"Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with." -Mark Twain
Posted at 6:00 pm by Rob in Main
This morning as I walked down the hallway on my way to the bathroom, the laundry room light turned itself on.
“Hello, Uncle Joe,” I said as I walked past the laundry room.
As of this past August, Uncle Joe has been dead for two years now. That’s around the time our laundry room light started randomly turning itself off and back on. Even though the room is small there are two light switches in the room, one on each end, hooked to the same light fixture. Even after four years I’ve never quite figured out what configuration the switches need to be in order for the light to come on. I think when they’re both up or both down the light is off, and when one is up and the other is down the light comes on, but I’m not completely sure. Lots of times, the switches don’t do anything at all. Sometimes the light stays off and no matter what you do with the switches, they stay off. Then, just as you climb into bed and lie down, the light turns itself on and fills our bedroom with light.
Uncle Joe sure has a sense of humor.
This morning, the dryer door was open. Last night, the “kid door switch” had been flipped on my truck. Occasionally I go outside and find the garage door open, even though no one will admit to leaving it open. There are a litany of events that take place around here that nobody seems to know anything about.
When I was a kid those strange events were attributed to Ida Know, Not Me, and Nobody. As an adult, I know who’s responsible. It’s Uncle Joe.
Now, I’ll confess, we don’t really think Uncle Joe is behind all of these things. One of the kids probably left the garage door open, the cat may have been the one to open the dryer door, and the wiring in the laundry probably has a wiring short.
That being said, we miss Uncle Joe, and this is a lighthearted way of keeping him around in our thoughts. Whenever I can’t find the remote I just had or set down a drink that magically disappears, Uncle Joe will continue to get the blame.
While Kenner only offered one creature each for Star Wars (the Patrol Dewback) and Return of the Jedi (the Rancor), for The Empire Strikes Back they offered two: the Wampa and the Tauntaun, both of which originally retailed for $8.99 in stores. As you can see, I paid almost three times that ($24.99) for this one in a fairly beat up box a few years ago.
Note the vintage sticker price of $7.77 on this particular box. Like other Kenner boxes, the back of this one shows you suggested ways to play with your tauntaun. You can move his arms and legs and insert a figure into the trap door on the tauntaun’s back to create the illusion that they were riding the creature.
In the movie, tauntauns were two-legged “reptomammals,” native to Hoth and ridden by members of the rebellion. In the film we see both Han and Luke riding around the frozen landscape on the creatures. In fact, Luke, while riding a tauntaun, is the first character we see in Empire.
Aside from transportation, in the movie we also learn that a dead tauntaun’s belly is a good place to stick someone to prevent them from freezing. When Han discovers Luke passed out face down in the snow and nearly frozen to death after escaping from the Wampa’s lair, Han saves his friend’s life by cutting open the tauntaun’s belly with Luke’s lightsaber and stuffing him inside. This leads to Han’s classic line, “I thought they smelled bad… on the outside!”
Somehow over the years I ended up with three of these smelly beasts.
The original tauntaun toy went on sale in 1980, the same year Empire was released. In 1982 the toy was updated to include a slit open belly that allowed children to pretend it was dead and shove an action figure inside. That’s kind of gross, now that I think about it. Unfortunately, none of the ones I own are the 1982 updated version. The one on the left is the one I originally owned as a kid. The one in the middle was inside the box I purchased. I’m not sure where the one on the right came from. It’s missing its bride and saddle, so I’m sure it’s not my original one.
While tauntauns certainly seemed alive on the big screen, the illusion was created by using a few different techniques. The ones that ran were miniatures, animated using old school stop motion effects…
…while the other ones that appeared with actors were built out of wood and foam and had people rocking them from underneath:
In 1998, Hasbro released a new tauntaun as part of their Power of the Force line of toys. I have one of those, too:
As you can see, the sculpt is much more detailed and less cartoonish looking. Unfortunately, the legs are positioned in such a way that occasionally getting the newer ones to stand upright is a real pain in the asteroid. Then again, the legs on the vintage tauntaun tended to loosen as well (at least one of mine’s legs have been glued into place), so they both had their problems.
