Saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the weekend and was transported by the design, performances, visual effects and the sound. But what’s with Voldemort’s nose? There were quite a few shots where the digital prosthetics work looked decidedly smudgy. I don’t usually watch for these things but this one really took me out of the experience along with the usual Hollywood heavy handed music cues. Overall though it was a fun experience that was tailored carefully to the sensibilities of young audiences. My kids responded immediately to the hideous Delores Umbridge (much as they do to some of their own teachers) and there were enough laughs in there to compensate for Harry’s angst.
Harry Potter is a mature property and, luckily, is peppered with enough great British character performances so that the world it portrays really comes alive for viewers. It just wouldn’t work with a nipped-and-tucked-Hollywood-cast, because gnarled, eccentric characters are central to Harry Potter’s world. Its gratifying to come back to the monumental characters like Hagrid, Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall as much as it is to see Harry and his friends grow up.
As a cross media property Harry Potter is a major phenomena of our times and the centrality of the books is key. Its an amazing storyworld with its own logic and characters and we can be sure that it will be mined in every media form imaginable for years to come. The filmmakers have done well to maintain the integrity of the world of the books and they are highly immersive experiences that truely transport you to another world. Characters, design and effects are a huge part but so is the investment we as audiences already bring into the cinema with this property. Its almost as if blockbusters need all the exposition done before you walk into the cinema through dispersal of the story through the physical and media world. Its surely a case of asking where does marketing leave off and story take over? And the movie is really the crescendo of the marketing campaign.
So while I enjoyed the movie there was still something ultimately unsatisfying about the experience and I think my kids felt that too. Whether this was a deliberate marketing ploy to get me to go out and buy the game I’m not sure. But my ten year old, Liam, who is reading the book, (much more vociferously after the movie) was disappointed because so much of the story was missed out in the film.
And this is the crux of what I see as some of the long term problems of the feature film form. While you get a big and immersive experience the fact remains that you just cant pack enough in to a feature film(or you cant keep the sequels coming fast enough).
Ive seen my kids devour movies on DVD and watch them over time and again and I know they would consume more if they were available (particularly from Pixar). And while the cinema experience is special they also love the much more low fidelity of multiplayer online games which engage them for hours and bring them back for new experiences time and again. Purely on an economic level its going to be harder to justify the huge Hollywood budgets of blockbuster effects films like Harry Potter in the future because there is just too much media action out there. And $40 is a lot of money to spend to take an adult and two kids out for a couple of hours. Either the entry price has to drop or the hours of entertainment value have to increase. And this might mean that were going to see a lot more Voldemorts noses in future or innovation to lower the costs of feature filmmaking.