Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bias: Comparing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows and Transformers: Dark of The Moon

The Boy Who Lived Isn't Perfect!

About a month ago, the final entry in the Michael Bay's Transformers saga was released to the world, and as expected, people completely hated it.  Obviously, after the atrocity of TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, critics especially had a reason to be skeptical whether the third chapter would be any good.  When it came out, the results were not so stellar.  Like Jonesy and I said, DARK OF THE MOON was a big disappointment of a movie, even though it got some brownie points for trying to reach a lot of higher than its predecessor.  From the get go, people were ready to pounce on this movie no matter how good it could have been.  And since I'm the one with a Decepticon tattoo, I can admit when things I like aren't that great.

Now with HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, there was the culmination of over a decade and a generation's worth of people lining up to finish up the franchise. There was a lot of emotion going into these final parts. What I found interesting was the decision of having the last book be split into two for the purpose of putting as much of the book as director David Yates could and having the final battle be the most epic thing ever.  And yet, after I left the movie, I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the overall experience.

Then  I started really thinking about DEATHLY HALLOWS, and a few of the things began to bother me, especially during the Battle of Hogwarts sequences, and I realized they were the same issues I had with TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. Yet the more I read around on the Internet, the more I saw people dismissing if not out right praising those same faults in DH while completely shitting on DOTM.  The point here is not to say necessarily that DOTM is a misunderstood movie, or that Harry Potter was worse, but more that it's interesting that the "fanboy/fangirl" aspect really clouds people's judgement.  A lot of people, who are better writers than myself, fall into this category, but I can admit when something I'm very fond of has major problems.

(Please know there are totes spoilers after the break.)

He won't just kill you, he'll murder you and wear your body as armor

Deaths in these two movies apparently aren't something to be mourned or mentioned.  With TRANSFORMERS, you had First Lieutenant Jazz get ripped in half by Megatron, and his remains tossed aside, and all the little guy got was the line, "Oh Jazz." Then, in DOTM, Ironhide (the black truck) got shot in the back multiple times, by the traitorous Sentinel Prime, and subsequently rusts alive in withering in pain as his head rolled off.  Ironhide had been there since the first movie, and yet NO ONE even mentioned his death afterwards.  The act of dying in this movie was portrayed as barbaric and almost in a pornographic way.  There were also several characters, that were prominent parts in the first two movies, that just up and disappear, including the racist Twins, the motorcycle Arcee sisters, and Jolt.  If we assumed that their disappearances were due to death, these comrades, got zero recognition or mourning in the story.  This issue was a huge problem for me in a movie where you are supposed to see the horrors of war, but with death done in such a disposable manner, the impact of war is diminished.  

It's cool we don't really need to see how he died.  

The same can be said about DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2. The issue was more apparent in the book, but we'll stick to the movie(s) itself.  In my opinion, the the way the deaths in the whole DEATHLY HALLOWS story handled was very poorly.  There were various characters that just seemed to die off like flies.  I understand the argument of the "horrors of war" in which many characters have to die.  However, when you go for quantity in this, the concept of diminishing marginal returns where each subsequent death's impact is lessened. The three biggest victims of this issue for this movie were Tonks, Lupin and Fred.  I've seen some people actually praise the fact that the deaths are not shown, and all we see was the aftermath after Voldemort gives Harry an opportunity to give himself up.  However, I have to completely disagree.  It was my belief that Fred's death could have been one of the few effective ones because he was a main character, and it had the potential to be more heart wrenching than Dobby's death.  But, to my complete dismay, it seems that director David Yates has been watching X-MEN: THE LAST STAND on repeat and thought to himself, "Brett Ratner had a good idea when he killed Cyclops off screen!" So, he decided to not only kill Tonks and Lupin, who to be fair were rather minor characters at least in terms of the movie, but then he killed Fred off screen.  He was a more beloved character, and his death was just shown to be an afterthought; a missed opportunity to show the severity of death in battle.

When death is portrayed in such a simplistic, and dare I say, casual manner, it diminishes any sort of tension that there might be in battle. The only time I felt shock and awe within either of these two movies was when Que (the old man Transformer) was executed in cold blood by Soundwave and Barricade at the final battle in DOTM.  Not much was known about this character except he invents things and is kind of weird looking, but the way he died was so cruel and painful to watch that you couldn't help but wince a bit.  In DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, there was nothing comparable to that, and I found that so disheartening.  I wasn't expecting a bloodshed or a super violent movie, but if J.K. Rowling's point of killing characters was to show the dangers of war, I wish Yates would have improved on it in the ways that Rowling failed in the source material.

Also, there was the problem of characters popping in and out of nowhere.  I hate to tie this into the books, but I have to in this instance.  The biggest issue of the Harry Potter movie franchise is the fact that it's not friendly to anyone that has not read the books.  Nevertheless, I bring this up because it created a lot issues with random characters popping in and out of the movies just for a few seconds or seemingly out of nowhere, just to be a plot device or fan wank.  (Let me just intervene and say that I have read all of the books, and while I might not remember everything, I do feel like I know enough to know when things aren't really fleshed out).

I present to you, The Talking Plot Point!

The prime example was Aberforth Dumbledore.  The history of Albus Dumbledore's past, especially that of his family, was a tragic one that added depth to the almost annoyingly wise and great character.  Unfortunately within the movie context, this was an instance where adapting the book wholesale was a flawed idea, since the amount time needed to fully tell the story couldn't be devoted to it.  All we got in DH was a mention of the biography written by Rita Skeeter, the old lady gossiping about Dumbledore, and then the bitter ramblings of Aberforth, which drove the plot nowhere, and added nothing to the resolution of the story in the movie.  The last thing the movie needed was Harry to worry about was Dumlbedore's past and family. He needed to focus on beating Voldemort.  Also, there was the wasted Carrow twins (seriously, was there a point to them even being brought up?) who did nothing on screen except get killed by the badass Professor McGonagall.  I can't imagine why the director would just introduce characters and concepts and just drop them or not develop them, especially when the whole point of splitting the movie into two parts was the take time with the little details.

