Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Last Gleaming: Part 5

Well kids, the time has come.  Buffy Season 8, the grand experiment, is over.  I am sure that at this very moment, many other people are writing their own blogs about this exact topic, and I am eager to add my voice to the fire.

Obviously, massive spoilers for the entirety of season 8 follow.

This has been quite a long ride.  It's hard to believe how long ago this series started.  Buffy has always had a profound effect on me, and is one of the greatest influences in my life.  The comic, for all of its flaws, is no different.  It's hard to believe, but this series began when I was a freshman in high school.  In the four years that it has run, I have changed immensely.  I've experienced alienation, happiness, loss, love, and pain.  In many ways, so has Buffy.  Just like us all, she has had her rough patches.  A cynical person might say that Season 8 was ALL rough patch.   But I think it was more like an experiment.  Like all experiments, we didn't really know what the end result was going to be, and maybe what came out of it isn't at all what we were expecting.  And I'm ultimately glad that it happened.

I will be writing more on Season 8 as a whole soon, but right now I want to focus on the final issue.  This will probably be pretty freeform, as I am mostly just writing my thoughts about the issue and don't really have a thesis in mind.

This issue was brilliant.  It was penned completely by Joss, and his voice shines through, as do the voices of all the characters.  Throughout the story, I easily heard the voices of the characters in my head, a phenomenon that I have only experienced occasionally during season 8.

This issue was basically an exploration of consequences.  A lot has happened in the world since Buffy and Willow did their empowering spell.  It seems like everything is completely different.  Is it, though?

Buffy's internal monologue at the end reveals a lot about what I think the entire comic series has been all about.  It is so important, in fact, that I am going to quote it in full.

The trouble with changing the world is... you don't.  Not all at once.  You just inch it forward , a bit at a time, and watch it slip back, like the greek guy with the rock.  And you hope that when you're done, you've moved it up a little.  Changed it just enough.  You hope.  Let's go to work.
Buffy is right back where she started.  Even though she empowered so many girls, she still ended up alone.  I would suggest that she was even alone when she was commanding the entire slayer army.  No matter what she does, Buffy seems to always find herself alone.  But that doesn't mean she should stop hoping.  There is always something to fight against: something to stand up to.  It's no coincidence that BS8 ends with the same line AtS did.  Maybe we can't change the world.  But we can keep trying.  And maybe that's what matters.

As far as the rest of the issue goes, I thought it was very well done.  It seemed as though almost every major character got a moment, which was nice.  Like Buffy, I was surprised to feel sorry for Kennedy.  (Although I'm afraid I'm going to have to criticize Jeanty's artwork.  The scene was really killed because it took me so long to realize that that was Kennedy.)

Willow's pain is interesting, and a lot more nuanced than I was expecting.  It's almost like Joss read my mind, because Buffy seems to be of the same opinion I was: that Willow is just upset because she is a magic junkie. Willow's speech makes it evident that it's a lot more interesting than that.

The world is less.  It doesn't even know it yet, but it's lost its heart.

Willow cares about something a lot more transcendent and interesting than just the fact that she doesn't get to play with magic anymore.  While I still kind of fail to care about Saga Vasuki, not really knowing the character, I am sympathetic toward's Willow's story here.  I'm looking forward to reading more about her in Season 9.

Xander and Dawn seem to be the only people to get a truly happy ending, and I'm surprisingly happy with it.  If you had told me four years ago that they would get together, I would have probably reacted with some level of vomiting.  But, while it is still a bit strange, I also really do enjoy them together.  They have great chemistry.

Angel doesn't get a whole lot of time here, but I'm okay with that because what we did get from him was great.  His flashback line kind of broke my heart.

Buffy... what happened?  Did we win?
Poor guy.  Always getting manipulated by something.  Not that he is absolved of responsibility.  The actions of Twilight are just as much his fault as the universe's, I think, but I still can't help but feel bad for the guy.  While Angel being manipulated by higher powers isn't actually a new idea, and I wish that for once he could just be a free agent, I will be alright with it if this means they take his character to new and interesting places.

