Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Harry Potter Movie Electric Kool-Aid Acid Pepsi Challenge Test

As I’ve stated it before, I’m a very liberal guy when it comes to movies.

I saw Conan and Ghost Story at the drive-in when I was very young, and, on more than one occasion, my mom took me to many films that I was probably too young to view (thanks Mom!).

Also, my family would gather round the TV like it was a fireplace, and watch original television premieres of Halloween, Exorcist and Amityville Horror way back in the early 80’s. I'll admit, I had my share of nightmares and night terrors. But, damn if I didn't want to see more and more and more of the bloody stuff.

One thing, that I've noticed is that my liberalness of film is wearing off on my two son and daughter who are now 5 and 6.

In addition to Jaws, they’ve seen a good many classics such as Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Large Marge scared the crap out of my son), Labyrinth (didn’t like the dancing birds), Jurassic Park, The Secret of NIMH, Ghostbusters (didn’t really like the Dog Creatures), Star Wars, The Wizard of OZ and other films that escape me at this moment.

In any event, since school started in August, my kids have expressed an interest in watching the Harry Potter films. After mulling it over for about four seconds, I thought, “Why the hell not?”

But I had a plan.

I would show them the first film (under my viewing supervision to answer any questions, of course),  and if there were no problems (e.g. blood curdling screaming, night terrors, crying), we would continue on to the next film and the next and the next.

Truth be told, I thought I would cut the line at film #3 (Prisoner of Azkaban). I felt that particular film signified the end of the children’s fare and transferred into more adult content. But, as you'll see below, my kids had other ideas.

That said, this experiment was far more interesting than I thought it would be, which is why I wanted to share it with you – my viewing public. Enjoy.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
My reaction: Directed by Christopher Columbus, this movie is, by far, the most children-friendly of the eight films. I saw this at the movies during a midnight showing way back in 2001. It was enjoyable. However, I fell asleep in the theater, because I got too drunk – and, well, the movie is pretty long ... and a bit slow.

Kids reaction: As soon as the movie started, the kids, in particular my daughter, asked tons of questions. “Who’s that?” “What are they doing?” “Is that Harry’s parents?” “Why is that hat talking?” “Is Snape mean?” and on, and on, and on. They were entranced by the special effects. My daughter was immediately drawn into Hermione. “She’s the smartest of the three,” she proclaimed.

Ending: Both kids were a little taken aback when Professor Quirrell removes his turban to reveal Voldemort growing on the back of his head.

Night Terror Watch: No night terrors – onto the next film.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
My reaction: Also directed by Christopher Columbus, this movie is probably my least favorite of the eight. It just didn’t wow me as much as the others did. I found the diary macguffin to be a bit boring. The petrified students and the basilisk were all ‘meh’ for me. In my opinion, with the exception of finding out the big secret of Tom Riddle, this is the least exciting of the seven books.

Kids reaction: Again, the questions started immediately “Where’s Harry?” “Why is he still living with those people?” “What’s Dobby?” “Why is Dobby all dirty?” “What happened to the guy with head on the back of his head from the last movie?” “Where’s the owl?” They enjoyed the Womping Willow and the car escapades in the beginning. I thought they would be scared of the petrified people as well as Moaning Myrtle – but they were unfazed. Truth be told, they seemed a bit unimpressed with this film as well.

Ending: My son was a little leery of the basilisk (i.e. giant dragon snake) at the end. When Harry jams the Gryffindor Sword into the snake’s head wasn’t really that shocking to them. When Harry passed out after killing the basilisk, they thought he was dead.

Night Terror Watch: No night terrors. 2-for-2. On to the next film.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
My reaction: One of the best films of the series. Loved the entire look and feel that Director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Little Princess) brought to the film. Dark overtones, sepia-skylines and the dementors are all fantastic touches that I was impressed with. Light-hearted with a dark tinge that subtly hints to the violence and dread that’s soon to come. Curious how Cuaron would have handled the rest of the series. However, I feel David Yates handled them just fine.

Kids reaction: They both had a bit of trepidation with the dementors, as well as the giant dead spider and the werewolf transformation scene. They were asking a lot of questions when Buckbeak was ‘supposedly’ executed, but were delighted to find out what really happened. They  enjoyed the time travel aspect of the film. “I want to do that,” my son screamed. (Me too, son. Me too.) They also loved the Patronus scene in the forest with the dementors and were curious as to whether or not they died. (To be honest, I'm not sure).

