Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Watching Rupert Grint in the special features included with this disc will remind you of how long we’ve lived with the Harry Potter movie franchise; the pale little ginger boy who played Ron Weasly has grown into a beefy, even swaggering young man with a more than passing familiarity with the inside of a gym. It’s also a reminder of how much J.K. Rowling’s story is less about magic and wizards and fantastic beasties than it is a chronicle of adolescence, a time of life that is, like the books, filled with pain, humiliation and discovery, and seems to pass in an occasionally noisy roar that punctuates long, grim doldrums.
The penultimate film in the series is a pretty bleak, even disjointed affair, comparable perhaps to those last months of high school, when time slows to a crawl, a sense of panic and anxiety for the future becomes impossible to ignore, and you’re suddenly aware that the people you’ve spent years with might become strangers in a few months or years, if you ever see them again. Which means that the last film, set to premiere this summer, will be like the summer after graduation that you spend in a (usually drunken) reverie of controlled irresponsibility, during which you subconsciously do your best to sabotage whatever friendships you have left. Or maybe not.
For such a bleak film, the bonus supplements included with the Blu-ray reveal Grint, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and their young co-stars in a breezy, even giddy mood, playing rounds of golf and indulging in pointless but eager competitions on set. The most shamelessly corporate bonus is a plug for the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios Orlando, with the movie’s young stars getting the royal treatment as guests of honour at the park’s opening last year. Behind the corporate boilerplate it’s possible to glimpse the actors having a childhood’s end kind of moment, enjoying a memorial to the most significant experience of their lives so far just as they’re about to move beyond the age where they’d hope to enjoy it most of all.
Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection
This 11-disc set replaces a 4-disc set Warner’s released issued a few years back, which featured the three comedies that made Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s reputation as an onscreen couple (Woman of the Year, Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike) alongside a documentary tribute to Tracy made by Hepburn in 1986. With the cooperation of the other major studios, Warner’s has put together every film featuring the actors, from their first onscreen pairing to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the 1967 film that would be Tracy’s last performance before his death, just two weeks after filming wrapped.
To be frank, few of the new additions measure up to the charm of the original three films – only Without Love and Desk Set come close, though the latter is probably on par with the essential trio, and would probably replace Pat and Mike in this critic’s top three. The Sea of Grass is a harsh bit of historical melodrama, and State of the Union comes from the top of the slope downward at the end of director Frank Capra’s career. Made just two years after It’s A Wonderful Life, the film takes classic Capra themes of political cynicism versus good old American democratic idealism and plays them at blaring volume; not even Tracy and Hepburn’s ironclad chemistry can redeem this filibuster.
Like most Stanley Kramer films, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner relies on good intentions at the expense of plot, character development, and especially tone; it’s an artefact of its time, and even a victim of it, especially in the cringeworthy scenes where Kramer tries to depict youth, in all their outlandish, central casting hippy-costumed, frugging glory. There’s something basically satisfying about a film where wealthy liberals are brought up short by the inevitable outcome of their convictions, but it’s hard not to imagine that, despite Tracy and Hepburn and the impeccably righteous Sidney Poitier, there’s a far more interesting film here than Stanley Kramer was capable of making.
Ultimately, this box set makes you ponder the phenomenon that was Tracy and Hepburn’s onscreen chemistry, itself a product of the couple’s complicated but long-lasting offscreen romance. Lazy critics will talk about them seeming perfect for each other, but the truth is that they were, onscreen and off, two people who looked like they should have given each other a wide berth, but who came together in spite of this, certain that their superior wills would overcome the obvious obstacles. That their attraction would create more friction than harmony might have been unbearable in the real world, but on film it gave drama to romance, and would find an echo not long after with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in an age where discretion was to become increasingly unfashionable.
The Incredibles (Blu-ray)
My favourite Pixar film finally gets the Blu-ray treatment with this release, which duplicates the bonus features on the DVD release and adds a handful more, including a visual commentary track for the classic short Jack-Jack Attacks, and a filmed roundtable discussion where director Brad Bird and the film’s other principal creators look back on the film. One of the first things we learn is that a chief Disney executive at the time of the pre-production was convinced that it was a live-action film, not a cartoon, and went into the first major production meeting intent on making his hunch a reality. (A quick Google reveals that Michael Eisner was CEO when The Incredibles went into production; the thought that he could have been the man who prevented the film’s existence is just one more black mark against him.)
Thankfully Bird was able to aim Pixar head honcho John Lasseter at the exec’s misgivings, and Pixar was able to create what is, up till this point at least, its most adult-oriented feature, a marvel of character animation and stylish production design, both embodied in superhero costume designer Edna Mode, a truly incredible cross of Anna Wintour and Rosa Klebb, voiced by director Bird.