Approximately the same price as three action figures, tauntauns were a pretty common toy among Star Wars kids. While it’s pretty common to find loose models with the bridle and saddle missing, other than that there aren’t really any other parts to lose. Lots of these survived, including the three I own.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Arcade, Main
After visiting barcades all over the country, we finally have our own right here in Oklahoma City: the FlashBack RetroPub. Last Friday, Susan and I attended the pub’s official grand opening.
That’s not my DeLorean, but it is my 8-bit tie…
The FlashBack RetroPub is at 814 West Sheridan, several blocks away from Bricktown. There are a few trendy businesses and restaurants nearby, but it’s also less than a block from the City Rescue Mission and right down the street from the scariest McDonald’s I’ve ever set foot in. It will be interesting to see how this part of town develops over time.
There are a few different business models for modern arcades: there’s the “pizzacade,” which combines food with arcade games, the “pay-at-the-door-cade,” where gamers can pay one entry price and play games all day long, and then there’s the “barcade,” establishments that combine arcade gaming with a full bar. FlashBack RetroPub is definitely a barcade, as we were carded at the door.
The front half of the pub is where the bar and arcade games are. Then there’s the dance floor, DJ booth and lounge area, the restrooms, and an unused area that I suspect will have seating in it soon.
A rough guess, I’d say the pub has 30 arcade games. The front right is loaded with classics (Robotron, Defender, Centipede, etc) and the rest of the machines run down the opposite wall. The oldest game I remember was Asteroids and the newest was NBA Jam, with most of the machines belonging to the awesome 80s. Directly across from the games was the bar, with bar tables standing between the two. Those tables became a problem later in the evening.
With a couple of drinks in hand, we took a few bills over to the change machine. “OUT OF ORDER.” We then went back to the bar and bought five dollars worth of tokens. Then we went back to the machines and found most of them had dozens of free credits on them. So, there was a little confusion there.
Beyond the bar and the games was the dance floor, the DJ booth (that giant boom box) and a lounge area. Some of the benches had signs on them saying they were reserved for VIPs. As the crowd piled in, all available seats were taken very quickly.
My biggest complaint with the place was with the games. Centipede and Tetris, Susan’s two favorite games, were powered off. Popeye couldn’t punch. Kung-Fu Master couldn’t punch. Player Two’s joystick on Mario Bros. didn’t work. Donkey Kong didn’t have sound. The joystick on Zaxxon was a little wonky. At least ten of the machines we tried had serious issues, which is 1/3 of their machines (and we weren’t able to try them all).
The other problem we had was this:
As people continued to file in, we got stuck. We couldn’t get to the games, we couldn’t get to the bar, we couldn’t even get out. It took us a solid ten minutes to make our way from the back of the pub to the front. Granted, the place will not usually be this crowded, but the bar tables in between the machines and the bar completely stopped foot traffic. Worse, it blocked access to the bar, which prevented us from getting more drinks or tokens.
One thing this place has going for it are the employees. We ordered drinks from two or three different bartenders and each one was super nice. The two doormen were also overly polite, thanking us for coming in. I suspect in the near future a few changes might be made to the floor plan to help the crowd flow. As long as they can get (and keep) the games in working order, it looks to me like they might have a winning combination.
FlashBack RetroPub, a great place to go party like it’s 1999. Er, 1989.
Posted at 9:00 am by Rob in Main
I have less and less to say about Czech Day each year. This year Susan and Morgan were part of the Girl Scout Float and Mason ran off to shoot pictures for the yearbook, so I sat by myself and shot pictures. I ended up sitting next to Danny (a friend of my dad’s) and a row in front of my niece and her boyfriend, so I wasn’t completely alone. I took pictures of a lot of the same things I took pictures of each year. I always enjoy hearing the marching bands, seeing the new floats, and watching the kids scramble for candy.
