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05 July 2004 @ 07:37 pm
Thoughts and Movies  
I had one main goal for this weekend: See Spiderman 2. As it turns out, I also happened to see the latest Harry Potter.



While watching the ending credits roll I wondered, is this less of a movie than the first one -- or is it more? I think I will have to watch it a few more times before I decide if I'm just reading more into it, or if there really is more there.

As I was watching the film, a conversation that a friend of mine and I recently had came to mind. We were commenting on how several writers that we like seem to have only had a finite number of good stories in them, and how now that they have come to the end of their good stories all their new works are disappointing. It seems that all authors eventual decline into the realms of suck. My friend said that she always worries when a new Lois McMaster Bujold book comes out that this book will be the one where it's apparent that Lois has come to the end of her good stories, and has begun the descend into suck. (Please let that never happen!)

This movie very much reminded me of Lois's works. Not so much in overall theme, and in approach. Little things here and there would bring to mind quotes and situations from various of the Vorkosigan books.

I think most of all what this movie (and the first Spiderman as well) has in common with Lois's writing is a focus on real human problems, and the process real people go through in facing their problems. The settings and the exact trappings of the problems may be different, but the heart of the matter is a human universal. Several parts of the movie had me ready to cry -- solely because the situation felt so close to parts of my life. No, I'm not a masked superhero, saving people by night and failing my schoolwork and getting fired (or at least I hope not!) by day. And yet the bottom-line problem is still the same. Meeting work deadlines. Living up to social obligations and expectations. And somehow in all of that, finding the time to be one's self, to relax, and to enjoy life. The isolation of trying to deal with all of one's own problems but finding nowhere to turn as other people are mired in their own problems (Aunt May), obsessions (Harry), and hurt (Mary Jane).

And yet -- isn't it funny? -- how many times is it in my own life that when I've hit rock bottom and it feels like everyone and everything has turned against me that the next door neighbor shows up and asks if I'd like some chocolate cake? Loved ones realize that water under the bridge is, in fact, water over the dam (or something like that), and misunderstandings with friends are, well, fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately?) not interrupted by multi-legged mad scientists.

This movie integrated so closely with the last one that it's impossible to look at one in isolation from the other. At first I thought the opening credit sequence, with its various comic-style vignettes of key scenes from the first movie was a nice way to fill the opening space. (Snarkily, I thought it was a vast improvement over the first movie, with its ponderously long, dull credits -- the worst part of the entire film, in my opinion.) And yet later, those images came back clearly as Peter recounted the death of his uncle from his perspective. The moment with the robber, with his uncle's killer, where he could have made a choice to do the right thing -- and in doing so, would, in actuality, have done the wrong thing. By not doing what was right (stopping the robber), he did what was best (becoming Spiderman).

Life's funny like that. Sometimes things go wrong in a way that allows what comes after to go so much more very right. (*cuddles hat*)

And yet, since the two movies integrated so closely, it is impossible not to also comare them.

From a cinematic standpoint... Well, this is where I really have to see the second movie again. The first one fit together like a Japanese temple, with every piece interlocking with the others so snugly that they come together to form so solid a whole that seperating out each of the pieces as an individual is impossible, not to mention unaesthetic. The second movie felt more fragemented to me. While all the pieces tied together to support each other, it didn't have the clear linearity of the first one; no sense of one piece laying a foundation for the one above it. When all are laid together they form a solid whole. But the effect is more like the walls of a Japanese castle, with jagged, rough-hewn faces presenting a solid unity, if not a graceful one.

In some ways I think the analogy is the core of the difference between the two films for me. The first movie was, if not simple, then straightforward. It was bright colors, and simple right-and-wrong decisions. Certainly not black or white -- it was by no means that simple -- but it was made of up primary colors: vibrant red, cool blue, sunny yellow. It was life in high school, where everything was defined by the structure of the class schedule, and the troubles of teenager rules. The colors in the second movie are muted, swirled, and clouded. Petter's troubles as the movie starts are the troubles that any adult faces. His missing Mary Jane's play because Spiderman was needed is no different from any parent missing their kid's school performance because they had to work late at the office. The darkness of adult life dimmed the colors in Peter's world just as surely as the fog of fatigue and responsibilty sucks the brightness and vivacity of youth from normal peoples' lives.