Ending: This is the 'lightest' ending of the entire franchise. And I say light with a certain bit of sarcasm. Rather than an ‘official’ face-off with someone or creature, Hermione uses her time turner to recreate the events and transform everything back to normal. Also, when Harry received the Firebolt in the mail at the end, both of my kids wanted one for Christmas.

Night Terror Watch: No night terrors. 3-for-3. I thought I was going to stop at this one (my wife wanted me to), but ... next!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
My reaction: It's the previous Harry Potter movies mixed with a challenging tournament, plus villains and heroes galore. Ralph Fiennes does a great job with the limited screen time he has as the reborn Lord Voldemort. Kids, fans of the book and lovers of supernatural, science fiction movies can’t go wrong with this flick. For the record, I was a little hesitant to show this to the kids due to death at the end as well as the increased violence throughout. Read on to see if I was correct in my assumption.

Kids reaction: They definitely enjoyed the Dragon contest and the underwater contest, which I myself thought was pretty damn cool as well. My daughter finally noticed a bit of love brewing between Harmione and Ron. “They like each other, a lot,” she said. “They just don’t want each other to know.” They were a bit freaked out by Mad Eye Moody’s eye, which resulted in many questions. “Did a dragon knock it out?” “Did he get in a fight with Voldemort?” (Again, I'm not sure on this either.)

Ending: A very dark and disturbing ending. The kids understood what happened to Cedric, but weren't really too happy about it  This was the first time we, the audience, also see Voldemort in his true form. “He’s evil,” my son said. “Why did he kill that guy?” my daughter asked. I think the fact that a younger boy was killed by Voldemort left them with a bit of unease. 

Night Terror Watch: No night terrors. 4-for-4. PARENTAL NOTE: I had intended to stop the series here ... and wait a couple years to watch the other four films. But, after a week or two of demands from my kids, I relented. Next!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
My reaction: If you enjoyed the previous Potter films, and Director David Yates vision, this will not disappoint. The wizard battle scenes are worth the rental alone. HOWEVER, BE FOREWARNED: I believe this is the first movie in the series that you actually have to know the backstory to completely understand what's going on.

Kids reaction: Kids somewhat enjoyed this film. I think, overall, this is a very dialogue-heavy film with the big action finale at the end. My kids definitely did not like the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher Dolores Umbridge. During detention, when Umbridge forces Harry to use the cursed quill – it cemented their detest of her. Their mood perked up a bit when the Weasley twins exited the school in style.

Ending: A dark ending. Not as disturbing as Goblet of Fire. But still dark nonetheless. Kids enjoyed the special effects and the all-out wizard battle at the Ministry of Magic. They really enjoyed the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort. And were curious about the death that happened prior. “Why did [Person] die?"“Is he in Heaven?”

Night Terror Watch: That night, my son walked into our room and woke me up. He wasn’t screaming. But he was a little shook up. He mentioned that he dreamt of a big snake. The next day, however, when I asked him about the dream he said it was a fun dream and that a big snake was in the dream but not scaring him in any way. Hmmmm? Not really a ‘night terror’ per se, but worth noting. 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
My reaction: This was, in my opinion, one of the better of the eight films. If you’re comparing movies, this one is like The Empire Strikes Back of the series. Begins dark, maintains it’s darkness throughout the film all the way to the end. In fact, I was very surprised to not see Leia, C3PO, RD-D2 and Luke (with a new robotic hand) wishing Harry Potter good luck from afar as he ventures forth with Ron and Hermione to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes.

Kids reaction: As I stated above, this is a very dark film. From the multiple deaths, to the ominous tones, sounds and creepy special effects, there is plenty of visual fodder to keep children of all ages awake for nights to come. So far, the least kid-friendly of the eight. One of the craziest parts - that I totally forgot about - was when Harry ventured with Dumbledore into the enchanted underwater lair to blow up the horcrux. The infer, the creepy skeleton creatures that climbed out of the water, really got under his skin. He hid his eyes a couple times  My wife, who was in the room, gave me a very dark look from the couch as he covered his eyes in sheer terror. "Sorry," I said as I shrugged my shoulder. "I forgot about that one."