Then you have the cast of pop-up supporting characters that just feel like that once again they are there to service the fans.  The biggest culprit is poor old Hagrid who after being such an important part of Harry's life in previous movies has been relegated to guest star cameo in the final installment.  And what about Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney...who was in only one scene? Why even bring her back again? Also, with Professor Flitwick, where has he been hiding the past 5 years? There seemed to be a certain attempt to bring the franchise to a closure, but without any prior set up, the cameos and the guest appearances all feel so clumsy that there was no reason for them to be there.

What was an unfortunate mishandling of side characters in the Harry Potter movies was basically to be expected from the Transformers franchise starting with REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.  In that movie there were numerous characters who would come in and out of the movie for no apparent reason at all.  And unfortunately, DARK OF THE MOON was no different.  The first noticeable additions you saw in the movie is the tiny bumbling robot, Brains, who had no introduction or back story.  You would have to read a comic series in order to be able to know his origin story.  Then there was Dino and Que who just show up and seem to be an established part of the Autobot team.  What was interesting was that half of the Autobots from the previous movie (Arcee motorcycles, the Twins, and Jolt) are completely missing for no apparent reason as stated above; we can only assume they were dead.

Seriously, where'd you come from, Italian Autobot?

Then, with the human characters, the obvious omission of Megan Fox's Mikeala should be an oversight, but it was just obvious studio politics at play.  In DOTM, the minor characters, such as Sam's boss (sigh) Bruce Brazos, who randomly showed up towards the middle of the film only to disappear with absolutely no mention after.  Also, the argument that the NASCARs, the Autobot group The Wreckers, who seemingly came out of thin air, have apparently been around Earth since the last movie, but all they have been doing was taking care of a spaceship.  Super minor details.  And the appearance of my favorite character in the movie, Laserbeak, seemed like really bad retcon with his back story stretching back to the 60's where him and Soundwave hid Decepticons and manipulated the US government out ever going back into space....and yet they just popped up in the last movie?  Again, minor details apparently to the film makers because obviously they had to make sure you got a better ass shot of  Carly in the movie instead of making sense.

I will concede that with Harry Potter the various secondary characters seem to be a misguided attempt at bringing a full close to the franchise while Transformers just seems to be clumsy writing and retconning.

I mean, I guess this is just as important as Ron & Hermoine making out

Another issue was pacing for each movie.  DOTM's final sequence SHOULD have been a very epic climactic battle with the Decepticons inexplicably invading Chicago, but there were too many problems with this sequence, including not seeing the full extent of the destruction.  However, Bay can spend time having Sam's moronic mother talk about relationships in that horrible voice of hers, but they can't show how the city was destroyed? All we were privy to were hard cuts and glimpses of random explosions throughout the city with a few scenes of Decepticon ships coming out of nowhere.  After yet another weird edit cut, there was the aftermath, and once again, the sense of destruction is only very slightly touched on. It never had the "alien invasion" feel to it. Director Michael Bay has gone on to say that he wanted this movie to feel like BLACK HAWK DOWN with aliens; however, thanks to this movie and BATTLE: LA, I've still yet to really see a movie that can pull it off.  The big problem with DOTM was it spent too much time having the rag tag group of Sam and the gang falling through a building four times and watching a group of squirrel soldiers gliding through the city.

The pacing problem with DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 was the insistence to focus completely on the main trio.  In the Battle Of Hogwarts, the castle has been completely destroyed with huge battle raging around it, and yet the extent of the damage or the severity of the situation is never fully felt because the focus is mainly on the trio. Yes, there were some cool and rapid scenes of Death Eaters, goblins, and other magical creatures causing all sorts of messes around Hogwarts, but once again, all the focus was on the heroes, and it doesn't ever feel like the epic battle that I once pictured in my head when I finished the 7th book so many years ago.  This problem, however, might stem from the source material itself.  Now those even more annoyed at me,  DH has been, around the interwebs, compared to RETURN OF THE KING.  However, The Battle of Gondor was a sprawling and awe inspiring in its scope, while still keeping up with the conflicts of our main characters, unlike DH.  So don't tell me it can't be done.

That's what was so disappointing about both DH and  DOTM was they have epic events that are completely muted by a lack focus.  Did the directors want to make it epic? Or did they want to make it personal?  Previous films have accomplished a balance between epic and personal, yet both these miss the mark.

Epic battles last only 30 seconds in DARK OF THE MOON

Now that both movies have been released, it was interesting to see exactly how divided people's views were on each movies.  For me, it came down to the main point that audiences have an emotional investment in the Harry Potter movies, so they were able to overlook and justify some, if not almost all, of the movie's issues.  This is not a bad thing at all; there are people that still justify the Star Wars prequels to themselves.  However, what I find interesting was not only seeing this behavior in fans but seemingly of better critics.  And yes, even at its worst, the Harry Potter movies were better than Transformers, but I'm not arguing that point.  What I want is for people to recognize when they are biased one way or the other and just be honest with themselves.  I feel that us cool kids here at WDYMS are pretty honest.  Hell, Jonesy wrote an article saying why would shouldn't listen to her Harry Potter review objectively because she is so enamored with the franchise. I just think that others should do the same.

So, I hope it was an enlightening and hopefully eye-opening comparison for those that praise Harry Potter while hating on Transformers, when, in reality, both movies have very similar faults.

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