I just finished with the orientation for the Creative Writing Department at the California State Summer School for the Arts. It's a fantastic program. Every summer on the first weekend in July, 500 students descend on the campus of the California Institute for the Arts to get their compass set by a month at the premier arts training program for high school age artists. Some of the writing students got me on the subject of Harry Potter. Naturally they want to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, and just as naturally CSSSA is a closed campus, so they're just gonna have to wait.
But we did talk about it.
Personally, I love Harry Potter. Not only because of the wonderful characters, the attention to detail, or J.K. Rowling's exquisite story structure and excellent Jane Austin impression, but because of its depth. Rowling has said that the entire seven volume story of Harry Potter is haunted by the death of her mother. She's also spoken about the way the overwhelming moments of depression surrounding her mother's illness inspired the creation of the Dementors. During the time she was writing Harry Potter, she had to manage the anguish of mer mother's passing. She couldn't give in to fear of death, because she wouldn't have had the strength to take care of her child, create her art and live her life. Fear of death isn't a fight against mortality, it's a denial of life. Having the strength to love in the face of death is the very lesson of Harry Potter, the moral of The Deathly Hallows and the lodestone of J.K. Rowling's life.
You can tell this is true because Voldemort's entire goal is to avoid death. Every murder he commits, every moment of torture, every evil act springs from the fact the he is, ultimately, a coward. And whenever Harry's being a little jerk it's because he's acting out of fear. In fact Harry's defining moment comes when he has to decide between love for his friends and fear of death. That's the reason Dumbledore's always babbling on about Harry's greatest strength being his ability to love.
All of this naturally leads to a dark story. Harry Potter is dark from the beginning, even if the darkness is hidden, and by the end darkness is pretty much all you've got. The Deathly Hallows is certainly dark, and if haven't read the books...prepare yourself. As you might imagine children's movies have always had a thread of darkness running through them. It's natural. Stories about childhood are about growing up, and growing up is all about coming to accept the realities of change and loss.
The Lawrence Hall of Science in the Berkeley Hills used to show movies every now and again. On one of these occasions my grandfather took me to see Disney's 1940 movie Fantasia. Fantasia's unlike any other major motion picture ever produced. During the 1940 Academy Awards, Walt Disney himself called the film "A mistake, but an honest mistake," but posterity has deemed Disney's "honest mistake" to be one of the most innovative and influential children's films of all time, and rightly so.
Fantasia takes eight pieces of classical music and sets them to animation. As you might imagine it's strange, funny, beautiful and, at times, particularly dark. But at the same time it sticks to its mission of bringing the depth and power of classical music to kids .
The most famous sequence is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" bit, set to an original score by composer Paul Dukas -- that's the one with all the brooms. But for my money the other sequences are far engaging. Igor Stracinsky's "Rite of Spring" -- an iconoclastic composition upon its original 1913 release -- is set to an animated retelling of the earliest days of the universe. I mean the thing uses Stravinsky's radical and innovative piece to show images that move from the genesis to single-celled organisms to strange early sea life to the death of the dinosaurs. You know, for kids. Dinosaurs doing their best to escape drought and famine, only to collapse into the dust, all saurian skin and bones, dead.
But that's nothing compared to "Night On Bald Mountain," composed by Modest Mussorgsky. In this bit a mountain comes alive as a monumental demon who conjures up a riot of maniacal devils and dark angels as they swirls around in the night sky. I remember watching this, terrified, but unable to turn away from the beautiful images or close my ears to the darkly exuberant music.
"Night on Bald Mountain" gives way to one of the most astonishing pieces of animation ever filmed. For Franz Schubert's eternally moving devotional "Ave Maria," the Disney animators fashioned one of the most audacious shots in film history. During the course of the composition the camera slowly zooms in, without any cuts, over two hundred feet of film, in the longest continuous shot in animation up to that time.
As a child I was left overwhelmed and moved by Fantasia. I can't imagine what it must have been like to grow up with Harry Potter only to see him at a moment where he must find the courage to overcome death itself, but I can only hope that the movie lives up to the gifts J.K. Rowling has given us. For myself, I can't see it. I just can't. I adore the end of Harry Potter's story so much that I want to keep it between Rowling and myself.