I tried taking a picture of every single car and float this year, so if you or your kids were in the parade, there’s a good chance I caught one of them. If you would like to see another 275 pictures of the Yukon’s 2015 Czech Festival Parade, CLICK HERE.
Posted at 6:40 pm by Rob in Main
I grew up during arguably the greatest era of professional wrestling, the 1980s. I, along with all the other kids in my neighborhood, watched Mid-South Wrestling every weekend and occasionally attended the live events when they passed through town.
Now of course I liked the action in the ring — who didn’t cheer when Kabuki temporarily blinded his opponents by blowing smoke into their eyes or when Hacksaw Jim Duggan would clear the ring of bad guys with his trademark 2×4 — but my favorite part of wrestling was the promos.
Each week between the matches, wrestlers would deliver promos: short interviews or skits performed in character and designed to advance wrestling plots. In the golden days of wrestling it was enough to simply have a perfect physique or possess spectacular ring skills, but over time those with unique personalities began to rise to the top. There were a lot of talented wrestlers that performed well inside the ring, but the ones that became mega-heroes and super villains were the ones most outlandish in front of the camera.
We didn’t know it back then, but those promos, no matter how electrifying or energetic, had nothing to do with the outcome of the matches. The endings of the bouts were determined before wrestlers ever climbed into the ring.
Boxing, martial arts, and mixed martial arts (MMA) all took something from this. Sure, there have always been fighters with charismatic personalities like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Conor McGregor, but for every athlete that stuck out from the crowd there have been hundreds of nameless faces climbing into and out of the ring.
And while they’re not always memorable, there’s something to be said for a fighter who walks into the ring, says nothing, and simply destroys his opponent. I like that. I like guys who refrain from all the pre-fight shouting and name calling. I mean sure, that stuff’s fun to watch, and I’m sure every time two fighters publicly announce how much they really hate each other both ratings and ticket sales soar, but I don’t know — there’s just something I enjoy about a guy showing you he’s a bad ass instead of telling you he is.
I’ve always fantasized that if I were a professional fighter who managed to knock out my opponent, I would simply turn and leave the ring with no pomp or circumstance. Perhaps it’s bad form to leave before they raise your hand in victory (and woe to the bloody fighter who doesn’t follow protocol!), but I’d like to see that. Just once I’d love to see a fighter knock a guy to the ground, shrug his shoulders, and then leave. No post-fight interview where the victor quickly throws on a hat and t-shirt blanketed with advertising logos while he thanks God for helping him beat someone else to a pulp. Nope. Just POW, flop, and adios.
Is he going to talk about writing? Please tell me he’s going to eventually talk about writing!
As you may know, I recently enrolled in a college writing course and I’ve been attending class for four or five weeks now. My professor is super knowledgeable and super experienced, having published more than 40 novels. I sit in the back row and write down everything she says in class. I don’t really know anyone else in class — they’re all nice, but I’m roughly 20 years older than all of them. To them, I can only presume, I’m the old fat weirdo sitting in the back of class.
And there’s that moment before you get into the ring and turn in your first homework assignment where you have to decide, are you going to cut a promo? Are you going to stand in front of a camera flexing your muscles and publicly announce that, despite never having sold a single work of fiction, you think you’re a pretty good writer? In a room full of fifteen other writers, do you show your hand before climbing into the ring or do you simply walk in swinging and hope for the best?
I did the latter, and we got our first short stories back this week. POW. Flop. Adios.
That’s not to say the paper wasn’t filled with plenty of red marks (it was) or was perfect (it wasn’t), but it served its purpose. I plan to start my journey through the Masters of Professional Writing program in the spring and I really wanted someone there to know that I belong in that class. (I suppose I also wanted to reassure myself that I belong there, too.)