The use of Peter's glasses was excellent. When he became Spiderman, his vision cleared. When he denies Spiderman, things become blury, and out of focus. He needs the glasses because he has lost his way, and he no longer is clear about who he is. Once he sees who he is and is clear about what his goals are, his vision too clears, and the glasses are discarded.

I loved the image of Spiderman's costume nailed to the wall of Jameson's office like some overgrown, shed snake skin. And yet, Spiderman takes it back. He doesn't want to be shed of that skin.

The first movie was about masks. The Green Goblin. Spiderman. Hiding behind the mask. Hiding one's identity, not letting anyone know who you really are. Hiding, in many ways, from one's self. The second movie is the opposite. It's losing the masks, and stopping the hiding (even to the point of having the villain never hiding his identity.) While watching the movie I was disappointed that the mask came off, that suddenly the tension of "must hide, must not let them know" was gone. And yet, isn't that really the core of the movie? At the end of the day, Peter learns to stop hiding from himself. And by no longer hiding from his friends, he discovers that while some of them aren't tolerant of his burden, others are willing to help and share.

(This does not mean that all will be sunshine and roses. As is always true in the real world, even though things are happy for a while, troubles always await. And fundamentally, Spiderman always is the hero who is most mired in the refuse of every day life. He is the one who goes into the sewers and gets dirty -- and has trouble making his rent. When was the last time squeaky-clean Superman had that problem?)

The first movie was so completely apropros to the social/political climate at the time that it makes me believe in divine inspiration. It was shinginly perfect in its reflection of the hopes and desires of people in this "post 9-11 world". Simple and clear, bad things happen but together we can overcome it. The need for a hero, someone pure and simple who just Does The Right Thing, at whatever the cost, and no matter how little the populace thinks of them. The second movie is a mirror (albeit a somewhat murkier one, as these are murkier times) for the, well, post-post-9-11 world. What was once so simple is now bogged down in the annoying minutia of day to day life. Bills have to be paid, deadlines met. Saving the world is all well and good, but why does it have to cost so darn much, and be so inconvenient? Isn't it all supposed to be easier than this?

As an ironic coda to my thoughts, upon arriving home, I popped the CD out of the player, which always leaves the radio turned on. On the radio they had an article about the man heading up the program to reimburse families of the 911 victims. In an interesting echo, the clip describes the difficulties and complexities of administering the system. No more the clear-cut, uniting anger and grief; bickering seems more the order of the day. But the man who heads the program says that even with all the tedious quarels and problems, he still is glad he's doing the job.

I went into Spiderman 2 after hearing that it was even better than the first movie. I think, even despite all the comparisions, that it's hard to say. The first one was like a light, refreshing sorbet, crisp on the tongue, and goes down easy. The second one is more like a rich, chocolate mousse. It must be taken in small bites, lest it become overwhelming, and in doing so turn bland on the palette, and heavy in the stomach.


Must eat dinner first, then comment on Harry Potter. No more desert anaolgies until I've had solid food first!

...

And now for something less dense. At this date, I expect that there remain few in the world who care about spoilers for Prisoner of Azkaban who have not already seen the movie, or read the book. Nonetheless, for those few who do care, there shall undoubtedly be some spoilers

I'm not sure if it's because the third book is my favorite of the HP novels, if it's because not having anyone saying "that was such a great movie" didn't leave me preversely thinking "no, it wasn't", or if the third movie genuinely is the best of the three. At any rate, I liked it the best. I liked it enough that I might actually get a copy of it on DVD. Which is kind of shocking, in a way.

