11/28/10

Disappointment (again) at the movies


Well, we went to see Harry Potter 7a last night and it was exactly the sort of satisfying meal one gets on the highway: happy anticipation, tasty experience, then flashes of nausea and a bit of shame 10 miles down the road.

I am realizing that what's wrong with HP7 is what's wrong with about every "fun" movie I've gone to see in the last decade or more: too much of everything. Too much special effects, too much "action," too much sentiment in the "sub-plot," and, well, just too much--too long. One clue: I cannot remember much of the movie right after it's over. The thinking part of my brain never got a chance to engage with the movie, because it's all been visceral. Another clue: I have no idea who the characters are, what they're motivated by, why they act, their larger psychologies.

And I don't care what kind of movie or story it is: no psychology, no character; no character, no story; no story, no movie. Harry Potter is no movie.

There is no modulation, no gentle build, no sense of excitement in many scenes because it's all supposed to be exciting. But the constant stimulation, the hyper-speed, the unbelievable detail that rushes by before you can enjoy it all add up to that sick feeling I get from the sugar-salt-fat-sicle that one gets in fast food. My senses are engaged but my brain is left perplexed, reeling.

Why is this? I think it's because an experience needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. And then there needs to be some time to "glow" from the experience, to sense its aftermath. That aftermath (also an experience) enriches the just completed "main" experience and makes it what it always could be. Movies have the beginning, and then they're all middle. Then it happens again. And again.

What if Brian Eno directed these movies? Or what if they were directed by someone with restraint, poetic sensibility--someone who would impose *economy* on the way the story was being illustrated, rather than just amping things up to the level guaranteed to "get the audience off"? Wouldn't it be great to see Harry Potter done with actual artistry and taste? (Maybe that's not the best basis for artistry, but take my point if you can.) When it comes to action movies, we have nothing but movies made for the mass audience, but don't these audiences also want something besides action? I think the answer has to be "yes."

Finally, let me make a technical criticism and address the issue of "powers." What makes a movie exciting or a hero interesting are the well known limits that have to be obeyed. Spiderman is only *this* strong and no stronger; his webs do *these* things and no others; his spidey powers include a, b, and c, but no more. This is why Kill Bill was such an exciting movie: Kiddo, the heroine (if you can call her that), has a very limited range of powers, and we are constantly on edge that she will be surprised or outmatched. The result: tension, excitement, dramatic action.

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