I tell my kids all the time, “Actions speak louder than words.” Don’t just tell people you’re a decent human being: act like a decent human being. And don’t simply tell people you’re good at things: show them you’re good at things. And most of all, don’t waste your time flexing your muscles and telling everybody you’re awesome: just be awesome.
Inside the ring and out.
(I shortened this weekly feature’s name from “Star Wars Wednesday” to “Star Wednesday” — it’s no less horrible, just shorter.)
On this week’s Star Wednesday, I’ll be taking a look at this metal Boba Fett coin bank.
I own hundreds (if not thousands) of Star Wars collectibles that offer no real world functionality. They sit on shelves, and I enjoy looking at them, but they don’t do anything. I have shelves and shelves of items like that, which is why over the past few years I’ve started looking for Star Wars related items that I can incorporate into my daily life: coffee mugs, t-shirts, or in this case, a coin bank.
I got this coin bank (along with the R2-D2 one) at Big Lots a couple of years ago for somewhere between $5 and $10. According to Amazon there’s a third one featuring Darth Vader, but because the shape of Darth Vader’s mask is nothing like the top of this bank (like Boba Fett and R2), it’s almost unrecognizable. I wouldn’t go (and haven’t gone) out of my way to pick up the Vader one. According to a sticker on the bottom of the bank these were made in 2012.
The bank itself is cylindrical, with a dome on top that pops off and two arms attached to the sides. All three banks (Fett, R2 and Vader) are physically identical with different paint jobs. The graphics on the Boba Fett one are nice, both front and back. It’s missing his iconic blast damage on the front of the helmet, but does have his traditional Mandalorian insignia on the chest plate and some nice shading overall to give the appearance of some depth to the helmet and armor.
As far as coin banks go… it’s a coin bank. You drop coins in through a slot on the top of his head and they stay inside until you pop the top off and empty the coins out. There just aren’t a lot of ways to mess up the design of a coin bank. I have on occasion managed to accidentally shove the lid down inside the bank when trying to snap the lid back on, which causes the tube to temporarily bend out of shape. The metal is slightly thicker than that of a standard can of soda, but not much. When empty, you could easily squeeze and crush the bank, though I don’t really recommend trying it.
I don’t know how I acquire so much loose change but I do. I always seem to have a pocket full of it and yet I never seem to think to spend it unless whatever I’m buying is just a few cents over the even dollar amount. For years I’ve stored all this change in a bowl on our table (or, more commonly, in my truck’s center console) but this little bank gives me a place to put it. I like the fact that you can stick this on your desk either at home or work and not take up a lot of space while still representing Star Wars with a functional item.
Fett’s almost full of republican credits now and I can’t wait to carry this guy into my local credit union, pop the top of his helmet off, and buy myself a drink in the Mos Eisley cantina.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Arcade, Main, Videogames
I like being involved in weird and unusual things. Sometimes I get involved in weird and unusual things by saying “sure” when I get invited to such things. Last week my friend Dean invited me to attend the inaugural Track and Field World Championships at a local private arcade. Dean told me a few well known competitors would be flying in from California for the event. He also told me that local video wizard Drew Stone would be documenting the tournament, and wanted to know if I would provide audio commentary for the proceedings and interview the competitors.
I said “sure,” which is how I ended up attending the 2084 Arcade in Beggs, Oklahoma with a wireless microphone system threaded through my shirt while watching some of the best Track and Field competitors in the world battle it out on the vintage game.
Track and Field is a classic arcade game, released by Konami in 1983. The game’s unique controls and social competition aspect (allowing up to four players to compete against one another) were enough to make it a good game, but the hype surrounding the 1984 Olympics (which took place in Los Angeles, California) certainly didn’t hurt the game’s popularity.
Each competitor in Track and Field must use three buttons to play the game. There are two RUN buttons that must be hit repetitively to propel your feet in the running events, and a third JUMP/THROW button that does just that. Not only does the game require quick reflexes and pixel-point accuracy, but also maniacally fast fingers (with tough forearms to match). While many classic arcade games only require good hand/eye coordination, Track and Field adds those RUN buttons to the mix. Literally, the faster you can mash those buttons, the faster your little man goes.