One of my favorite scenes in the issue was the conversation between Buffy and Faith.  The panel when Buffy hears that Giles left Faith everything was especially terrific.  Of course Giles left Faith everything.  She needed it more.  But Giles did leave Buffy one thing: the Vampyr book, a symbol that she is still the slayer and still a hero; something she accepts at the end of the issue.  I also really like that Faith will be helping Angel deal with what he's done.  A nice inversion of their previous relationship.

The Spike/Buffy scene was nice.  I really felt all of their history together in those panels, but it was also clear that their relationship is now something new.  As always, Spike stands up for Buffy and reminds her that sometimes being the hero involves making hard calls and that she is no less for it.

All in all, I really enjoyed the issue.  Of course, if the rest of the season had been this good, I would be very happy, but as it is, this was a closer to a troubled season.  I will probably be doing a full season retrospective sometime soon.  For now, I will only say that I am excited for Season 9.

Closing thoughts:

  • I love that Buffy is wearing Eeyore pajamas.
  • Again, that panel with Buffy crying is TERRIFIC.
  • I also enjoy the panel of Angel looking very catatonic.
  • Dawn making fake sex noises to freak Buffy out was absolutely hilarious.
  • "Feels like home."  Very arc-words.  Considering Buffy started the season just wanting to go home.
  • Those poor Non-Slayers at the end.  Thinking they could take on Buffy.
  • I love the two references to Harmony being on Dancing With The Stars.
  • I love that it ends on the classic "Buffy saving girl from vampire."  No matter what happens or how down she gets, Buffy is always the hero.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

I saw this film at midnight when it was released (because I am a nerd), but only got to see it again last night.

When I was younger, I judged the Harry Potter films by how well they matched the plot of the book and would get very angry when they changed the story.  Now that I am older, I understand better the limitations presented by the film medium and feel like I was probably too harsh on the earlier films.  It is not as important to capture the plot (although I still feel that the inexcusable removal of any explanation of the origin of the Marauder's Map in the Prisoner of Azkaban film makes it into one of the most contrived and non-sequitur things ever as opposed to an object that is beautifully integrated thematically and dramatically as it is in the book) as much as it is important to capture the spirit of the original.

In this, I feel that Deathly Hallows part 1 ultimately succeeds.  Many things are different from the novel and there are even a few things that don't make any sense without an understanding of the story, but the spirit of Deathly Hallows is ever-present, clearly evident throughout the film, even when it stumbles in the plot.

The first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is about a lot of things.  The idea that you can trust someone with all your heart only to be disappointed in them later, hopelessness, death, war, and friendship.  These ideas are all rich and plentiful topics and the movie does an excellent job of examining them.

Specifically, the idea of friendship is probably the most powerful theme in the film.  Every other movie in this series has begun with Harry.  This time, though, we switch back and forth between Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  Harry is watching the Dursleys packing up and leaving, Hermione is wiping her parents memories, and Ron is simply looking out over the area around his house, clearly deep in thought about the horrors he knows is coming.  It is clear that this is just as much Hermione and Ron's story as it is Harry's.  Throughout the rest of the film, much emphasis is placed on the relationship between these three.  Many little scenes do a lot to establish the trio as having a very clear and believable friendship:  Ron and Harry's complete trust of Hermione's skill is evident during the escape from the Burrow.  Ron's romantic feelings toward Hermione are beautifully portrayed in many places (one particularly great moment comes when she is showing him how to play the piano and he simply stares at her).  Hermione's feelings toward Ron are also made very evident by how distraught she is when he has left, and her anger at him when he returns.  Harry's platonic love of Hermione is made very clear when he tries to cheer her up by dancing with her in one of the best scenes in the movie.  Ron's jealousy of Harry comes through several times when he sees him and Hermione together and culminates in the destruction of the locket.  These interactions between the three leads are all extremely believable and feel very real.  Their friendship is the heart of the story and it was very wise of the filmmakers to make it the heart of the movie as well.

Another thing the movie does very well is create a sense of darkness from the very beginning.  Half-Blood Prince very much set up a sense of foreboding, which is followed through in this film.  The film starts off dark and stays that way for pretty much the entire time.  The first ten minutes of the film establish the mood very well, but it would have lost its power if there hadn't been any follow through.  But the follow through is near immediate.  As soon as Harry and Hagrid break the clouds leaving Privet Drive, all hell breaks loose.  This scene was intense in the book as well, but I think that this is something that can be done better in film than it can in prose.  The chaos of the scene was almost overwhelming and there was no doubt in my mind that everyone was in real and terrible danger.  This feeling of danger that is excellently created in this scene never lets up through the rest of the movie.  Any time something breaks the tension: a joke for example, it is quickly counteracted by some new horrible development.  When George makes his "I'm holy" joke, we barely get time to laugh before we learn that Mad-Eye is dead.

