Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Ode to a Phenomenon

This column has been a long time coming. I first got the idea for it two years ago when the tenth anniversary of the US release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was being celebrated. But I decided to hold off until the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Because I waited that long, this column is much longer than usual, so it’s going to be presented in two parts over the next two weeks…kind of like the final film.

My becoming a fan of Harry Potter wasn’t planned. In fact, I intended to do just the opposite. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I started hearing things about this book called “Harry Potter.” Not really interested in anything that was considered popular, I brushed it off and went about my life. But I couldn’t avoid this soon to be pop culture phenomenon as easily as I’d naively planned.

My love of the books and the movies (and my generation’s enthusiasm for that matter) was a weird quirk of timing. Our children won’t get what all the fuss was about– but given that their Potter experience will be completely different, I won’t expect them to.

No one after us will understand what made this whole thing happen. Yes, they may appreciate this beautiful story of friendship, loyalty, and good conquering evil, but beyond that, they won’t get it. They’ll never understand the thrill of driving to a bookstore to stand in line with at least 100 other people to wait for them to reopen at 12:01 so that you can pick up the next book. They won’t understand taking that book home and starting it before you go to bed because you can’t resist it, and then staying up all night to read it.

They won’t understand staying in your room, only coming out for basic necessities, or sitting in the band camp bathroom all night to read it because it was lights out in your room, but you weren’t ready to be done reading yet. Yes, I know someone who did this – no it wasn’t me. People will forever question what it was about these books that made an entire generation put down their gameboys and remote controls and read.

But that’s all for this week…check out next week when I explain the ‘quirk of timing’ comment and complete my ‘ode to a phenomenon.’


I was a little late to the game when it came to Harry Potter, though not as late as some. Actually, it was a fluke I even read them at all. I was on vacation and hadn’t brought enough books with me to read so I went to a bookstore. I saw them lying on the bestsellers table and decided to get the first two to see what all the fuss was about. That was in July 2001 and since then, there’s been no turning back.

I call my and our love a ‘quirk of timing,’ especially for people my own age, because it is. These books came out in such a way that Harry always seemed to be our age (a feat I realize isn’t physically possible, since Harry only aged a year in each novel and they came out more than a year apart). But that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel that way. This fact was only reinforced by the fact that Daniel Radcliffe, who portrays Harry in all the films, is only 6 months younger than I am.

But it was more than an age thing – it was a life experience coincidence too. The release of the seventh novel came on the heels of my own high school graduation. I read it as I was preparing to move on campus and start my first year here at E&H. And now, as part one of the final film is released, I’ve just registered for my final semester here. When part two is released, I will have just graduated from E&H and be on to the next stage of my life. Just like Harry was when I closed book 7 for the first time.

I, we, quite literally grew up with Harry Potter. As Harry’s adolescence concluded and he moved on to his adult life in print, I was taking my first steps into adulthood. Now, as he concludes his adventures on film, I will be entering the real world. This is an emotional film release for me because it means Harry Potter will, after 10 years in my life, truly be something of history. The book on Harry Potter and the phenomenon it created will be shut for good. And the book of my childhood and adolescence will be shutting along with it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Books to Movies: The eternal struggle

In preparation for the release of Part I of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” I have been watching a lot of Harry Potter with a lot of different people who want to see the last one but never seen or read any before it. While watching with these various groups, something interesting was said.

While watching the sixth one, I was asked about an event and I said “I don’t know, that didn’t happen in the book,” to which the person I was watching with replied, “Then why did they put it in the movie?” And I realized this was something I’d never really given it much thought. But I have an answer and it’s quite simple: You will never see a perfect book adaptation.

I am always hesitant when Hollywood gets its hand on a book I’ve come to enjoy, but that’s because 9 times out of 10, they are entirely disappointing. Why can’t Hollywood just get it right? I mean, it’s right there in print – just put it on the screen and make us all happy.

I go back to Harry Potter to illustrate my point and I apologize to those of you unfamiliar with them. In the sixth movie there is a scene where a rather important location is destroyed that doesn’t occur in the book. This was the scene that prompted the question for the column. The only reason I can figure out for this happening is that there are a lot of readings in the sixth book about the destruction going on in the wizarding world outside Hogwarts and the muggle world – but you can’t exactly read newspaper articles on film and have a stimulating experience, can you?

This is where adaptations fall short. Most novels contain some sort of internal monologue that is essential to the plot. When you must transfer this monologue to film, it has to be turned into dynamic scenes in order to be decent cinema. The same goes for important internal realizations made by characters – they just don’t transfer! And when a filmmaker tries you wind up with a cheesy tricks that make a movie bad very quickly.

