Toy Story 4: bittersweetness, quashing uneasiness and quality maintenance (a late review)

Warning: contains spoilers!

I was genuinely disappointed when Pixar announced the fourth instalment. Like, why? The third film has given us a strongly bittersweet finish to one of the chronicles that warmly occupied my childhood. A sequel would sacrificially bulldoze the highly emotional culmination to give way for more profitable yields. It felt scummy.

But, at the same time, I would still watch the film anyway. Pixar films have a special place in my heart due to their ability of narrating profound stories of humanity in spite of the abundance of non-human characters; I haven’t watched all because I missed their releases, not because of my lack of interest. Basically, my disappointment failed to squash my fanboyish eagerness.

And the film exceeded it by hundreds of miles.

Youtube Big Joel made a video titled Pixar and the Obsolete, in which he observed how Pixar films are all about characters coming to terms with changes and dealing with their increasing irrelevance. While I am not sure if it applies to every single one (e.g. Monsters Inc and A Bug’s Life), I still can agree with the assessment to a certain extent. Overall, the films do portray characters experiencing ups and downs in their lives and realising how life is inherently unstable and there is nothing they can do about it other than confronting the instability.

In the Toy Story series, this particular theme is very prominent in the third and fourth installments.

In Toy Story 3, Andy giving away his toys is the emotional climax of the film. In the end, the characters have finally accepted that he has fully grown and they are no longer Andy’s. For them, a new child means new adventures lie ahead, which should be embraced with open arms.

And it is not just the toys. Even Andy is experiencing changes in his life as well: he is leaving home for the university. Unlike his mom, he is emotionally taking it very well (or so it seems). Even when giving the toys away to Bonnie, he seems unfazed. Well, unfazed until Woody was in the picture.

Andy was initially very reluctant to let him go. But, knowing his age and where he is heading to next, he lets him go. This goodbye reminds us that Woody has a special place in Andy’s heart… and will always do. Andy has to bid farewell to his childhood and embraces adulthood.

What I love about Toy Story 4 is how it brings the unpredictability of life even further. Not only Woody gives up his voice box which had always been an integral part of his identity, he also decides to leave his new owner Bonnie and his old friends he has known for years to live as a childless toy with Bo. For me, it was unforeseeable.

The formula of Toy Story stories has always been toys getting lost, toys getting rescued by other toys and toys going back home. While Toy Story 3 breaks it a little by having Bonnie as the new owner, the formula is more or less the same as having an owner means having a home; not to mention that, due to the story’s premise, the emotional conclusion can be seen from miles away. But, Toy Story 4 decides to ditch it altogether. It gives the impression of life’s unpredictable nature and you will never know which paths you will take.

And that’s why I am scared. I always prefer to have complete control of my life, I always want to take any paths that I want. But, it begs to differ. The paths in front of us are limited and, whether we like it or not, we have to take the new ones and bring more uncertainty to our lives; choosing the old paths means we are moving in circles and we will never move forward. Toy Story 4 is one of those works of speculative genres that successfully reminds me of the reality.

Another thing about Pixar films is they know how to make me feel things. Unlike many of their family-friendly contemporaries, they believe there is no excuse for entertainment to tell hunky-dory stories. They believe good stories must encourage their audience to confront the unpleasant emotions within themselves. Basically, I am forced to become a human being. Ew.

Due to the aforementioned theme of the uncertainty of life, Toy Story 4 is even more emotionally profound than its predecessors. The pleasing and displeasing emotions are intense in equal measure. While not everyone may agree with me, I find this film terribly bittersweet. Even after leaving the theatre, I was still an emotional wreck for many hours. I was both heartbroken and overjoyed!

I never thought I would ever say this: I am glad Pixar made the fourth installment!

Oh, and speaking about sequels…

As I said before, I was apprehensive about Pixar’s plan to continue the series. But, my apprehension has been proven to be unfounded and, because of that, I am now actually open to the possibility of more sequels.

Obviously, we should never accept sequels willy-nilly. We must have high standards about how the continuation is executed. In the case of Toy Story, I don’t mind if the story formula stays the same as long as they tweak some parts in order to prevent foreseeability from taking shape. But, the emotionality is still the most important thing.

As one can see, the increasing emotional profundity parallels the series’ progression. It would be a considerable setback if Pixar decides to diminish it in the sequels; it is akin to raising a chick all the way to adulthood and then proceeds to shoot him/her down once he/she soars high in the sky.

Actually, that’s not a really fair comparison. It is literally easy to not shoot down a bird you raised. All you have to do is to not be an asshole. Making good art works, however, is far from easy.

I am no artist. But, I know bringing about a heart-wrenching piece requires both high mastery in the craft and good understanding of human nature. Undertaking the task of upholding excellence is certainly different from a walk in the park.

I must accept that my favourite film studio is run by humans who are certainly plagued with imperfection. While I haven’t watched Cars 2, I have heard about its less-than-stellar reputation among Pixar fans. I have watched Finding Dory and I am greatly disappointed by its lack of risk-taking and similarity to its predecessor. I cannot expect them to be excellent all the time. All I can do is to hope.

I remember reading an article (I forgot from which media outlet. So, take my words with a grain of salt) about how the producers are quick to shoot down ideas with low potentiality and are quick to kick out individuals from the screenwriting process if they are deemed incapable. Pixar’s higher-ups also consist of individuals with backgrounds in filmmaking and/or animation; consequentially, the executive decision-making is always based on the understanding of the craft.

If Pixar perpetually sustains such organisational practices, it would be hard for me to not have high expectations of them.

Harry Potter and the fitting fashion

I have made an essay where I argued the film adaptation of The Half-Blood Prince boasts more artistic merit than its source material for its ability to convey the characters’ psyche and the story’s general atmosphere more effectively.

I wrote that because I am annoyed by how easy it is for people to dismiss screen adaptations. While it is true filmmakers enact unnecessary changes and omit certain crucial elements from the narratives, we also have to remember literature and films are two different formats.

The former tells stories entirely through written words (with bouts of illustrations) while the latter does so through audiovisual means. Surely, there bound to be differences in how each format unfolds the same narrative! If you expect the films to be the exact copies of the novels, then why bother adapting them in the first place?

While I have condemned the Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix for their unfaithfulness to the original stories, there is one change in every HP film which I do appreciate.

When I first watched the films, I noticed how the Hogwarts uniforms include neckties, similar to the real-life British school uniforms, albeit with robes replacing the blazers. I also noticed that while some adult characters wear clothes we associate with witches and wizards, some also adorn muggle-ish attire, albeit with pointed hats and longer coats. So, I was shocked when I finally read the books.

I was (and still am) rather disappointed by how the characters’ original costumes are very much cliches of the fantasy genre! Unlike the films, the source materials determine clear boundaries between muggle fashion and one of witches and wizards. In fact, Rowling also made recurring jokes in which wizards and witches try to emulate the ways muggle dress and, more often than not, end up with hilarious results.

For a long time, I didn’t know why the alteration was enacted. I still don’t. But, on a personal level, I am glad it happened.

As I said before, literature narrates through written words. For me (and I don’t know if this is common or not), any written descriptions of physicality never leave strong mental images in my head, unless they are accompanied by illustrations; so, when I have the mental images, I am influenced by the illustrators’ interpretations.

The copies of Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix I possess contain illustrations by Mary GrandPré (at the time, the Indonesian editions lazily used her works). Sometimes the characters are drawn with muggle clothing, sometimes they are drawn with forgettable and bland-looking robes and pointed hats. This is why even after reading the illustrated copies for countless times, I still don’t associate overtly-cliched fantasy outfits with the Harry Potter universe.

Now just imagine if the films base the costumes entirely on the source materials: the cliches would be even more pronounced for me! Visually, the film series would be just another fantasy motion pictures featuring ‘weirdly-dressed’ characters!

(Okay, admittedly, there are many other fantasy films featuring characters wearing ‘muggle’ outfits; Harry Potter is not the only low fantasy series in existence. But, I will explain later why I support the filmmakers’ decision to alter them.)

Because my mind still associate magical human beings with pointed hats and robes -especially the colourful ones-, the fact that HP characters wear muggle-ish clothing is very refreshing for me.

But, at the same times, the characters’ outfits are still not entirely muggle-ish. The style seems to be a hybrid of muggle and ‘magical’ fashion; they look realistic enough, while still looking from out of this world… literally. Oh, and the muggle-fication is very gradual.

While the film version of Philosopher’s stone does feature muggle-ish costumes, they are mostly worn by the students as their uniforms and casual dress; the adult witches and wizards wear very much stereotypical ‘magical’ outfits. Then, as the series progresses, the costumes become more and more muggle-ish; the men wear more neckties and both men and women wear more suit jackets.

