Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

...and 759 pages and roughly 24 hours later, it ends.

I had a hard time putting this one down!

(be warned! spoilerish observations to follow...I will assume you have read the previous six books...)

With the seventh and final book in the "Harry Potter" saga, J.K. Rowling brings the epic saga of the Boy-Who-Lived to a rollicking close. At last, we learn (most of) the truths behind Harry's past, Voldemort's schemes, Snape's uncertain loyalties, and Dumbledore's secret plans.

For the most part, all of these plot threads play out nicely, with all of the big reveals coming at a breathless pace as the pages fly quickly by. Harry, at last fully freed from the fetters of childhood, is able to confront his nemesis on his own terms and fulfill the destiny he's long been seeking. Ron and Hermione are his constant companions in the final journey, staying one step ahead of Voldemort and his minions (including a corrupted Ministry of Magic) as they try and complete the mission Dumbledore had given them before his death--to find and destroy Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes and finally, the Dark Lord himself.

The narrative sticks with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, cut off from most of their old allies and friends. Many of our favorite characters appear only briefly, or as subjects of overheard gossip and rumor, and you can't help but feel the same isolation and abandonment that Harry and his best friends endure. Of course, this is rather the point, and it only serves to heighten the tension leading to the final showdown.

And when that showdown comes, it's BIG. I won't spoil too much here, but I will say that the visual effects supervisors are probably already goggle-eyed planning the vfx budget for the inevitable film.

The quality of Rowling's writing has been criticized in the past, but "Hallows" is some of her best. Her characters, always her strong suit, are particularly compelling. The plot moves along briskly, though there are sections of the middle that in my opinion, could have been tighter.

Overall, I found "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to be a satisfying conclusion to the saga. Rowling has certainly created a body of work that will endure. I know she'll need a nice long break, but there's certainly room for other stories set in the Wizarding World!

My buddy at The Rude Morgue gas a great review here. (and he gets a little more in depth than I do)

A few more observations--


This is your LAST CHANCE!

I was pretty satisfied with the ending of the series, and was generally glad to see that "all was well" nineteen years later. But mostly I was thinking, "What else happened in those nineteen years?!" There's so much left out. I guess there wasn't any point to prolonging the story overmuch, but I felt like it was a bit too easy of a "wrap-up."

I really liked getting to know more about Dumbledore's past. it's nice to see he was as flawed as anyone else, rather than an omniscient all-knowing busybody!

I was also glad to get Snape's redemption, even if it came with strings attached in a very expository chapter. I would have liked to have seen more clues of Snape's past (and Dumbledore's as well) sprinkled throughout the whole series. (And maybe there were, and I just didn't pick up on them!) I agree with Morgue here, I would have liked to have a scene or two where Harry and Snape interacted more.

The middle of the book, with so many scenes of our heroes on the lam, seemed to lose the heady momentum of the first third of the book-- but that is a minor quibble considering how bogged down I got in "Order of the Phoenix."

I didn't have a problem with the many deaths contained in the book, but I do wish that some of them (esp. Tonks & Lupin) had happened more on camera. It felt sort of lacking not to know what exactly happened. I did like to see Mrs. Weasly kicking Bellatrix's a--, and Kreacher leading an army of house elves against the Death Eaters!

Monday, July 23, 2007

And So it Begins....

...or, so it begins to end, at least.

I caved to temptation and dropped by a Wal-Mart in Humboldt, TN (between my wife's family farm and Memphis) and picked up my copy.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

I'm still not sure I like the title, but then, all of the titles have had a slightly corny, strained ring to them, in my opinion. Oh well, in general the books are great fun (excepting chunks of "Order").

I won't spoil anything here, but so far (about 100 pages in) I'm enjoying it.

More to come.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

more iPhone resources (and Win a Free one!)

If you're interested in the latest scoop on the new iPhone, check out The Apple Phone Show. There's a lot of good discussion going on.

Oh, and there's also a contest to win a free one.

I suggest you enter! (I did)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

大旗英雄传 Da

Random Link of the Day...
(Mainly just testing out posting youtube vids....)

"No one's gonna take me alive...."

If there's a cooler music video than Muse's Knights of Cydonia, I have yet to see it.

Post-Apocalyptic Kung-Fu Cowboys. Chrome bikini-clad maids riding through the wastes on unicorns, offering salvation in the form of ancient glowing DVDs. Robots. Horses. Laser guns. Buried Treasure. A deering-damsel in distress.

What's NOT to love?

By the way, the whole album kicks serious butt.


Businessweek has a good article discussing Apple's decision to go with AT&T and it's slower EDGE network over other potential carriers (like Verizon) and/or the faster 3G network.

Wildstrom makes good points, and it makes sense why Apple chose this route, I guess. Verizon is notorious for locking up their phones so that you only get the features they want you to (pay for). I can't see that policy working with something like the iPhone, where Jobs is used to making the tech companies dance to his tune. (And quite frankly, I wouldn't buy a partially enabled iPhone from Verizon, anyway)

Yes, the iPhone isn't perfect, and probably never will have every feature that everyone wants. But Apple has shown with its iPods that it's very good at keeping a product line alive with constant innovation and improvements. I don't see any reason to think it will be different with the iPhone.

(thanks for TEDWRD for the link!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Complete That Scene!

Apparently, some new software in development will one day let you play mashup with your (or anyone else's, really) vacation photos in a big way. I can already tell you this would incredibly useful to have from a visual fx perspective.