This was also easily the most moving Potter film to date.  I cried twice during this movie.  (I wish I could say that I don't cry easily at movies, but... I do.  In the past month I have cried while watching Toy Story 3, UP, and an episode of Bones.  Shut up.)  Several scenes were especially moving:  Hermione wiping her parent's memories, Harry visiting his parent's graves, and Dobby's death in particular was very affecting.  That entire scene was especially well written and well acted by everyone involved.  I especially loved Harry's "Help me." to Hermione that perfectly summed up everything that he was feeling in that instant and was extremely heart breaking.

Of course, the film was not perfect.  I would say that the plot was definitely the weakest element, with many plot points being ill defined or even bewilderingly absent to those who would not be familiar with the book.  I am sure that the taboo on Voldemort's name must have been explained in a deleted scene, because Harry definitely uses You-Know-Who as opposed to Voldemort without explanation.  The silver doe also seemed very weird and out of place.  Of course, it wouldn't be explained until part 2 anyway, but the fact that Harry and Ron seem to forget all about it implies that we aren't supposed to care when it is actually a very critical point.  Finally, the most bewildering aspect of the movie:  the mirror shard.  No explanation whatsoever is given for Harry having it and it seems so beautifully out of nowhere that you kind of have to laugh.  It was confusing in the book too because we didn't know where the other half was, but at least we knew why Harry had it.

All in all though, I would say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was very successful telling of the story of the novel and the best Potter movie to date.  I am eagerly awaiting the second half.

Final Thoughts:

  • It is really amazing how well they built up Dobby's character.  Considering he was only in one other movie and was fairly annoying in it, this is a grand achievement.  Over the course of only a few scenes, they made Dobby so lovable and entertaining that his death was extremely moving when it could have been a "who the hell cares" moment.  Of course, in order to get that we had to lose out on a lot of Kreacher development, but I think it was an acceptable sacrifice considering.
  • Bringing Hagrid and Harry down to the muggle street during the flight from Number 4 was inspired.  It was visually interesting, chaotic, scary, and different than the status quo: everything that sequence needed to be.  Voldemort destroying the power lines in anger was also powerful and terrifying.
  • This note applies to the book as well, but I'd like to point it out here.  It is great that Harry is not in control of the flying motorcycle at all.  It puts him in such a helpless position, especially compared to if he had been on a broom where he would have felt some sense of comfort and control in the midst of all the chaos.
  • Alan Rickman is a fantastic actor.  Few other actors could say so much without moving a muscle.
  • Also Luna.  "Harry doesn't really want to talk to us.  He's just too polite to say so."  Fantastic and perfect line.  I kind of have a huge crush on her.
  • When the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out, I was annoyed that they didn't have the voices change with Polyjuice potion.  Now, many years later, I understand why.  Can you imagine how confusing it would have been with The Seven Potters and The Ministry of Magic otherwise?  And Rupert Grint's reading of the lines when he was Cattermole were absolutely brilliant.
  • Also, shout out to the three actors that played Reg, Runcorn, and Mafalda.  They were amazing.
  • The animation for the tale of the three brothers was MIND-BLOWING.  It was so terrific.  Probably my favorite part of the movie.
  • The only thing I wish they'd hit on a bit more was Harry's losing faith in Dumbledore.  They did hit on it a bit, but I think it deserved a bit more time.  Maybe in the next part.
  • I love how many scenes in this film had no or little dialogue.  I feel like filmmakers these days rely on dialogue a bit too much to tell a story and I am always happy when I see so much being conveyed visually.  In particular, the scene with Hermione wiping her parent's memory, Ron becoming angry/jealous toward Harry and Hermione, and Harry dancing with Hermione were all beautifully and almost silently done.
  • Finally, a shout out to my main man Dobby.  Poor little guy.  At least he died free and with friends.  RIP Dobby.