The characters’ muggle-ish outfits make them more real to me. The way they dress (somewhat) remind me of how real-life humans dress, remind me of how I dress! Their fashion, in a way, makes them more relatable. Admittedly, it does sound unnecessary and shallow.

Unnecessary because the Harry Potter universe’s thematics already includes grittiness with characters often put in situations not unlike the real-life injustice and prejudice any sane individuals know persistently exist. Shallow because judging a character’s relatability should be based on his/her substance, NOT her/his look. Surely, not only grittiness is more than enough to increase the relatability, it is also a significantly more profound way to do so!

While the arguments made by imaginary people living in my head do have points, I can provide some justification which is greatly influenced by my own bias.

One thing we should acknowledge is the characters live in a world almost entirely different from ours (apart from undeniable social and political parallels); don’t forget that despite the physical coexistence of both worlds in the same universe, the magical one is virtually concealed from the muggles. Inevitably, the (somewhat) lifelike clothing does significantly increase their relatability to me.

I also notice that, as the film series progresses (spin offs included), the increasing muggle-fication of the costumes and the increasing thematic grittiness (Order of Phoenix excluded) occur synchronously. As a result, the costumes as an indicator of relatability seems neither shallow nor pointless in my eyes.

But, I also do have an issue with muggle-fication. As said before, he source materials feature wizards and witches’ inability to dress like muggles which often ends with comical results. This running gag will be more hilarious in the films than it is in the novels due to the former’s strong emphasise on the visuality. There would be more reasons to love the screen adaptations!

But, as disappointed as I am by the missed opportunity, I accept we cannot have it both ways. If we want the filmmakers to muggle-fy the outfits, we have to eliminate the running gang and vice versa. Speaking solely for myself, I will be happy either way.

I have never discussed it with my fellow potheads regarding this. After finishing the previous paragraph, I was curious enough to do some googling and, unsurprisingly, I found out I am not the only one who have noticed the alteration.

There are forums dedicated to the discussions of films’ muggle-fied fashions. A Tumblr user actually sketched how Hogwarts’s uniforms originally supposedly look like in the novels. Even Bustle made an article (if you can call it that) about how fashionable the characters look in the film! Unsurprisingly, I also found an article written by the author herself.

She mentioned about the International Statute of Secrecy which requires wizards and witches to blend in by the means of fashion, their failure to comply, whether on purpose or by sheer incompetence and how the children and teens are more up-to-date with the muggle culture than the adults are due to intermingling with their muggle peers. Nothing new and mindblowing, really. Well, except for the last paragraph.

She stated that even muggle-hating individuals can’t help themselves from wearing the more practical muggle fashion in their daily lives! Interestingly, they try to express their sense of superiority by embracing ‘a deliberately flamboyant, out-of-date or dandyish style’, a sound tactic if you are a fashion snob with surface-level priorities, of course.

There are two reasons why I find this interesting:

Reason number one: it reminds me of real life bigots who enjoy the cultures of the people they have prejudice against. There are Chinese-hating Indonesians who love Chinese cuisines and there are Mexicans-hating Americans who love Mexican cuisines. Bigots love what the ‘others’ contribute to mankind while still refusing to humanise them. I wonder if this counts as cultural appropriation.

Reason number two: it defies how I imagine the books deal with clothing. While Rowling’s essay still draws strict boundaries between muggle and ‘magical’ fashion, I always thought the novels’ characters wore the former exclusively for entering muggle territories. And, to my surprise, it does not harm the overall narrative!

At times, Rowling’s authorial intent can be a nuisance; the revelation of Dumbledore’s sexuality, for example, seems to come out of nowhere as it was never hinted and his relationship with Grindewald is a shameless queerbait. But, regarding the fashion, it seems to complement the already-established universe.

While I indeed haven’t read the first three books, I clearly remember the characters utilising magically-powered muggle inventions like cameras, cars and radio sets. Hence, the idea that even the most prejudiced wizards and witches adorn themselves with the more functional muggle fashion is still within reason despite the absence of signs.

Before encountering the essay, I was very happy with how the filmmakers’ decision to muggle-fied the costumes, was disappointed by Rowling’s inclination to utilise cliched fantasy costumes (even though I still love that one recurring joke). But now, even though I am still delighted by the muggle-fication, I appreciate how this particular authorial intent compels me to see a previously unseen layer of the HP world-building.

It feels like a puzzle piece we didn’t know was missing.

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Your Name (and the true human bonding)

Just another of my very late film ‘review’.

Warning: while I won’t give details about the plot, this essay may still be a spoiler for you.

I don’t know how I ended up watching one of Makoto Shinkai’s works. I am not an avid fan of Japanese animation; most of the ones I have watched, like Doraemon and Ninja Hattori, were unavoidable in the first place as they were staples of Indonesia’s Sunday morning broadcast.

In fact, I don’t remember how I first heard about Your Name. Maybe it was the film poster in a cinema near my house and I was intrigued by its simplistic title and visually-conveyed ethereality. Maybe I was introduced to it by The Anime Man, whom I watch solely for his sarcasm and his ways of breaking down storytelling. Either way, it lingered in my mind for some time before I decided to watch it… and I am glad I did!

Visually, it is a very pretty animation! The animators made sure that even the backdrops are being held to a high aesthetic standard. But then, this is my first Makoto Shinkai’s work; I don’t know if this is a trademark of his. The beauty, while deeply appreciated, is not unforeseeable. The poster easily gave it away.

The story’s complexity, on the other hand, was surprising to me. The fairly intricate metaphysicas is not something one expects from one of the most highest-grossing traditionally-animated films, Japanese animated films and non-Anglophone films of all time. Maybe it’s like Life of Pi all over again, where the audience was too fixated on the visuals and ignoring the subject matters altogether.

Or maybe, they are smitten by how the film conveys emotions to the point where they become personally affected themselves. At least, that’s the case with me.

Because of it, I became an emotional wreck for days; one of the other times I fell into such bad shape was the first time I watched Jacksepticeye’s A Beginner’s Guide playthrough. I have had my share of emotional arts and entertainment works and yet not even the masterly creations of the likes of Bergman and Tarkovsky trigger a surge of neurochemicals in me.

One may go to a conclusion that Makoto Shinkai is an EQ genius who experience feelings like no other! Bergman, Tarkovsky and the rest of mankind should learn from him if they want to become more emotionally-intelligent human beings!

Obviously, what I just said was stupid. He may possess a high EQ. But, I doubt his is the highest ever. One thing I am certain about is his masterfully immersive storytelling, seamlessly taking us the characters’ extramundane world. But still, that explanation feels unsatisfactory for me.

For me (and presumably some people), the answer is a lot simpler. While immersiveness is indeed a factor for the sense of intimacy, it is not the be-all and end-all. Ultimately, the characters must be relatable to you.

Your Name chronicles the lives of two teenagers living in two different places and time who switch bodies. While the relationship was initially hostile, they end up seeing each other as their other halves whom they cannot imagine live without. Their bond is so strong, they still possess a sense of inexplicable longing after losing any pertinent memories. Years later, when they finally meet face-to-face, they quickly form a bond without remembering each other’s names. That facet of the characters’ life is very relatable to me.

Unless you – a nasty person that only exist in my head – are dumb enough to take the story literally and are accusing me of living a fantasy life or you are unaware of the age we are living in, there is a (small) chance you will understand why the film is personal to me: the internet.

Since I became active on Facebook, I started to have lots deep interactions with my fellow human beings. In fact, I met my first real best friends on the site! I can interact with them for hours and hours and I will never get bored by the wonderfully genuine human connections!

To make it even more delightful, almost all of my interactions involve internet users whose homelands are distinct from mine. I can form bonds with human beings in spite of their distinct environments, in spite of the terrestrially great distances, in spite of them living in very different time zones!

Of course, the reactionaries will fiercely disagree with me. They believe social interactions inherently require corporeal presence. For them, the lack of corporeal presence instantly invalidates every single reciprocity that has occured, no matter how genuine they are. Any person who possesses an open-mind will easily recognise how retarded such mentality is.

Let’s dissect the term ‘social interaction’. ‘Social’ means anything related to ‘society’, it is derived from the Latin word ‘socius’ which means ‘allied’ (I think). ‘Interaction’ is derived from ‘inter’ and ‘action’; basically, it is an action that directly influences every party involved.

If one lives in a mostly analogue world, one could be forgiven for still retaining such mentality. Of course, that world has become the past! Our lives have been heavily influenced by digitalisation. The gravity of social media today is comparable to the gravity of sexual repression in Indonesia.

