observation I made during this film--which seems to apply to all the other films--is that, despite a huge repertoire of magic tricks up their sleeves, not a single wizard can put out fire. Almost without exception throughout the entire series, if something is on fire or surrounded by fire, the heroes are rendered helpless.

If the heroes merely followed my approach to wizarding, they'd be in much better shape. Surrounded by flames? Threatened by Dolores Umbridge? Your cousin Dudley collapsed after a run-in with Dementors and needs to be dragged home? Wingardium Leviosa.

8:15 PM - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Now that the series had settled on just one director, and now that the actors were no longer growing up so rapidly between films, the look and feel of the series was finally settling into a consistent groove. The music, however, became notably repetitive by this point--not only did many of the tunes start to sound the same, but I'm positive I heard some of the more backgroundy ones in previous films. Not a major strike against the films, but definitely a detracting factor.

I found myself having trouble focusing on this one. Actually, upon further inspection, I realized I'd been having difficulties focusing on all the even-numbered movies, and I'd been enjoying all the odd-numbered movies more. This one started off slowly, as did Chamber and Goblet, so I'm thinking it must be an inherent problem with the most plot-intensive installments in the series.

This is the film where the bathroom fad was supplemented by an alarming trend of dead birds. Between Fawkes the phoenix, Headwig later on, and the victims of the Whomping Willow, we began to wonder whether the people responsible for the films had a thing against our fine feathered friends.

During the scene at the end of the film where Harry and Dumbledore take the creepy boat across the creepy lake, I pointed out that they could have avoided the whole miserable situation of almost being pulled under and drowned by the creepy lake creatures if they had only Wingardium Leviosa'd themselves across. Sheesh. These people.

Lastly--and I don't recall whether I misheard, misread, or misspoke this--I have scribbled down in my notes the name "Horace Snugglemouth."

11:14 PM - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

After a few departures between movies, our viewing group was now reduced to half its previous size. We were still awake enough, but the "party" feel had subsided back to "straight-up marathon." It was up to the movies more than the participants to keep the momentum going.

I caught myself momentarily nodding off for the second time at 1:02 AM. Hurry up and kill Voldemort, you guys.

Without the whimsical backdrop of attending classes at Hogwarts, Deathly Hallows - Part 1 felt much closer to a traditional Hollywood movie than something specifically Harry Potter. Removed from their usual context and dressed in civilian clothes, the main actors tended to stand out more than the personalities of their characters. Daniel Radcliffe seemed to have grown out of the role of Harry Potter, while Rupert Grint had completely made Ron his own. Emma Watson still made a convincing Hermione, but Hermione herself had lost her snotty, nerdy edge over the past few movies without seeming to develop or pick up any other traits.

As if to compensate for this, Dobby--finally--left behind his roots as a pale imitation of Jar-Jar Binks and became a real character. When you can get an audience to shed a tear of legitimate sorrow over a grating little elf, you have truly accomplished something.

When you can get an audience to start counting the number of times your characters visit a bathroom, you've accomplished something altogether different. What IS it with these movies!?

1:43 AM - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

I saw both parts of this movie in the theater, and I felt a jarring disconnect--all the character development was in the first film, and all the action was in the second film. The first time around, I enjoyed the first one and found the second one to be too much, too often--not unlike Quantum of Solace.

On a second viewing, also like Quantum of Solace, the second one became more satisfying than the considerably slower first one after I had sorted out my expectations. As the second half of a whole, Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is a satisfying conclusion, but I'm still not convinced it's a necessary one. With the kind of pacing and selective scene trimming exhibited by films 3 and 5, Deathly Hallows could have been a single movie on the order of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: long, but epic enough in scope to warrant the length.

After repeatedly ignoring my peanut gallery suggestions to use Wingardium Leviosa on EVERYTHING, the heroes at last took advantage of the other spell I'd continually pushed for throughout the series: Accio, the summoning charm. The ONE time they decide to use it to find a Horcrux, it doesn't work. Fine, whatever. They then proceed to flood the vault by slogging through self-replicating trinkets that multiply when touched...and all the while, I'm thinking, "You guys could've just Wingardium Leviosa'd yourselves to the ceiling and floated over that mess." Forget these heroes; I'm rooting for Neville Longbottom next time.

At 3:54 AM, more than a full hour after we had originally planned, we shut off the television and lurched toward our respective sleeping spaces to collapse into our respective heaps.


Overall, the marathon was a great success. We not only survived, but I hopefully speak for everyone when I say we had a good time. In many ways, the marathon didn't truly start until the fifth movie--with all the drastic directorial changes, the first four films served more as a foundation for the last four movies than the first half of a series. Still, roughly ten years in the making and without a clear endpoint for most of it, this movie series came together impressively well.

When organizing this event, I billed it as "The Stupidest Thing You Will Do All Year." Twenty hours of continuous Harry Potter? Jamming eight people into a space better suited for five? Consuming unspeakable amounts of junk food and caffeine to stay focused? Well, with good company, thoughtful conversation, and frequent wisecracks, it wasn't so arduous after all--time flies when you use Wingardium Leviosa.


Anonymous said...

Other impressions from the marathon:

- Aside from Cho, Luna, the diadem, and Cedric, the houses of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff get absolutely no screen-time or recognition in the films; and even with these characters, their house affiliations are rarely mentioned.
- The Whomping Willow gets an action scene in almost every movie.
- Moaning Myrtle is a creepy, creepy perv.
- The movies deliberately make Neville seem less awesome than he is in the books, and downplay his importance to the developing plot.

- Neko-chan

Mr. E [PostApocolyptica] said...

Nathaniel and neko-chan, you've both made excellent evaluations of the Harry Potter movie franchise. I understand where you're coming from, with certain characters not being used, for want of a better word, to their full potential as in the books. The Order of Phoenix was certainly a long book (a few of my fellow classmates have complained about its length, but I quite like it), and the film was... weird. Neither the book or the film ever made me comfortable with how, erm, "wet" Harry's kiss was with Cho. Awkward.

My biggest regret is that I didn't watch the last three films. I got fed up with the teenage-girl-squeeeee-hype; it puts me off more than sport. I guess watching the last three films would complete the whole journey- but I really can't be bothered. *sigh*

My compliments to Nathaniel: This is a brilliant piece of writing, and even though it wasn't about Mega Man (or even comics), I really enjoyed it. My extra compliments to neko-chan: The food looks (or is that "looked", seeing as its most likely been eaten by now) great, and homemade Butterbeer sounds like fun.

Flashman85 said...

Neko-chan: That's right! Thanks for pointing those out--I knew I'd missed something.

Mr. E: Thank you (and thanks on neko-chan's behalf)! And the last three films are worth the watch, I'd say, if you weren't completely turned off by the style of the OotP movie.

Anonymous said...

A great blog on your movie marathon! Sadly the whole time I was screaming you can't use Wingardium Leviosa on people!!!

Flashman85 said...

Anonymous: Feh! A technicality. You can still Wingardium Leviosa their clothes. ;)