Friday, August 19, 2011

Harry Potter and John Williams

I've enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. It really is one of the great fantasy epics. Yes, it is presented as a children's series, but honestly, it is hard to think of 800 and 900 page novels as traditional children's books. There is a sophisticated satire running throughout. In any case, I just spent a couple of evenings watching the film versions of the first two books and, while much is enjoyable, in many ways the films ruin the books. A lot of the blame falls to the music, provided by film composer John Williams (as opposed to the completely different person, English/Australian classical guitarist John Williams).

It was while watching the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that I realized that it was that horrible music that was really ruining the story. Sure, the computer-generated imagery and special effects were a contributor, as they always seem to be, but it was the music that was the main problem. The acting is, on the whole, excellent, with people like Alan Rickman giving a master's seminar on how to deliver a line. But that music... The ubiquitous, annoying main theme, the swirling violins, the tweedling winds, all combine to make the film just as phony and overdone as every other film he has written music for: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters... It is like a Walt Disney version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with every ambiguity and grittiness in the original turned into a kind of cartoon of itself.

Really good directors such as Stanley Kubrick and Peter Weir use music to stunning effect in their films. I doubt if anyone can hear The Blue Danube waltz without visualizing a spaceship docking and the ending of Master and Commander was inspired with the violin and cello knocking out a rustic dance while the camera rises high in the air to reveal the escaping frigate in the distance. But what do we get in Harry Potter at the end? The usual pompous, over-orchestrated bombastic phoniness of every other Hollywood blockbuster. Oh, please!