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Kino Korner June 10, 2004
Hogwarts without the Warts
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 2
The bullies, another Wodehouse-era school story clunker, don't make much of an appearance either. When they show at all, their effect is to delay or interrupt some really important element of the very complex plot rather than to offer a threat in themselves. So Hermione punches their leader in the nose and we get on with the more grown-up business at hand.

The central trio: Harry, his comic sidekick Ron, and their so-far-platonic companion Hermione, are stretched to keep in character as puberty wreaks its havoc on the real actors as well as their characters. Hermione is now a head taller than Harry -- which makes her punching out the bully believable but only emphasizes the fact that Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, hasn't exactly had a growth spurt. He now stands about shoulder-high to his friends -- not the thing for a male lead.

It makes you wonder about Radcliffe's management team. Haven't they ever heard of human growth hormone? If anybody can afford a generous course of HGH injections, it's Radcliffe, who must be gaining on Rowling herself in the "richest fantasy nerd in Britain" competition.

The idea of growing, becoming stronger, is one of the deepest appeals of this film and any film that tries seriously to evoke the desperate glory of early adolescence. At puberty, everyone is famous. Everyone is engaged in an epic transformation. And everyone feels in their bones, which are growing bigger, stronger and longer every day, that the process will continue indefinitely. I was watching Akira with some friends--the scene where the pubescent hero becomes a city-sized monster, flattening whole neighborhoods and spreading his tendrils everywhere -- and one of them said, "Oh yeah -- it's about puberty!"

The Potter movies do a damned good job of capturing that pubescent sense of happiness as vast and continual increase of power -- of being famous, as it were, in one's own body. At that age, you try to burn down houses with a look or kill your enemies with a word, and are always surprised it doesn't work. Well, for Harry it does -- because he's lucky, because he and his friends get taken out of their rotten suburban schools and get to go to this elitny place where it's OK to be a giant.

They're in for a real surprise, though, when they get out of the Intermediate and show up as lowly first-years at Hogwart High. If puberty is all glory of becoming, high school is where you learn you're not famous to anybody -- even yourself.

One last point. I don't mean to beat a dead hobbit (I'd like to, if the hobbit in question works for the abomination named Peter Jackson, but not right now)...but it struck me about halfway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Astoria that this kiddie film did a far better job of evoking a higher, finer world than Jackson's LOTR did in nine onscreen hours and a three-film budget higher than the GDP of Poland. It's shameful to think this, let alone say it, but Hogwarts, horrible Hogwarts, is a far more enticing, absorbing and complex world in this film than Middle Earth ever is in Jackson's plodding miniseries.

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