Surely, after witnessing one of the great alteration of human foundations, the long-established meanings of ‘social’, society’, ‘interaction’ and ‘friends’ have inevitably become obsolete. So, sooner or later, we have to rethink the way we decipher them. For me, it sounds more reasonable than acting like grumpy, soon-to-die dinosaurs who hate how prejudice is no longer cool.

No, I am not dismissing the importance of offline relationships. Humans (still) live in an earthly realm. I (grudgingly) acknowledge that humanity cannot exist without physical contacts. Even if we don’t care about having friends and partners, we still need to buy groceries, to study, to work. Internet hermits like me need to go offline from time to time if we want to sustain ourselves.

But, traditionalists also have to acknowledge the strengths of online interaction. The cyber space gives us the freedom to be free from intrusiveness and toxicity, eases our efforts to search for like-minded individuals and, in spite of our current circumstances, still provides us the platform to meet anyone, no matter what their upbringings are and no matter where they live! Like it or not, ‘traditional’ interactions lack any of those advantages!

Now, about the quality of relationships: how does one determine it? Well, I believe emotional mutualism (I don’t know if it’s a real term) and sincerity are crucial determinants (people-pleasers will disapprove of the latter). While they are obviously my personal touchstones, I am confident some will agree with mine. And yes, I can say my Facebook friendships fulfill the requirements!

My interaction with fellow homo sapiens is frequently laced with deceit, vanity and unyielding distaste of liberty. But, thanks to the benefits I mentioned two paragraphs ago, they occur significantly far less in my internet social circle. Based on my anecdotes (as that’s the only thing I can provide), not only online relationships can be as good as the offline ones, they have the prospect to be even better!

I believe that’s the reason why I find Your Name very personal. No, I don’t think the story is a deliberate allegory of our digitalised world. But, the tale of a human bonding that transcends space and time will surely have an impact on someone whose personal relationships are almost entirely established in the cyber world.

I can’t say anything about other people who have watched it. How many of them were emotionally affected by the watching experience? For those who were, why? If the reason had nothing to do with human bonding, I genuinely would like to know what that reason is.

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The Crimes of Grindewald… a crime against Harry Potter

I hope you can survive my cringeworthy title, dear readers.

I am sure some of you immediately disagree with me. How about the Cursed Child, some of you may ask. Well, I haven’t read the script nor have I watched the live stage performance. My thoughts about it are purely formed out of other people’s synopses. So, apart from it being an official fan fiction, I cannot say much about it.

Besides, just like its predecessor, The Crimes of Grindewald was written by Rowling herself and deserves a space in the Harry Potter canon more than the other motion pictures in the franchise… and its high status is also the reason why it is one of the most disappointing among them. Before going to that, let me tell you one of the many reasons why I love the series: its revelations.

Obviously, I am not the only one who do for that reason. But, the mysteries and foreshadowing are often overlooked by anyone outside the fandom. I love how masterly Rowling places subtle clues all over; they make really good answers to the mysteries and good tip-offs to incoming events. Every revelation feels natural; they feel both surprising and foreseeable the same time, if that makes sense.

Devoted readers will definitely re-read the books and they will notice how the clues were sneakily implanted chapters or even books prior; devoted and observant ones will easily recall the clues without the need to turn the previous pages again. The fact that we, the readers, are allowed to play detectives even after encountering the revelations gives us an intense sense of joy! Despite the series’ many flaws, it still makes a compelling reading!

And The Crimes of Grindewald does the exact opposite.

Instead of dropping hints for future episodes, it prefers to dump a fuckload of information in a relatively short time slot! The audience is being denied the excitement and has to endure something comparable to a university lecture… if a university lecture is more than two hours long and the lecturer condenses most of the important bits near the end. Basically, it is worse than a university lecture! There is no captivating mystery and foreshadowing that makes Harry Potter fun in the first place!

I don’t know why this happens. Maybe she is forced to speed up the plot, maybe she no longer has the passion to write and she now sees her job as a mere job…

Or maybe, if we bring Occam’s Razor into this, she is an inexperienced screenwriter.

Prior to the first Fantastic Beasts film, she had never written a single script for a motion picture; her resume was all prose-writing. She does not know how to audiovisually convey the Harry Potter-esque detective role-playing. So, she ends up making an avalanche of information.

Of course, she could have hired an experienced professional as a co-screenwriter. She could also have delegated the job altogether. But nooooo! Despite having let screenwriters adapting her novels into films, despite having a fan fiction included in the Harry Potter canon, she now thinks it is her turn as an inexperienced person to write the scripts solo! It just does not make any sense!

Actually, after I think about it, that flaw is the least of the film’s problems (and, because I am already too emotionally invested in the flaw I just talked about, I need to write about it). In the end, we should be concerned about its focus.

When I first heard about the series, I actually expected it to be all about Newt Scamander’s (mis)adventures. After watching the first instalment, I really didn’t mind how it involves Grindewald. There is no doubt Newt will encounter humans who impede his quests. Not to mention Grindewald is a character that Dumbledore used to associate himself with and is often mentioned in The Deathly Hallows; his appearance signals to devoted potheads that this is indeed a Harry Potter story.

And the sequel happens. Its title needs no explanation. Even before watching it, it is obvious how he’ll be the lead protagonist whom our lead protagonist must defeat.

WHY???

The series is called Fantastic Beasts, for fuck’s sake! It should be about Newt Scamander’s journey as a magizoologist, NOT a fucking action hero! If they want the main character to have such cliche characterisation, why can’t they be honest from the very beginning? Why do they have to double-cross us with that deceptive title? That’s like naming a series as Harry Potter and it turns out to be mainly about the fucking Dursleys!

I should also point out that the betrayal exposes how repetitive the franchise has become. The seven novels are already about ‘good versus evil’, which itself was already a cliche even before Philosopher’s Stone was first published! Why do they have to repeat the already-conventional theme?

The first film has been hailed by reasonable people for its main male protagonist who refuses to be stereotypically aggressive, insensitive and cocky. Such defiance of a tradition is a novelty in pop culture!

Just imagine: an entire series that tells the story of an unassuming young man discovering, protecting and learning about magical beasts, where combating fellow human beings is a mere part of the arbitrary subplots! Not only the series would be a pleasing anomaly in Hollywood, it would also be a trend-setter, altering the cultural norms for the better in which tenderness are not perceived as incompatible with masculinity and heroism.

But, nope. For whatever the reasons (to play safe, perhaps), someone decides they should continue upholding the status quo because progress is something that everyone should thrive to avoid.

If you think I am being judgmental cynic… well, can you blame me? Even if you hate or are unfamiliar with Harry Potter, you still can easily determine how Fantastic Beasts deliberately fracture its own backbone by chapter two. The flaw is just too great to ignore and, more importantly too sinful to turn a blind eye to. I deeply hate the adaptation of Order of the Phoenix and yet it is still far less insufferable than The Crimes of Grindewald.

If you pay attention, you would notice how the film perfectly symbolises this act of treachery:

In the beginning, our (supposed) hero Newt is being offered to have his international travel permit reinstated in exchange for assisting the ministry in fighting the dark side. Being a relative pacifist who seems uninterested in joining the establishment, he refuses the offer. His brother Theseus is disappointed with him, wishing he was the kind of person who is willing to take a bold moral stance. Near the end of the story, after experiencing a massive emotional toll of what he and others have just experienced, Newt decides to take the offer and finally taking a side.

In the eyes of his brother, Newt has decided to grow up and take a strong stance against evil. If you take the character development for granted, you would easily share Theseus’ perspective. But, this is Harry Potter franchise we are talking about here.

Anyone familiar with it knows how corrupt the Ministry of Magic is! I cannot talk for other potheads. But, in my eyes, Newt sells himself out to the brother he does not always get along with and the sleazy political establishment he works for, sacrificing his own ideals he had been holding on since the very beginning.

Symbolically, it exposes how a male lead character that defies long-held conventions regarding masculinity is being transformed into another stock character that pleases the cultural establishment who seems allergic to any signs of slight changes.

I am trying to be optimistic, forcing myself to believe that Rowling may have a delightful surprise for all of us. But, The Crimes of Crindewald has clearly revealed the true purpose of the series and I cannot ignore that! In the end, unless someone has a sudden change of heart, my optimism is and will always be a wishful thinking.

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How to review entertainment (and the arts)

*puts on a mask*

First thing first, be a simpleton! A good reviewer must be able to remove intricacy out of their ways of thinking. Embrace the glory of black-and-whiteness!

There are two ways to implement this superficiality: either become a snob or an uncultured swine.