Ending: The ‘big death’ at the end really hit my daughter more so than my son, who suffered post traumatic stress disorder from the Inferi scene. She had very many questions. “Is Dumbledore in Heaven?” “Will he be back?” "Are the moving pictures Heaven?" “What’s going to happen with Harry and Hermione?” "Are they going to die?" I guess she wasn’t really too worried about Ron.

Night Terror Watch: Although I was expecting some screams and yelps from my son’s room, the house was as quiet as a church on Monday morning.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
My reaction: I thought this first installment of the final chapter in the tale of Harry Potter was one of the director’s finest. The actors. The cinematography. The action. I particularly loved the 3:00 animated short in the middle of the film. The scene where Hermione and Harry are dancing in the tent while everything around them is crumbling is also very cool. It’s just these little nuances that Yate’s added in this film that lifts you while you’re surrounded by the somberness and sadness of the film. Everything came together to make a great experience. Hell, even my wife, who is anti-Harry Potter, even acquiesced and said she was mildly entertained.

Kids reaction: Like, the Order of the Phoenix, I think they were bored. This was a very heady movie. Add to that the fast-talking actors with their British accents and you create the perfect concoction for confused kids. However, a couple parts that piqued their interest were the beginning scene with the ‘multiple Harry Potters’, the scene when Hermione, Harry and Ron infiltrate the Ministry; and the scene when Hermione and Harry’s encounter with Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. “That’s scary,” my son said. Uh-oh.

Ending: This ending was a little more ambiguous and darker than the other endings. Definitely another 'Empire Strikes Back-ending' feel that all is lost in the world – especially when Voldemort pulls the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s tomb. I don’t think the kids exactly realized what was going on here. There were many questions about Dumbledore’s death, about the wand and about why Voldemort cast the spell into the sky at the end.  "Why is he doing that?" my son asked. "I'm not too sure," I said, "Maybe announcing to the world that he's back."

Night Terror Watch: No night terrors of note. Color me impressed.  Either these kids are heavy sleepers or they have a hide like a rhino when it comes to scary movies.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
My reaction: Unlike Christopher Columbus' direction of the first two films, Director David Yates gets it. He gets the look and, most importantly, tone and feel of the Harry Potter universe. This movie serves as a great finale of the series. All of the actors take their roles seriously from Daniel Radcliffe and Helena Bonham Carter to John Hurt and Ralph Fiennes (as Voldemort). Fantastic cinematography and special effects meshed with a great storyline, pulls this film out of the three-star dumpster and tosses it into, possibly, one of the 10 best movies of 2011.

Kids reaction: They loved the scenes when the trio enters the bank, travel underground into Bellatrix’s vault--which is hexed-and, of course, face off with the old, angry dragon. (As a matter of fact, so did I). And, when Harry ‘dies’, they were really caught off-guard by the tiny, bloody Voldemort fetus at the Purgatory train station. Personally, I thought it was disgusting and thought they were going to be freaked out. But, they just glanced at each other started to laugh. "That's so weird," they both said. True, it did seem out of place. They seemed toget a kick out of Harry’s reaction.

Ending: They loved the final battle between good and evil. In fact, they couldn’t peel their eyes from the screen. My son loved the big Trolls. They were both put off a bit by Snape getting the bitten over and over again. After Voldemort is finally vanquished, the movie flash forwards a number of years ahead. I think they were entertained by the older, aged trio. It added some closure to the entire series – much like the book. Which, eventually, led to this conversation:
“Is there another one?” my daughter asked me.
"No," I said. "That's it."
"No more?"
“Well, in about 10 years, they may remake all of them over again,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“Well, because that’s what Hollywood does,” I said. “They remake movies over and over again.” 
“That’s boring,” she said. True, so true.

Night Terrors: None to be seen. Although, I should add that my daughter recently had a dream that Voldemort cut Harry Potter’s head off with a wand. This was, just a couple days ago, a month or so after we watched the films. I don’t think that counts, though.

So, there you have it. You may think I'm a bad parent. You may call children's services. You may applaud me. You may think I'm leading my kids down a path of sin. I don't really care. (Well, maybe a little).

Personally, I thought this little experiment showed that, when it comes to movies, my kids can handle a lot more than I imagined. Heck, more than this night terror freak could handle at their age.

Does that mean I'll entertain them with exclusive showings of Evil Dead 2, Fright Night, The Exorcist, Creepshow and The Descent? Why, of course not. Don't be absurd!

That's, at the very least, two years away.

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