It almost takes a bit of magic to make a good adaptation of a movie (please note that “good” is a relative term that here means “above decent”). It’s possible because movies like “Holes” exist. But they are rare. Just a thought the next time you watch a movie based on your favorite book. Keep it in mind.

What's Wrong with "Glee?"

In terms of message, this season of “Glee” is staying true to itself and urging its viewers to do the same. Musically, however, the show has fallen flat.

When the show began last May and continued in September, it couldn’t decide what it was, but by episode 5, it had hit its stride and the familiar phenomenon had begun. This Tuesday brought episode 5 of season 2 and I’m still unsure where I am as far as feelings on this season. For the most part, I feel its missed the mark. And the problem lies in one word: Themes.

The first 13 episodes of “Glee” had no real musical theme and when they did, it was simple and unnoticeable, like in “Ballads.” When the series returned in April, however, themes seemed to be a more prominent, well, theme. It started off with “Hello” where every song had that in the title and the week after that, “Glee” had its famous, although only slightly better than mediocre, Madonna episode, and it seemed that themes were here to stay. This season, we’ve seen no end of theme episodes since “Britney/Brittany,” which was the worst theme episode yet (an hour of Britney Spears music video remakes and no discernable storyline).

Some themes are better than others. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed last season’s “Ballads,” “Bad Reputation,” “Dream On,” “Theatricality” and “Journey” as well as this season’s “Duets,” which reminded me of the first real “theme” episode the series ever had, “Ballads.” But when the theme gets too specific, I think “Glee” loses what drew us (or at least me) in to start: how Ryan Murphy and his team were able to transcend the written word and layer on emotion through song. The music of “Glee” used to compliment the story. Now it seems the story is written to compliment the music.

So, what’s wrong with “Glee?” In a word: Themes. Hopefully they’ll get back to the show we love and drop the heavy, themey episodes and get back to the story with music. Otherwise, the show may be jumping the shark sooner than we hoped.

The Hunger Games

Post apocalyptic America is a place called ‘Panem.’ The central government in the Capital restructured the land into 13 districts, each responsible for a specific industry based on where they are and what natural resources they possess. They cannot travel outside their districts and most are poor and starving. The only wealth is in the Capital. So the districts revolted, a rebellion which the capital swiftly crushed, wiping out District 13 entirely.

Now to commemorate that, and remind the people of Panem of their might, the Capital puts on The Hunger Games once a year, in which a boy and girl from each of the 12 remaining districts are chosen in a lottery system to be put into an arena and they fight to the death over days. The last adolescent left standing is the winner. It is televised and mandatory for all to watch so that they remember the power of the Capital.

This is the backstory of Suzanne Collins’ brilliant trilogy, “The Hunger Games,” which I consider to be the best young adult series since “Harry Potter.” And that’s saying a lot. Now why am I writing about this in my TinselTalk column? There are whispers going through the entertainment industries about these books. I want to give you the opportunity to read them (or devour them as I am) and love them without understanding their appeal before Hollywood gets a hold of them, you see them plastered everywhere in pop culture and they lose their appeal to you. Like “Twilight.”

I have a love hate relationship with pop culture. I love it because I find a lot of things I enjoy reading/watching because they become popular and that’s how I hear about them, like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Harry Potter.” But there are also some things, like “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” that I began to enjoy on the cusp of them becoming full blown pop culture phenomenons. In the case of “Twilight,” I’ve been turned off by what the fans have become which has caused the entire series to lose its appeal and made me question why I liked it in the first place.

Give “The Hunger Games” a go, before Hollywood gets their hands on it. And look to it to be coming to a movie theater near you in the next few years. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was the next “Harry Potter,” like “Twilight” was supposed to be.


The trailers for the first installment of the final Harry Potter are all over the internet and Warner Brothers is billing it as the conclusion of the “Motion Picture Event of a Generation,” and to a certain extent that is true. But that statement has me thinking: What had been the greatest motion picture event of our generation?

Is it “Titanic?” 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, went to this epic from director James Cameron. It’s sweeping cinematography, fantastic cast and timeless love story have made it a favorite amongst movie-goers, but it has also become a bit of a punchline. And it’s mainly female fanbase leaves room for questioning if its female appeal ruins it greatness.

Is it “The Lord of the Rings?” Tied with “Gone With the Wind” for the most Oscar wins, its final film swept every category it was nominated in. It redefined the epic movie, broke ground with its special effects and the risk that New Line Cinema took with these films is, most likely, never to be duplicated. The success of it was almost a fluke, because well the books were popular, the cast were relatively unknown as was director Peter Jackson. But like the Fellowship, are these films too much of a “boys club” to be the greatest film of our generation?