In general, a snob hates entertainment. He/she thinks a good creation must be entirely artistic and meaningful. An uncultured swine is more or less the same, just replace ‘artistic’ and ‘meaningful’ with ‘entertaining’.

Let’s start how to be a snob first.

If you want to be a snob, you have to be watchful of any leisurely elements. I am speaking about traces of lightheartedness and escapism. Of course, some creators successfully meld low brow ingredients with high brow and that makes them a menace to your profound sensibility.

Visualise yourself immersing in an ostensibly artistic work. Suddenly, the thing you are profoundly appreciating makes you feel… amused… pleasured… entertained. Entertained? ENTERTAINED?!

HOLY SHIT #$@$#@$@@^@!! Drop everything you are doing and stay fucking calm!!!

Whew, you nearly cascaded into the escapist trap. After you have fully recuperated from such harrowing occurence, you have to immediately lambaste the work! Lambaste it for having the audacity to be whimisical, lambaste it for shrouding superficiality with wisdom! Flush its entire merit which it is worthy of anymore down the lavatory!

Just be heedful to not clog the pipes. You will do a lot of flushing in your lifespan.

Oh, and don’t forget to be a complacent prick. You must devote a large fragment of your time to disparage every single mortal who still can revel in entertainment! You may as well declare them guilty of egocentric detachment from the world we live in!

Whether your social awareness is whole-hearted or not, it does not matter. What matters is you seem to possess it in your heart. It is all about boasting a so-called higher moral ground!

How about being an uncultured swine? It is the opposite of a snob. Therefore, all we have to do is the complete opposite, right? Well, yes and no.

When it comes to dealing with purely artistic works, a swine must react the exact same a snob reacts to entertainment. If a creation seems boring or incomprehensible from the start, then it is artsy! Stop enjoying it immediately! Believe me, one near-depth experience is unpleasant enough, let alone hundreds of them!

After you recover from the shock, you should proceed to berate the creators and their admirers for being self-righteous, pretentious pricks! You don’t care about depth. Therefore, caring about it is a sign of deviance. Treat your personal interests as if they are the ideal criteria for ‘sanity’!

Now, what happen if the works blur the line between art and entertainment? Well, there is nothing to worry about. As the pleasure elements exist, you can only focus on them and disregard the profundity entirely. What you should be cautious of is the entertainment reviewers.

When you find ones who use their intellect, call them out! Employ the same method you use to put artists and art lovers to their places: by calling them self-righteous, pretentious pricks!

How dare they exploring the deepness that our favourite entertainment provides? How dare they resist against pure escapism? How dare they encourage us to contemplate about the world we live in? Fuck those bullshits!

Uncultured simpletons define what it means to be humans. Like it or not, they are humanity’s greatest assets! Sophistication literally kills humanity!

So, there you go! Those are the two ways to be entertainment reviewers! They all boil down to this:

Be a simpleton! Life is all about proselytising your absolute, black-and-white mentality! Life is all about establishing divisiveness among mankind!

And entertainment is the easiest way to achieve such state of being!

*takes off the mask*

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Cherishing chronicles through unwonted means

I have made an essay defending the Let’s Play format on Youtube by comparing it with sports spectatorship. I love watching Let’s Play because it is fun, the same reason why people love watching sports. But, I always find the answer unsatisfying.

While the majority of such videos are purely entertainment, it is not always so. Some Let’s Play Youtubers, including the most popular ones, are willing to play story-driven video games. Horror games like Ib and Witch’s House. Emotional ones like A Beginner’s Guide and To The Moon. Ones that are both horror and emotional like The Crooked Man.

There is something satisfying about witnessing Youtubers getting unnerved by the disturbing plots and imagery, getting frustrated by the frustrating narrative, laughing at the jokes, trying to hold back tears due to the emotional heaviness. I love seeing them getting personally affected (and deeply traumatised) by the storytelling.

Maybe that’s why I love Let’s Play videos. The storytelling.

Maybe that’s why some of my favourite Youtube channels are all about pop culture exegeses.

I am not surprised some of them are about cinema. Even though I have not watched many of those Hollywood classics (and that makes me uncultured, according to Hollywood film snobs), I have watched enough films to have a long list of cinematic favourites. Not to mention cinema studies classes were some of the best and probably most worthy features of my university life.

I did grow up with certain mangas and animes like Ninja Hattori, Detective Conan, Kobo-chan, Kariage-kun and Doraemon. But, in Indonesia, they were also staples of bookstores’ comic sections and Sunday morning broadcasting; Doraemon has become an integral part of our cultural psyche. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t know or care about their existence.

There are also animes other than the aforementioned ones that I love, like Anohana, Spirited Away and Your Name. But, I haven’t watched other works of Studio Ghibli and Makoto Shinkai. I haven’t watched enough animes and read enough mangas to make a long list of personal favourites. Even then, me subscribing to anime Youtubers is less bizarre compared to me doing so to game analyses ones.

I have played videos games on extremely rare occasions. But, so far, the only video game I have been fully immersed in is Pokemon Ruby. I have not played any games from the Earthbound, Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hills series. I have never played any of the RPG games my favourite Youtubers played.

From all game analyses Youtubers, Matpat is undoubtedly one of the most famous and also one of the most derided. Some of his so-called ‘theories’ are plagued with implausibility and infantile make-believe. But, if you pay more attention, you would notice how he plays a character in many of his videos.

The character seems to be a parody of over-zealous fans who believe in the figmental soundness of their fan ‘theories’. Admittedly, because Matpat has a very trained (and ungodly plastic) accent due to his musical theatre background, it is often difficult to distinguish him from the real person.

Here’s a tip: pay attention to his intonation and choice of words. If his voice sounds more dramatic than usual, if he acts like his theories are the most flawless, then he is in character. Heck, even in this video, he stated how he himself does not believe in every single ‘theories’ he has made!

(Come on, people! Youtubers play characters in their videos! It is not even a secret anymore! Unless your brain is less functional than one of a dead chicken, you can clearly see how they ‘possess multiple personalities’! But, what can I do? Idiots only see what idiots want to see.)

That Matpat persona actually hits close to home. I love to make my own fan theories. I love to investigate subtext and symbolism. I love making infantile make-believe! At one point, I dwelled in determining the meanings behind The Crooked Man. I discussed it with some of my friends and, because I want more data to develop my ‘theories’, I watched not one, but four different Youtubers playing the game; mind you this game feels long due to its unhurried pacing.

My friend’s criticism of my ‘theories’ didn’t bother me at all. As much as I was (and still am) pleased with them, I formulated them because it was fun! There is something gratifying about dissecting a chronicle clouded with grey and seemingly impenetrable mist. This is one reason why I am not bothered by how popular and influential Matpat is. While he is my go-to Youtuber for fan theories, I prefer another channel if I want more scholarly routes to and social commentaries related to video games.

I love Extra Credit because not only they offer handy game development advices, they also showcase us paradigms which I can safely say many gamers don’t care about. They believe the essences of gaming also includes business, aesthetics, politics, ethics and the human psyche. They believe giving those aspects equal amount of attention will enhance our appreciation of video games. I also share the same outlook regarding cinema and Youtube culture.

I hate the thinking which deems entertainment as a purely fun entity. Not only it is intellectually unsatisfactory, it is also extremely dishonest. I think the word escapism misleads us to believe entertainment belongs to a realm completely out of human reach. It does not. In case you didn’t know, entertainment is created by living human beings! It is and will always be affected by the world we live in!

Whether consciously or not, creators channel their worldviews to their creations. The most staunch ideologues among them may intentionally turn their works into propaganda; my blogs are good examples. The less committed or the more sophisticated among them will be subtle about it; only after intense scrutiny we will start to discern the subtext.

The merit of works of entertainment is also dependent on the producers; do they thrive to balance profit and quality or are they greedy capitalist pigs? There is no doubt the latter encourage us to believe wealth is worth the murder of artistic integrity. If the producers are also staunch ideologues, the creators can kiss their freedom of thought goodbye and start kissing orifices for a living!

Even in the most socially liberal countries, strict socio-cultural norms and legally-mandated censorship prevail. Granted that only the latter has lawful authority to ban, the former may have the power to socially outcast any works and creators that dare to be deviant. Conformity is God. Heresy is literally more sinful than murder!

Subconsciously, we often treat fictional characters as truthful representations of real life humans. It should not be that way. But, reality begs the differ. Therefore, mindfulness is crucial in how we shape narratives, especially when it comes to portraying marginalised groups. Ignore that and we will reinforce the presence of already-existing social illnesses!

Yes, consumers’ gullibility is also an issue here and we should tackle it as well. But, with that knowledge in their minds, it is revolting how some creators insist how dehumanising portrayal of their fellow human beings is an important part of freedom of speech. They carelessly disregard their actions’ impacts on the real world!