But that's me. If I want beauty and darkness in my kid's movies, I'll go check out early Disney all over again. And Fantasia is at the top of that list.
Oh, no. There goes Tokyo. Again.
Godzilla, the gigantic radioactive reptile that’s been trashing Japan since 1954, will be returning to the U.S. this summer in an all-new feature aptly titled "Godzilla 2000: Millennium." Sony Pictures, whose TriStar studio released the first-ever American-made Godzilla movie in 1998, snatched up the U.S. rights to the new Godzilla flick, which was released in Japan in December.
It will be the first Japanese-made Godzilla movie released theatrically in the U.S. since "Godzilla 1985." Sony has acquired five other Godzilla movies in recent years: "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" (released in Japan 1991), "Godzilla vs. Mothra" (1992), "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II" (1993), "Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla" (1994), and "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), all of which went straight-to-video.
The deal between Sony and Toho also includes North and South American TV and video rights. There was no immediate word from Sony officials as to how wide a release "Godzilla 2000: Millennium" might get. The film will be dubbed into English.
A Sony press release said the movie "recently opened to record-breaking box-office numbers in Japan," but information from Japanese box-office trackers indicate otherwise. After three weeks in release, the picture had earned just $1.9 million, which is low even by Japanese standards, and after four weeks it was bumped out of the Top 10, far behind the holiday hits at the Japan box office, like "End of Days" and "The Blair Witch Project."
Godzilla has undergone several different incarnations and timeline revisions over the course of his long movie career. At the climax of the original film, called "Gojira" in Japan, the monster was emulsified at the bottom of Tokyo Bay by a nuclear-like weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer. A second Godzilla appeared in films from 1955 to 1975, then the monster was retired for nearly 10 years due to a lull in popularity.
"Godzilla 1985" ushered in a new era of Godzilla movies. Unlike his cheeseball films from the 1970s, wherein Godzilla flew through the air and battled gigantic blobs of sludge and a robot bird with a rotating saw in its belly, the "Heisei" Godzilla movies (from 1984 to 1995) portrayed the monster as Japan’s nuclear nightmare all over again. The films were fairly popular in the monster’s homeland, and featured updated special effects (although the monster was still done with a man in a rubber costume). The 1990s Godzilla films each had a budget of about $10 million.
"Godzilla 2000: Millennium," the 23rd entry in the series, represents yet another epoch in Godzilla history. It was written as a sequel to the 1954 original, ignoring all the sequels that came in between, like "King Kong vs. Godzilla," "Destroy All Monsters" and others.
Godzilla fans are some of the most passionate sci-fi followers, similar in their enthusiasm to aficionados of "Star Trek" or "Star Wars." Many of them were put off, to say the least, by the $100-million-plus TriStar Godzilla, which was produced by the makers of "Independence Day" and featured a completely redesigned, digitally rendered high-tech Godzilla and rewrote the creature’s origin. Many fans had hoped "Godzilla 2000: Millennium" would restore the creature’s rubber glory.
But the new film has received lukewarm reviews, at best, from Americans who have seen it. Norman England, a Japan-based film reviewer, wrote that it "should also have been the antidote to the TriStar fiasco," but instead "buries itself within its own clichés. ‘G-2000’ is simply just another Godzilla film."
Even though it has thus far only been shown in Japan, quite a few Americans have already seen it, thanks to a "bootleg" videotape that apparently was recorded with a camcorder inside a Tokyo cinema.
Another fan, using the moniker "Rodanlives," posted a message yesterday on the alt.movies.monster newsgroup in hopes that "Godzilla 2000: Millennium" will only receive a limited U.S. theatrical release, because it could be damaging to Godzilla’s reputation abroad. "If it's more widespread than that, it will be THE END of Godzilla in America."
In "Godzilla 2000: Millennium," the giant saurian battles a UFO that rises from the depths of the Japan trench and morphs into a gigantic alien monster. Sony officials said that this film does not pre-empt plans for a sequel to TriStar’s American Godzilla movie.
FBI paranormal investigator Jace Randall looks into the discovery by archaeologists of reptilian humanoids who he knows well as Saurians. When the mummified remains disappear and take on human form, Jace teams up with the good Krell Saurians to thwart the evil plans of Dracon Saurians to awaken their dead queen and dominate the world.