Is it “Harry Potter?” We grew up with the books and the movies. For most people our age, it was a definer of our childhood and no one after us will understand the exhilaration associated with a new book coming out and a new movie being released. These movies have broad appeal, but with Warner Brothers proclaiming it the “event of our generation,” is it possible they’re overstepping themselves?

Is it an animated Disney Classic? “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Lion King” are just a few of the gems we saw released as children. “Beauty and the Beast” was the only animated film nominated for Best Picture under the old “5 nominee” system and remains, in my opinion, the best film Disney has ever made. Is this what we’ll be remembered for? Are these what will define us?

What do you think we’ll be remembered for? What’s the best movie of our generation? Did I list it here? Did I miss it?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 3D 'Revolution'

You go to the movies. You pay upwards of 10 or 11 bucks and that’s if you don’t buy popcorn or a drink. Then you sit down and for the next two to three hours you watch a movie with plastic glasses on your face that will give most people a headache before the movie is over.

I don’t understand the 3D movie craze. To me, it’s an excuse to make bad movies because let’s face it, you don’t have to make a good movie if it’s in 3D. The 3D is so distracting in most movies that the audience won’t be able to notice just how bad or unoriginal your movie is. Exhibit A: James Cameron’s Avatar.

In addition, making a movie to simply have it be in 3D means that you are never going to be satisfied with the home video release of that movie. Did you know that James Cameron is discontinuing Avatar on DVD and Blu-Ray just to rerelease it into theaters so it can be viewed the way he intended? That’s because in order for Avatar to be something close to good cinema, it has to be in 3D! And no matter what the companies that make TVs think, no one is going to buy a TV they have to wear special eyewear (sold separately of course) to watch!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not railing against all 3D movies. The movies that are simply released in 3D because it will add something to them (Toy Story 3, the next installment of Harry Potter) I have nothing against, mostly because I know that at the end of the day, I’ll be able to watch those movies in 2D and they will still be good movies! As a matter of fact, I saw Toy Story 3 in a drive in (where it wasn’t in 3D) and thought it was one of the best movies of the summer.

But the 3Ds that are made with gimmicks (things coming at the screen just so they’ll jump out at the audience) or are made in 3D as a distraction for them being a poor movie I have something against. I just wait for the day that 3D movies go the way of HDDVDs and BetaMax. Until then, I’ll be in line to enjoy the first part of the final Harry Potter at midnight in 3D. Because I don’t doubt that 3D won’t make or break that film.

What Are You Reading?

I love to read. When I find a book that fully engrosses me in its plot and characters, I have to share it with others. This week I want to do that with the series I just finished: Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”).

These three novels have already been made into films in Sweden, the first of which is available on DVD in the US. It is a great adaptation of the novel, filled with as much suspence as the book, even if you know how it’s going to end. The next film was released limitedly earlier this year and will be on DVD in October while the third was released limitedly this summer. All three have been met with critical success and they are now being adapted in the US with Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist.

“Dragon Tattoo” is the first in the series and was quite possibly my favorite. It’s not that the other two were bad, but this one, being the first, will always be the best. Investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired by a rich old man to find out what happened to his granddaughter who disappeared 40 years ago. Blomkvist enlists the help of the mysterious Lisbeth Salander and together the two of them stumble on an answer neither of them expected to find. It’s a thrilling ride that I was unwilling to put down.

Next, “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” is yet another thrilling race. This book, set a year after “Dragon Tattoo” is focused on a new journalist at Blomkvist’s magazine working on a story about human trafficking in Sweden. When he and his girlfriend turn up dead, it is Blomkvist’s friend Salandar who is the prime suspect. However, working with her before the police can track her down, Blomkvist and Salandar discover the true culprit in a place they’d never have suspected. The end of the book will leave you wondering and wanting to immediately pick up “Hornet’s Nest.”

In the final novel, Salandar goes to trial and you finally learn of her mysterious background. It was an exhilarating conclusion that I couldn’t wait to find out the end of, while I also wanted to savor the amazing writing of Larsson since this is the last work he published. He unfortunately died after delivering these three manuscripts and didn’t live to see the books’ success.

Fair warning, the books hold nothing back in their description of the gruesome crimes that take place, so if you are sensitive to that sort of thing, these books are not for you. However, if you love dark crime novels and a good, enthralling mystery, these books are a must and the best part? Our library has them, so you don’t even have to leave campus to enjoy them! Check them out today!!!