I don’t think censorship will benefit us in this case. But, the fact that we use freedom to validate the ugliness shows how ugly our inner selves can be. If they are revealed in physical manifestations, I am sure they would be ugly enough to make Satan cries tears of blood.

Enough with the poorly-transitioned tangents. Trust me. The content of Extra Credit is more wholesome than the self-praising paragraphs I just typed. Now, off to the next Youtuber!

Besides having fun with fan ‘theories’ and pretending to be a pop culture savant, I also love Youtubers for their personality-driven approaches to arts and entertainment. The Anime Man is one of my favourites.

The punily-named content creator exhibits traits that I also possess. First and foremost, he is a self-described sarcastic cunt who has an alter ego that satirises weeabos and anime fans whose opinions have less worth than decaying roadkills. I am also a sarcastic cunt who has made essays so satirical and mean-spirited, even I feel concerned about my own mental state.

Second, he is an outspoken nonconformist. He will candidly express objection to popular opinions, risking massive backlashes from anime zealots, some of whom may be a part of his own fan base. Even though I have yet to receive equally harsh backlashes in my personal life, I am often subjected to remarks with hints of subdued spitefulness; living in a country where honesty is regarded as a sin means one runs into genteel snakes everywhere one goes.

Third, because of the thing I just mentioned, he is often misidentified either as an anime elitist and an anime casual. Anime casuals call him an elitist for having the guts to crucify certain mainstream animes while elitists call him a casual for still loving some of them. Personally, I have been called pompous for not loving everything mainstream and unsophisticated for still loving pop culture. Too snobby for uncultured swines and too much of a swine for snobs.

Lastly, as far as I concern, he never cites scholarly sources in his analyses and has no knowledge of relevant technical concepts, solely relying on reason and limited information he has about certain works and artists. I am also one and the same concerning Youtubers, films and the entire Harry Potter franchise. As a result, our dissection feel sparse at times (even though his is more logical, more coherently conveyed and laced with funnier jokes).

But, that does not matter. None of us are interested in becoming scholars (just pretend that my conjecture about him is accurate). All we want to do is to have fun, to express our frustrations about certain creations and their creators, to indulge our childlike and playful passions for them. We do what we do because it feels personal for us.

This is why I love storytelling in general: it feels personal.

For one (and it should be predictable to you), storytelling expands my horizons. Fictions are a constant reminder about how the universe we live in stretches beyond its fragile, bleak and nihilistic physicality. They, even when poorly-conceived, encourage me to push the limits of my imagination. It may be a surprise to some. But, such benefit can also be gained from creative non-fictions.

They foster ingenuity in how we determine the angles and the delivery of the stories. As they are inherently neither journalistic nor academic, playfulness is allowed. Fine exposition can make relatively dull and mundane stories look compelling. It makes us care about lives other than our own.

Because of my preferences for arts and entertainment over human interactions, I am often accused of being self-centered and anti-social. But, the older I get, the more I feel sorry for every pitiful individual who make such accusation.

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Never mind they abuse the term anti-social, which is what we use to describe sociopaths. They also dishonestly equate the quantity of human interactions with how much we care about our fellow human beings. The more we chatter, the stronger our sense of humanity is. Of course, every person whose brain is no bigger than an ant’s can easily fall for such idiocy.

Non-fiction storytelling constantly reminds me that I am not alone. It reminds me how I am not the only one who experience what I experience. It reminds me how I am far from the most authentic human. It makes me a humbler person. I never thought non-fictions would spur personal growth in me.

Of course, I have to talk about the sense of humanity… which I mentioned earlier and almost forgot about it.

Besides imagination, it is one benefit I acquire from both fictional and non-fictional storytelling. They acquaint myself with real life inhumanity and they make me care about them, in spite of their superficial depictions. As I have learned to not take any portrayals for granted, there are times when I can receive information critically. Still have lots to learn, though.

To make it weirder, certain stories give me strong hope about humanity, in spite of their pessimism. Maybe my hopefulness is cultivated by how they reassure me that humanity still exists. I mean, if it doesn’t, why would there be storytellers who revile the said inhumanity?

Before I conclude it all up, I should mention one benefit of storytelling that I have mentioned to other people: storytelling is a mirror. Whether we like it or not, our reactions to stories, including fictional ones, are reflections of our true nature. How we react to anything, really.

I feel like Captain Obvious here. But, some people refuse to believe it; instead, they accuse me of overthinking and complacency. Admittedly, I am often guilty of both. But, ask yourself this: if our reactions to works of fiction are not representative of our true selves, then where do they come from? They are our reactions, not someone else’s. They exist because you exist!

My prior and subsequent interactions with those denialist cretins were always contaminated with the ghastliness I condemned them for.

I actually have quite a few examples… and I will list them one by one, from the most trivial case to the most worrying. Here we go:

If you, a self-proclaimed horror fan, think a horror game or film is not scary without jump scares and scary visuals, then you have no idea what fear really is and you know nothing about the genre you supposedly love!

If you think calmness makes a dull storytelling, then you never care about the story in the first place. All you care about are imaginary actions and loud noises to make up for your dull, uninspiring personality. Heck, I am sure you make up for it by being obnoxious in your daily life!

If you think Newt Scamander is a boring male lead and negatively compare him to other male characters who fulfill outdated expectations of masculinity, then you are one of those reactionaries who believe upholding shallow, arbitrary and ever-changing gender roles is everybody’s moral duty!

If you are easily touched by a work that embodies self-righteousness and extremely on the nose ‘positivity’, then you are not ‘woke’. You are just as skin-deep as the next person. But, at least, you possess something that he/she doesn’t: a towering erection of self-admiration!

If you are able to sympathise with a character meant to mock ‘your kind’ and anything you stand for, then you are a nuance-hating dumbfuck who view human identities through black and white lenses. Your footing is either shaky or non-existent altogether. In many cases, it is surely the latter!

If you condemn Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix for allegedly teaching kids to disrespect authorities and dishonestly snubbing its scathing commentaries about the corrupt political establishment, then you probably have licked more boots than every child in the world has licked lollipops!

If you believe non-stereotypical depictions of the ‘others’ is too PC, then you are a bigot. Contradicting your professedly anti-PC stance, you are offended by their depictions as human beings. From where you are standing, they are anything but. The world is a better if everyone adheres to your bigotry!

Either that or your brain is not strong enough to sustain itself without a perpetual stream of offensiveness!

With all of those intimate and pretentious musing, it should not be a surprised I love those Youtubers.

Yes, in case you forgot, this essay began with their ‘discourse’.

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Half-Blood Prince: when the film outperforms the novel

Well, for me, at least. Spoilers alert, obviously.

I doubt Half-Blood Prince (HBP) is the first of such case. But, the notion that ‘film adaptations will always suck’ has been deeply ingrained among different fandoms. Understandable considering film studios constantly betray our trust. Unfortunate because it drives us to close-mindedness.

Traumatised by Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix, I had a very low expectation of HBP the film. In fact, it is the only Harry Potter film that I watched years after its release, as in years after part one of The Deathly Hallows was released. I first watched it on DVD; obviously, I was blown away. I should have watched it in the theatre.

I will go into details of why I love the adaptation more than the source material. But, first, I am going to briefly explain why I love the film as an entity in its own right.

Unusual for today’s for-profit cinema, HBP embraces a calm-paced and dialogue-driven manifestation of storytelling; it shows how fast-pacing, exuberance and physicality are unessential for engaging the audience. The tinted cinematography perfectly evokes a combined ambience of mystery and serenity, darkness and lightness. The abundant special effects look wonderfully seamless and visually enhance the narrative instead of distracting us from it. Despite the long duration, I don’t feel exhausted watching it. The acting has greatly improved. I think it is the most artistic film in the entire franchise.

And the novel does not have the film’s level of thoughtfulness.

Yes, it also wholeheartedly embraces calmness and dialogue-driven storytelling. But, the blandness is just overwhelming. The mystery does not arouse the curiosity in me. The depiction of the dark side of humanity fails to unsettle me. It does not share the enthrallment of Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. It feels like I am just reading meaningless stacks of letters.

Let me first go into details with the Pensieve scenes. If I remember correctly, the film Dumbledore only retrieved two memories; one shows Tom Riddle’s first meeting with Dumbledore in the orphanage and another shows teenaged Riddle asking Slughorn about Horcruxes. The novel Dumbledore retrieved a lot more, including ones that occurred after Riddle’s Hogwarts years and even one that occurred before his birth!