Of course, it makes faking photographs easier for anyone so inclined to do so--pranksters, conspiracy theorists, governments.

But as with all things, especially on the web, you shouldn't always believe what you see.

Still, God Bless the internet, eh?

(I'm goin' a little crazy on the whole blog thing today....)

Big Unanswered Question about the iPhone

The tech world's been abuzz lately with the release of the much ballyhooed iPhone. There's no doubt it's a cool little gadget, but there remain a lot of questions about whether it's truly a paradigm shift. Why no 3G? Why can't you copy/paste text with the spiffy software keyboard? Will Apple release a carrier-neutral version soon?

And most importantly -- will it blend?

Turns out it does. Okay. Maybe it's just some sour grapes. I don't have mine yet.

As Gollum says: "We wants one bad, precious."

(oh, and stay for the other videos on "Will it Blend?" It's silly fun!)

Can it really be 25 Years Since Tron??

Computerworld has a great interview with visual fx guru John Knoll, on the film "Tron" and its impact on the field of special effects (particularly CGI) over the last 25 years! Knoll is an ILM veteran, and also one of the original developers of Photoshop!

"Tron" was a very big influence for me, and even though the look of it might seem clunky or crude compared to todays virtual worlds, they all owe something to it.

I've been in visual effects for 10 years now, and I'm amazed how much its changed in just that time. The tools just keep getting better, but I can't wait for holographic/immersive-type interfaces. Imagine sculpting your 3D world with your hands?

Alas, those will probably toys be for our kids or grandkids to play with. Or maybe Ray Kurzweil is right and those days will come along sooner than we think... See, for instance, this handy gadget.

Go For Pope-a Palpatine!

Okay, maybe he can't hurl lightning bolts from his fingertips, but he certainly isn't winning any medals for tolerance and understanding with this sort of thing.

Harry the Fifth

Last night, my wife and I braved the crowds at the local AMC to catch the 12:01 am show of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." It's been awhile since we've done one of these midnight premieres, but even after the mixed reviews that the film has been getting, we were really looking forward to visiting Harry's world once again.

Note: I'm going to try and keep this relatively spoiler-free, but I assume most of you have read the fifth book by now.

What's the verdict?

I liked it. The filmmakers did a capable job of translating the book into a watchable 2 hour movie. I should point out that I wasn't real crazy about the book--it felt overlong and overwrought, and left me exhausted after I finished it. I hate to put it quite this way, as I love the world that Rowling has created, but the fifth book was something to be endured, I felt.

The film strips the events of "Order of the Phoenix" to the bare essentials, which is understandable considering the book's hefty 870 page count. In a nutshell, Voldemort's returned, the Ministry of Magic refuses to admit it, and their head-in-the-sand edicts make life very difficult for poor Harry and his friends at Hogwarts. VERY difficult.

What follows, in true Potter fashion, is the story of how the students at Hogwarts (the ones we really care about anyway) finally shed their childhood and take responsibility for their world. Abandoned by Dumbledore and the adult powers-that-be, Harry and his friends must take matters into their own hands in a world growing darker with evil and ignorance.

Indeed, this is a decidedly darker film, even more so than the much-praised "Prisoner of Azkaban." In places, it is so unremittingly grim in fact, I found myself squirming in my seat. Aside from one scene of defiant, joyous rebellion against the facist new headmaster of Hogwarts, there's little of the magical wonderment that has become such a hallmark of past Potter films. There's very little levity at all, and the film certainly could have used more of it.

For fans of the book, expect many of the complex subplots and side-matters to be mostly stripped from the film. I'm of the opinion that their absence makes this a stronger movie by keeping the focus on how Harry and his friends grow up. Michael Goldenberg's script is spare but effective, leading us through their transformation into adults.

In fact, some of the events of the film differ a little from those of the book. Again, this is mostly a good thing. I won't go into too much detail, but I will say that the final showdown in the Dept. of Mysteries is a lot clearer in the film. Indeed, the BIG SPOILER from those scenes is presented in a way that makes much more sense than merely falling through a curtain...

As always, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are charming as Harry, Hermione, and Ron. All of the regulars are in this movie, from students to teachers--even though with a shortened running time, you never get to spend as much time as you'd like with your favorites. It is amazing to consider the sheer number of top-caliber British actors who are in this film, even if they utter few to no lines!

Newcomer (to the franchise) Imelda Staunton plays a pinkly sinister Umbrage, who as a misguided authority from the Ministry of Magic makes a more effective villain in this film than He-who-must-not-be-named himself! I also must give props to Evanna Lynch, who played a sweetly loopy Luna Lovegood. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her character in the future. Helena Bonham Carter was great as mad Bellatrix LeStrange, but her part was much abbreviated in the film as compared to the book.

The visual effects of "Order" are up to par with previous films, in fact it looks like some of the same models and set extensions were used, particularly in the case of Hogwarts school. All in all, the effects were quite good. There wasn't, however, anything groundbreaking in this film like what we've seen in past outings. (The hippogriff in "Azkaban", Dobby the House Elf). The dementors have a slightly new design but I think I prefer the old one. (Perhaps I'll do a fuller write-up on the fx in a future blog.)

If you're a fan of the Harry Potter movies and books, you're going to see this one regardless. But I think in general, it's a worthy continuation of the saga, even if it isn't always the most enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Blog is Born.

Watch this space. As soon as I have something to say, I'll be sayin' it!