This Generation's Wizard of Oz,
If You Think CGI Possesses the Same Magic as Songs Like "Over
I've never lifted the cover of a J.K. Rowling adventure,
so I must admit being left out of the "Oh boy, here it
comes!" moments of the rest of the English-reading world
during the two-and-a-half hours of Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone. I wish to comment on some reviewers'
(Read: Roger Ebert's) insistence that this is the Wizard
of Oz or Star Wars of Generation Y. And not the
simpleton's argument that computer graphics dazzle rather
than engage the audiencethough it's true that the dusty,
Mummy-esque villain of this movie is cotton candy compared
to Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch. The movie seems to think
its magic potion is source loyalty in its imagination of the
spectacular ghouls and supernatural tricks, but the true elixir
is that of a child hero who comes of age by trials of fire,
flying, and all the other ordeals of growing up.
The difference between The Wizard of Oz and Harry
Potter can be read in the faces of their respective neophytes.
Harry is swept through trials as if riding a conveyor belt
through a haunted house, gawking at all the extraordinary
things going on around him. Harry gets pushed through situations
and stunts, but he's never really engaged in them. And without
the struggle of the trials, without our hero ever really being
put at stake, we feel nothing earned in the final triumph.
And not to disparage Daniel Radcliff, for he is just following
orders, but his only cued is to spread his eyelids when his
cousin makes a mess of things or a terrible three-headed dog
roars at him. Just think back to Judy Garland's motherly rage
when Mrs.Gulch threatens Toto. Think of her knee-jerk scolding
of the Wizard when he chastises the Cowardly Lion. Think of
the virtuoso yearning in her performance of "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow." The only virtuoso performance in Harry
Potter is of the computer engineers who create some admittedly
ravishing sets. But if you think that the brilliance of the
film is the stunts themselves, then Tomb Raider, The
Mummy Returns, and Harry Potter should fair equally
on your movie scorecard.
I'm fully aware that The Wizard of Oz was a big-budget
spectacle of its time, but that alone doesn't acquit Harry
Potter. Harry's experience does not become ours because
we make no emotional investment; Judy Garland pierces through
all the bedazzling ornamentation to give us a stake in her
performance. We empathize with the full range of emotions
involved in Coming of Age (The joy of approaching the Emerald
City; the despair of being denied her wish to go home; her
coaching of the heroic team as they approach the castle.)
Dorothy has undercurrents of anger befitting her orphan upbringing,
and part of her maturity is her learned control. Despite Harry's
supposedly Dickensian past, he seems to deal with every test
with the same relaxed aplomb. There's no anger to channel
and control, like Luke lashing into Darth Vader in The
Return of the Jedi, then stopping right at the precipice.
Emotionally, this Harry Potter is just as inert as the popcorn-munching
masses watching him.
So perhaps Harry's experience does become the audience's.
As he gawks in awe at the wonderful happenings around him,
so do we. Unfortunately, if this is what we have in common,
then we are no longer emerging heroes, but hapless patrons
to the big-studio carnival game of spectacle. Our great hero
stories define our values, and is this what we want to make