And yet, film Tom Riddle has been way more compelling to me! We all know that adaptations have been plagued with a disease called ‘shallowness’ because they cut out too many crucial elements! But, for some reasons, HBP is immune to it despite doing the same thing and that has been baffling me for years! Right now, I have one hypothesis for why this counter-intuitiveness came into being.

Maybe the cut is the secret. The film successfully insinuates Riddle’s true sociopathic nature through those two memories alone; with a combination of good acting, good dialogues and greenish colour tones (which may symbolises grotesque non-human quality), they are able to capture one of humanity’s darkest manifestations in which immortality is worth the immorality.

The book, on the other hand, fails to evoke the same sinister air. In those two particular memories, young Riddle is also strongly insinuated as a sociopath. But, the other memories overload us with ‘unnecessary’ information to the point of diluting the omniousness. Oh, and mind the air quote on the word ‘unnecessary’.

Judging from some comments I read online, other potheads take issue with how the film omits other memories which not only contain more information about Riddle’s life when he still had a nose, they also contain information regarding the origins of his Horcruxes. They want more exposition from the memories.

Obviously, this is a matter of preferences. As much as data are important for better understanding of the fictional universe, subtlety is the winner for me. I prefer to gain my knowledge of the worldbuilding through subtexts and ambience. The less tangible it is, the better. I love the challenge of exploring what is beneath the frequently void and deceptive surface.

I know this is subject to diverging interpretations. In fact, this makes a work of art and entertainment more captivating for me to study. Besides, it is not like hard data are convincing anyway. For example: many potheads still refuse to call the entire Marauders bullies despite the incriminating evidence in Order of Phoenix. Why? Because they cherry pick the data and refuse to accept that heroes like James Potter, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin are flawed human beings. They cannot accept that you can hate both Snape and the entire Marauders, that you can hate both the greater evil and the lesser evil! For fuck’s sake! Why can’t fans be more reasonable for once?

Now, back to the topic…

Feeling things

Not everyone will agree with the omission of memories. But, I am sure a large portion of the HP fandom would agree with this statement: the film adaptation has more emotional weight than the original source material, especially on two particular scenes. I think you can guess which ones.

One is where Harry encouraged Slughorn to relinquish his Tom Riddle memory. Just in case not everyone can guess.

In the original book version, Slughorn was being his usual selfish self and the only emotion he felt was fear, the fear of being judged. And Harry was extremely odd here; he had a sinister, somewhat threatening vibe. He was not his usual self, acting like a predator drooling over the sight of a vulnerable prey. Maybe it was the liquid luck talking, acting like a mind-controlling parasite. Overall, it is a bizarre and displeasing scene.

Compared that to film version. Besides evoking the same fear, the potion master also felt guilt; he believed he contributed to the death of his beloved student, Harry’s own mother, by unintentionally feeding Riddle’s sociopathy. Beneath the self-serving mask, film Slughorn has a great sense of humanity, so great to the point of claiming responsibility for the murder he didn’t commit! And he was not the only sensitive soul in that scene.

Film Harry was also kinder. Instead of being a psychological predator, he encouraged the potion master to confront and overcome his own demons. It felt like he genuinely cared about Slughorn’s emotional well-being; every single one of his word is laced with heartfelt sincerity. In fact, at this point, it feels like the liquid luck has worn off completely; no longer Harry has his brain contaminated by the potion. Oh, and don’t forget about the emotionally-enhancing symbolism.

Slughorn recalled when Lily gifted him a lily petal that turned into a fish when it sank to the bottom of the fish bowl. On the day of her death, the fish disappeared without a trace. For me, it is a hurtful reminder of how death is the end of our earthly existence; no longer we sustain any forms of physical presence in this world. Eventually, we will exist entirely in fond yet painful memories. Without this symbolism, the expression of Slughorn’s personal pain would be stale in comparison.

Another heart-rendering scene I have in my head is, of course, Dumbledore’s death. Again, I don’t have the precise reason why the film version has the stronger emotional punch for me. But, again, I also have a hypothesis.

In the book, there is no doubt that the characters are struck with grief. But, the story seems to focus less on the emotion itself and more on the matter-of-fact consequences which, in this case, is the decreasing sense of stability and security. Less like the death of a loved one and more like the assassination of a public figure whose presence brings hope among socially-conscious individuals. It is almost like the readers are encouraged to sentimentally detached themselves from the scene.

The film version, on the other hand, does not care much about the event’s social and political impacts on the wizarding world. It believes grief is a very human reaction and it just appropriate to give it most of the spotlight after the earthly departure of a major and beloved character. And yes, the film version of this scene also contains powerful symbolism.

After seeing the sight of the headmaster’s lifeless body, almost every Hogwarts resident in the vicinity was unable to hold back their tears. McGonagall held her wand upward to the sky in respect and others follow suit, each tip of their wands illuminates mournfully. Then, those lights dispersed the menacingly-hovering dark mark. Slowly but surely, it disintegrated entirely, swallowed by the dark night sky. Even in our most harrowing moments in life, love and unity can still outshine hatred and evil. It does sound naive. But, the film makes it sound hopeful.

Unlike the Slughorn scene, I actually love Dumbledore’s farewell in both versions. I love the more emotional approach of the film and the more sociopolitical one of the novel. Ideally, it would be delightful to combine both (even though it is easier said than done). But, if I have to take a pick, it would be the emotional approach.

I am delighted every time a work of entertainment touches on real life social issues; if done right, it can be intellectually intriguing and won’t come off as pretentious. But, I crave the ‘human connection’ even more. I find the completely unemotional approaches to storytelling exceptionally cold and as a reader/an audience member, I feel detached from the characters. I want intimate immersion, I don’t want to be a mere observer.

No more glory

At first, I wanted to group the scene where Harry lets go the potion textbook along with Slughorn’s memory relinquishment and Dumbledore’s farewell. But, I realise that, unlike those two, this scene is more psychological than emotional*. Well, in the film version, at least.

After casting Sectumsempra, novel Harry scrambled to save his ass by hiding the textbook in the room of requirement; he was trying to avoid backlashes from the teachers (and he failed, of course. Seriously, he cast a potentially-fatal spell! What did he expect?). Just like Dumbledore’s farewell, it seems to be mostly motivated by pragmatism. The guilt is faintly present as we mostly see Harry’s frustration with his punishment.

The film does not imply any forms of penalties at all. In this scene, we only focus on Harry’s own psyche. Realising what he had done, he felt tremendous guilt for letting his lust of glory made him harm another human being. Ginny offered a hand by taking him to the room of requirement where they could hide the blasted book. He closed his eyes as told while she was searching for the hiding spot. Then, after storing it away forever, she calmly kissed him on the lips. He opened his eyes to find him alone. He smiled.

Besides guilt, romantic love seems to be one of the main subject matters here. But, from my point-of-view, contentment is the culmination. Contentment of how his loved ones will always help him in his lowest points in life, how they will always be on his side when others will eventually abandon him among the filth. The quietness of the room does not represent loneliness or solitude, it represents serenity that accentuates Harry’s personal contentment.

Once again, I prefer the film version over the novel one. I love the former for revealing how self-aware our hero is of his own vice. The latter’s mostly focus on him getting frustrated for being deservedly punished (and getting constantly pestered by Hermione). It is obvious which version displays maturity.

Oh, I almost forgot about the humour… which I have no problem with. In both versions, it is subtle in nature and modest in quantity. No stupid and forced jokes in sight.

‘It is not canon!’

(A disclaimer: the words below are based on the arguments that happened inside my head. I love having imaginary arguments with imaginary people)

One may argue that the adaptation is not a part of the canon. It does not matter if Rowling approved it herself; she did not write the script and therefore not representative of the official Harry Potter universe. I accept such statement because it is still within reason. But, in this particular discussion (as if this is a direct two-way communication), it is completely irrelevant.

Yes, Rowling established the story idea. But, that does not mean she will always act out the storytelling impeccably. Like it or not, the one who came up with it may make use of ill-suited approaches and may not realise of its full potential. Like it or not, being a part of the canon is not a benchmark of excellence, having a delightful presentation is.

We are dealing with fiction here. If artistic merit is your main concern, don’t focus on the storytellers and idea conceivers. Focus on the storytelling itself!

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*’Psychological’ is something related to human psyche in general and ’emotional’ is related to emotion, which is a part of the human psyche. In the context of my essay, ‘psychological’ means it strongly asserts itself through the writings and screen. ‘Emotional’ is similar to that, but you take it to the heart. I know it is confusing. But, that’s the best way I distinguish both from each other.