First off, just so y'all know my perspective, I think that both of the first two movies -- and particularly the second movie -- needed to stop focusing so much on being an exact replica of the books and focus more on being a good movie. I also did not like the first director. I've seen some of his other works, and I think he's a good director. He just wasn't a good director for Harry Potter. I think maybe he was too much of a fan, in all the wrong ways.

This is, without a doubt, the best HP installment to bring in a horror director to direct.

That said, yes, I liked this movie the best out of the three. I'm not going to say that it's necessarily a great movie, but it's an enjoyable one. Don't nominate it for an Oscar, and don't expect high art. Just enjoy it. And I suspect strongly that it would be very difficult to follow if one has not read the book first, which is probably it's greatest weakness. Many of the cuts from the novel were necessary, as they would not translate well to the big screen. But it did give an overall feeling of being very splintered in the middle part of the movie.

There are a lot of things that I should object to (and if I were more of a rabid HP fan, I'm sure I would object to.) There were a lot of pieces made up, or changed significantly from the book. But unlike the changes in the LotR series, I felt that the bits that were added or changed integrated better with the story overall, and did not push my "why did you think you can write the author's story better than they did?" button.

I did, of course, regret the lack of backstory with Lupin, the Screaming Shack and all. Though thinking about it from a strictly this-book perspective, is it all that necessary? And even carrying it out further, is it really that important?

There were a few things that I particularly liked about this movie, in contrast with the others. They got away from the Dursleys with a speed I did not think possible. The important bits were there: trying to get the permission form signed, must behave in front of Aunt Marge. And, of course, blowing her up. And then we were done. This is good.

One thing that this movie did that I don't remember in the earlier ones was that it showed normal life in the castle as normal life. I loved the scene with the boys in the dorm room eating whatever it was that made them sound like different animals. I thought it was great that the kids got out of their school robes and wore "normal" clothes from time to time. It made the world feel less forced to me. It was natural, in a way, for all that it was out of the ordinary. It wasn't that Hogwarts was more mundane. It just felt to me more like the people living in that world took all the strange things more for granted, in the same way that people in our world take it for granted that the light comes on when you flip the switch.

(As you can tell, I feel a good deal less profound about this movie than I did about Spidey 2. And I'm more tired, so this is coming out quite fragmented.)

The magical world being portrayed as "natural" contrasted nicely with the scene at the Dursleys, which was played as almost farcical. Which is the strange, bizzare world, and which the "normal" one?

Since it was pointed out to me before I saw the film, I was sensitive to all the clocks and references to time in the movie. Ironically, the first clock that we see is the cuckoo clock at the Dursley's. It seems a very appropriate way to introduce the way that time is going to be turned crazy later on in the film.

What had not been mentioned to me earlier was the use of mirrors in the film. They show up often enough, and in that kind of "there's something symbolic here" kind of way enough that I started making a note every time we saw a reflection anywhere. It underscored the moment where back-in-time-Harry saved himself from the Dementors -- a reflection that was not entirely a reflection. Harry at first thought he was seeing a reflection of the past (his father), but in reality he was seeing a reflection of himself in the future. But the past can't save you. And when you look into a mirror, what you see is yourself, no matter how much you wish to see soemthing else. (Images from a dream or a wish, perhaps?)

One thing that came through clearly in this movie was how much growing up without his parents has warped Harry, and how it is eating away at him, twisting his character. Suddenly all his stupidity in the sixth book had a solid basis in a way that it had never struck home for me before. Suddenly it connected for me why Harry would start behaving so twistedly later on, taking after his father James so very much like we see in later flashbacks. Past and future, two sides to the mirror. Maybe sometimes when you look in the mirror you do see visions.

I'm sure I have more to say about the film, but I can't remember it now. At any rate, fun film, did a nice job of not taking itself too seriously (nor too lightly.) There were things that could have been done better, there were things that could have been done worse. At the end of the day I would recomend seeing it -- but don't bring too many expectations in the door with you. They'll only get in the way, and the movie will be a lot more enjoyable without them.