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The missed opportunities of Harry Potter films

Obviously, spoiler alert. Also, I have to make this disclaimer: I have not read the first three books. So, the only thing I can criticise about the first three films is their cinematic quality, not their faithfulness (or the lack thereof) to the source materials. But, I am more confident regarding the other adaptations.

Here, I will solely talk about Goblet of Fire (GoF) and Order of the Phoenix (OP). So far, they are my favourite books in the series and I love them for distinct reasons.

In spite of dark and intense moments here and there (especially during the climax, falling action and resolution), GoF is still a generally cheerful book. To this day, I am still gravely excited about the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, even though the real me is far from a sports spectator and a party animal. I also adore the expansion of the magical universe where it is portrayed as a global community in which our hero’s home country is a tiny part of it, not its entirety; I am a sucker for such theme. It is mostly a festive of jolliness that makes the child in me rejoice… unlike its direct successor.

OP is gritty AF. In contrast to its more colourful predecessor, the fifth book is nothing but a barrage of grey and ferocious socio-political disheartenment. Dangerous misinformation. Political restrictions of the academia. Institutionally-sanctioned prejudice. The establishment embracing unsavoury individuals, opting to make enemies with ones who are innocent and/or more tolerant. Those are real life issues. To top it all, our hero has to deal with them while suffering from PTSD, adding the emotional severity. For the standard of escapist literature, this novel is a tough read; a reflection of the reality is inescapable.

I have high praises for both and I also had HIGH expectations of their screen adaptations. GoF was literally the first film I watched whose original source material I read beforehand. I was deeply disappointed because, back then, I expected any good adaptations to be literally exact copies of the source materials, albeit in different formats. Took me some time to recognise my own stupidity.

But, even after the slap on the face, I am still disappointed. The feeling of excitement is the only thing it got right. Well, not entirely. It explicitly depicts the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, two of the three main sources. But, it does not show a single second of the Quidditch World Cup match!

Like, why? No, time constraint is not an excuse! Even when shown in snippets, it still could exude the feeling! Exclusion of the entire match means the audience members who have not read the book cannot experience the excitement in its totality. Therefore, they don’t know the whole story and I am still scratching on the surface here.

I mentioned that GoF is a cheerful book with dark moments. Well, those moments give the story more layers of depth. Ludo Bagman, Bertha Jorkins, Dobby and Winky! They are characters with secrets and their erasure from the film is regrettable, considering they have the potentials to expose the tangling webs of secrets and deceit that grip the novel. I find it intriguing when lightness and darkness balance each other out in a work of fiction. As a result, the film’s darkness is still very lightweight in comparison. But, at least, it is still partially faithful to its source material, unlike its successor.

The novel’s embodiment of desolation mostly did not make it to the screen. Instead, the film is more of an adventure-comedy. Yes, I said comedy. Admittedly, I love its youthful sense of humour and I believe, when done correctly, it would blend well with the bleak storyline. But, the filmmakers preferred to drench the story in sickly sweet syrup, removing the acquired tastes for the sake of palatability.

Where’s the socio-political grittiness? Where’s the mental anguish? Never mind that they are the driving forces. They are the reasons why Order of Phoenix possesses such outstanding profundity! They are the reasons why the novel stands out! They are the soul of the story! The film may call itself Order of Phoenix and some moviegoers believe that. But, deep down, it has an entirely unrecognisable heart. It is a fraud who is beloved by the ignorant and most gullible among us.

Also, the climax of OP the novel is not the fight at the Ministry building; it is, in fact, Harry’s outburst at Dumbledore’s office. It is an accumulation of the suffering he has been experiencing for the past twelve months (and possibly his entire life) and Sirius’ death triggers the cascade of negative emotions. Its climax centres on raw emotions rather than superficial physicality. It can only be achieved by the embrace of emotional depth. You know, something that the adaptation refuses to do.

God, I sound like a total fanboy. I even haven’t reached to another problem present in both adaptations: how they conclude the plot lines.

The novels’ endings are rather bleak. GoF’s marks the beginning of the sufferings our protagonist will endure in the next volume. OP’s shows that, even after everyone believes and starts revering him, he still cannot feel joy because of his godfather’s death. Oh, and I said rather bleak, not completely so. For me, there are still shreds of warm yet unsentimental hope in them. How about the films’ endings? Horrible, of course.

GoF the film ends with a cheerful farewell for the foreign students and Cedric’s death as the only moment of sorrow; there is no foreshadowing of Harry’s own incoming misery. OP the film ends with a sentimental monologue by Harry; his own grief is given a half-hearted presentation. They are all about cloying sweetness. Again, no depth.

Okay, this is the part where I pretend to know what my readers are thinking (LOL! Who reads my blogs, anyway?).

You may argue I am being too harsh against OP and I sincerely acknowledge the possibility. You may also argue that not everything has to be profound which I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I feel sorry for those proudly flatulent dweebs who think having fun is beneath them. But, after much contemplation, I can say I am fair with my judgement.

People will hate me for saying this: I believe that an adaptation can still be faithful even with significant alteration to the characters and the storyline, as long it cherishes the source material’s deep-rooted spirit. In spite of being a fantasy novel, OP’s spirit is neither escapist nor fun; the narrative commands us to acknowledge our own wretched earthbound existence. Based on what I illustrated before, it is clear how the film refuses to share such burden.

Also, it feels like its script was written by an elitist Pothead with no experience in filmmaking who thinks Harry Potter films must be exclusively made for anyone who have read the books and inclusivity besmirches the prestige of his/her beloved series. To simplify my words: the film’s confusing AF.

Yes, exposition makes a horrible storytelling. But, the audience deserves any implicit hints about why and how the story came into being! Also, Tonks is not properly introduced, Lupin is not properly re-introduced and Percy suddenly appears out of nowhere, inexplicably working for the corrupt ministry! If an adaptation cannot stand on its own and still needs the source material for intelligibility, why bother making one in the first place? Oh, wait. Never mind! Of course, it is all about money…

Now, I am going to be slightly SJW-ish here.

In GoF the film, the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students make a hell of an entrance. Of course, I am referring to the gender stereotypes-affirming scene that portrays women as unnaturally tender and men as laughably brute. Disappointing, but expected from a Hollywood film. But, in this case, I am infuriated because the original scene is actually very gender-less (I made up that word).

When the visitors enter the school ground, they just walk straight in! No spectacles whatsoever! There is nothing about it that makes us think about genders! If I have to make an assumption, it feels like someone involved in the filmmaking read the books, became infuriated with their debatably feminist nature, decided to transform the co-ed schools into single-sex ones and shoved outdated gender stereotypes to one gender-less scene. It is too PC! Too liberal! We must protect our traditions of lumping complex human beings to superficial and repressive boxes!

See? I told you I would sound SJW-ish.

Now, to finish up my winding rant:

If only GoF the film also has the same complimenting and intricate subplots as the novel does and refrains itself from unabashedly committing gender pigeonholing…

If only OP the film opens itself to non-HP fans and embraces the novel’s dark and fierce spirit that makes it great in the first place…

If only both films do not conclude on such unrealistically positive notes…

I can confidently say that not only they would be of outstanding quality, they surely would elevate the merit of Harry Potter films or even the entire franchise! Even if they fail to elevate the artistic prestige of fantastical and commercial cinema, they surely would have special places in it.

GoF the film would probably not be hailed as groundbreaking regarding this. But, surely, it would not elongate the already-long list of motion pictures that unintelligently depict genders!

If the existing OP film balances its childlike humour with the novel’s sense of desolation, it could result in a high-quality drama-comedy. Who knows? Maybe the film’s merit could surpass the novel’s! Such a rare phenomenon would historical, convincing fans of certain works of fiction that film adaptations have the potential of reaching excellence!

After watching those wonderful adaptations, some Potheads would probably end up being blessed with higher sense of cultural sophistication, enriching their lives through inquisitive musing and love of cinematic beauty.

But, none of those matters, of course! The only noble goal in life to earn profit! Who cares if you have to exploit the feelings of devoted fans?

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Music (and a bit of cinema): the lovely/fringe and the dull/traditional

 

I have a new musician to admire: John Coolidge Adams. His music is minimalist. As the name suggests, it is a postmodern style. I don’t know how to succinctly explain what minimal music. But, I can explain how it affects my psyche.

When I listen to it, I feel like I am stuck between two worlds: the corporeal and the metaphysical. It is unusual because most musical works bring me to either one, never both at the same time. I love such balance. It is a feeling which I wish I can experience more. It also gives me a fresh outlook about the arts.

Oh, and when I said I listen to minimalism, I was referring to the works of Adams. I have barely listened to the ones made by other similar composers. The sensation I described was provoked by Adams’ own aesthetics. But, that does not mean I cannot appreciate minimal music in general.

When you listen to it, the postmodern inclination is very audible. But, unlike many postmodern works of art (the ones I have encountered, at least), minimal music does not try too hard to be weird. It sounds odd, sure. But, there is still sincere artistry. I also wish it is being used more as film soundtracks.

I hate how sterile Hollywood soundtracks are. The same boring melodies and arrangements over and over again. Of course, it is unsurprising for mainstream entertainment with their orthodox mentality. But, orthodoxy is not always a bad thing.

John Williams can conjure refreshing tunes out of long-established musical style. Some of the most memorable melodies in Hollywood are his creations. But, he is a rarity. Many contemporary Hollywood composers seem to suffer from a case of creative infertility. They let the strictly-imposed orthodoxy hinder their creativity. They easily give in to the cultural establishment.

Yes, minimal music is odd. But, it is also not entirely distinct from what we consider to be classical music. Why is it so hard to find films that embrace it? Besides Philip Glass, I can’t think of any other minimal composers that compose original soundtracks. This issue is not just about creativity, it is also about pragmatism.

Proper soundtracks mean greater immersion. Horror and thriller films match well with eerie-sounding experimental music, sci-fi films with electronic music, fantasy films with ambient genres like new age. Oh, and speaking about fantasy films….

I love the Harry Potter franchise, the soundtracks included. I applaud John Williams (him again) for composing one of the most memorable theme songs in the history of cinema. I applaud him for including Jazz, medieval music and unworldly ambience for the soundtrack of Prisoner of Azkaban. I applaud Nicholas Hooper for including Celtic influence in Order of Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince But, I am also greatly disappointed.

Apart from the things I said, the music is still plagued with boring cliches. In fact, I also hate its constant lack of ambition. First of all, Harry Potter is set in Great Britain, specifically its technologically-quaint magical world. How come there are only three HP films that use Celtic and medieval European music? Wouldn’t they be more culturally fitting?

Second, the Harry Potter universe is a place where magic exists. How come that none of the soundtracks embrace ambient styles which can evoke a sense of unworldliness? There are lots to choose from. Ethnic music, including the Celtic one, can be ambient. How about new age with its fairy tale-ish inclination? Heck, even minimal music, like the ones by Philip Glass, can be ethereal.

Wait, I said something about this issue is about artistry and pragmatism. I forgot to talk about the latter. My apologies.

As I said, employing more fitting music induces better immersion. But, my statement was in the context of enhancing films’ overall artistry. People don’t realise how it can also be used to generate profits.

The idea of artistry’s profitability does sound bizarre, especially to the most uncultured swines and to cynics like me. But, idealism and craftsmanship stand out in a sea of conformity and mediocrity. They foster uniqueness.

Yes, uniqueness can be a financial suicide. Can be. Not always. With the right filmmaker and marketing strategies, a well-crafted film can still a box office success by being conspicuous. It does sound like a fanciful hypothesis. But, there are notable examples of profitable artistry.

Pixar films came to mind. They are distinct from most so-called family-friendly films. Their emotions are quite raw yet unsentimental. Romance is not the force that moves the story forward. The characters never burst into songs in unlikely circumstances. When there are villains, they are of shades of grey. Relatively defiant, still popular.

Harry Potter franchise itself can be quite defiant. The adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban successfully evokes the feeling of sinister force lurking in every second. The Half-Blood Prince one has pacing and atmosphere so calm, it feels quite soothing. They stand out among other HP films and any films marketed to younger demographics. Again, relatively defiant, still popular.

Easier said than done, I know. But, without doubt, sell-outs are not the only who can money; visionaries can do as well! Knowing the original source material, with its thematics and commentaries, Harry Potter films have the potentials to be even more profound in every aspect, including the music.

Sticking to the already-established styles does not make you pragmatic, it makes you a coward who let himself/herself crippled by risks.

Oh, and I use the words ‘visionaries’ and ‘sell-outs’ too liberally here. I know we should not throw words around just like that. But, I cannot help myself. I admire anyone who still nurture their idealism despite the immense coercion and I hate anyone who easily gives in to even the weakest of all pressures. God, I hope I will never be a sell-out.

My self-righteous rant ends here.

Image credit to US Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Primer: when a film feels close to home

The first time I knew about Primer, it was around the year 2010. It attracted my attention because it is a highly-acclaimed, low-budget sci-fi film, directed and written by Shane Carruth, a software engineer who has a degree in Mathematics and who hadn’t made a feature film before, with the help of a small crew of five. At that time, I did not have the desire to watch it.

Seven years later, I encountered the title again and, this time, I was livid to watch it. I finally watched it on December 9. I had heard many good words about Primer. But, even after reading countless positive endorsements, I was still emotionally unprepared.

I am not ready to dissect its unconventional and deeply complex narrative; it will probably take me years and many buckets of tears to untangle the devilishly-intricate chronology. Heck, I will never start on dissecting the science and evaluating its soundness; kudos to Carruth for not dumbing down the jargon-laced dialogues. But, I am ready to talk about its ‘realism’.

Of all the films I have watched, this has to be among the most realistic. I am deeply immersed in the story to the point of almost feeling at home. When I thought other films were bona fide, Primer brings it to the next level. The fact that it is sci-fi can be surprising to some people. For me, it is partially surprising. Let me elaborate.

Believe it or not, speculative genres like sci-fi are able to embody realism. Not literally, of course. Instead, they make use of allegories and ideas to illustrate the real world. In fact, the so-called more ‘realistic’ genres often fail to explore real life issues. So, I am not surprised by the sense of realism.

What surprises me is how near-perfect the immersion is. Despite dealing with real life issues, the audience is still emotionally detached from the characters and stories in most fantastical films. Thematically, Primer is not special as it deals with unethical use of technology, a cliche of the sci-fi genre. But, I have my own ‘theories’ about how the immersion came into being (I use the ‘t word’ very loosely here).

The directing and editing were so neatly-done, they look like the works of an experienced professional. The cinematography, however, is grainy at times; it still reminds me about the film’s micro budget. But, that seems superficial. I am sure there are other elements, more abstract ones that contribute to the immersion. (Oh, and condescending tone in this paragraph is unintentional. My apologies).

The special effects are almost non-existent in Primer, unusual for a film of such genre. Apart from how impressive it is to convince the audience that this special effects-deprived film is sci-fi, I also believe it’s a contributing factor to its realism; the audience knows how special effects are just visual ‘fabrication’. I am not saying that special effects ruin the immersion. I just think that, more of than not, they are only used to emphasise escapism.

Previously, I mentioned about how Carruth refused to dumb down the scientific jargons. Besides its praiseworthiness, it also entices me to believe in the authenticity of the science. In many sci-fi films, the lack of technical language make them look disproportionately more ‘fi’ than the ‘sci’. The rest of the dialogues, however, are very down-to-earth.

When the main characters are not speaking jargons, they are speaking in an everyday language. No floweriness, just mundanity we are familiar with. Don’t get wrong. I do love poetic language; it can make great narrations and monologues. But, admittedly, it can be uncomfortably artificial in dialogues.

Oh, and the acting. For me, the lead actors’ performance radiated sincerity. They effortlessly performed dialogues that were cut off mid-sentences and overlapped each other, which parallel real-life casual conversations; I wouldn’t be surprised if they improvised their lines. Also, despite not being overly-animated, they were still able to convey emotions; not every normal living person is loud and extroverted.

I believe those elements contribute to my wonderfully sublime experience. Their audibility and visuality make them relatively tangible. But, I should not forget one abstract element which can be easily missed: the depth.

In this case, it is less about the depth itself and more about its presentation. Some films, both commercial and arthouse, try too hard to look profound, they end up bearing an image of pompousness and superficiality. Primer is the complete opposite.

Instead of a film with deep and hidden meanings, it merely presents itself as a story of two men who accidentally invented a time machine, which they use for their selfish gains. Basically, humans who become corrupt when the opportunity arises. Even when you are not one of them, I am sure you are mindful of how irresistible the dark side can be. Quite mundane if you think about it.

As I said before, with its theme of technological abuse, Primer is not thematically groundbreaking. But, instead of dwelling on it, the film treats the overused subject matter as nothing more than an accessory; it prefers to accentuate the genuine human story.

I really wish more films (and TV shows as well) follow Primer‘s footsteps. More mundane languages, more natural acting, more sincere human quality. Obviously, such motion pictures exist. But, I just wish they were more bountiful and more widely-accepted. One can dream.

Oh, and as I am typing this, I have only watched the film twice. In the future, after watching it for the umpteenth time, I will certainly change my opinions. It would be disappointing if I fail to refine my reasoning and knowledge.