And Hector “FLY” Rodriguez is the fastest of the fast, although technically speaking he “flicks” the buttons instead of mashing them, as do most of the world’s top players. In 2008 Hector scored 95,350 on the game, breaking the former world record of 95,040 which was held by Kelly Kobashigawa for 23 years.
But Hector was not the only competitor in town. Jack Gale, also from California, arrived with his eye on the trophy. Gale is no stranger to winning — he is currently first in the world in games like Enduro Racer, Mad Crasher, and Vs. Hogan’s Alley, and holds (and has previously held) many others. Gale’s world record on Zoo Keeper stood for nearly twenty years.
Jack Gale and Hector Rodriguez discuss strategy outside the arcade as Mason looks on.
King of Kong did a disservice to the arcade community by prominently displaying the negative side of rivalry instead of the friendly competitive spirit I’ve witnessed at every single arcade competition I’ve attended. I’ve met several of the people featured in King of Kong (including Billy Mitchell) who have been nothing but polite and genuinely kind, not only to me but their other competitors. Anyone expecting anything less from a gaming competition (hosted in Oklahoma, no less) should be surprised. Rob Walker, one of the contestants and the owner of the 2084 arcade, cooked enough burgers and dogs to feed an army. My only complaint of the day was that so many people brought so many pops and drinks to share that there was no room in the ice chests for us to add our twelve pack. The vast majority of people I’ve met in this circle are generous and kind; in Oklahoma, doubly so.
(When some of the competitors noticed Mason taking an interest in the game, they began giving him tips and encouraging him to enter. While we all knew Mason’s chances of winning a tournament that included the world record holder were extremely slim, it was very nice for them to include him, a gesture that truly shows the real generosity and kindness of most arcade enthusiasts.)
With our bellies full of burgers and hot dogs, it was time for practice to begin. On any other day, everyone’s focus would have been on Walker’s immaculate collection of games… but not on this Saturday. On this Saturday, machines like Journey, Robotron, Joust, and Bubbles sat untouched as the contestants warmed up their chops on the three practice machines that had been moved into the center of the arcade.
As the sun went down, the competition lit up as nine hopeful competitors entered the qualifying round. Each qualifying round was played on the same machine. The machine had two cameras mounted on it, one rebroadcasting the screen to a large flat screen television mounted behind the player and another one recording each player’s face. Additional action was recorded by two or three additional cameras. All of this wizardry was concocted and coordinated by local television media Drew Stone.
After the prelims, the field was narrowed to five finalists: world record holder Hector Rodriguez, Jack Gale, event co-organizors Dean (owner of Arcade Sales and Rentals) and Rob, and Rob’s son Brad. Less than 10,000 points separated the top five scores.
Although Mason did not advance to the finals, he had another job to perform. Mason randomly picked each finalist’s name from a plate to determine the final order.
Although the competition was always friendly, it was also intense as each player flicked, tapped, and occasionally bashed the buttons as furiously as possible in order to propel their runners toward the finish line. Each competitor pulled out every trick they knew in order to obtain as many bonuses as possible. With gamers this evenly matched, a winning score could come down to earning a single 1,000 point bonus.
By the end of the night we were all hot, sweaty, tired, and having a blast. Dean and I, with our wireless microphones attached to our lapels, gave commentary on each player’s performance as they pushed their scores higher and higher. And while every competitor did awesome, at the end only one person could be the ultimate winner.
At the end of the night, pictures of the competitors were taken surrounding the Track and Field machines. The machine used in the competition along with a few additional Track and Field marquees were autographed. Trophies, leftover from the original Classic Video Game Tournaments in the 1980s, were obtained and distributed to the winners.
Oh, and speaking of winners, at the end of the night the points were tallied and the winner…
…will be revealed when the video is released. Sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy!
Thanks to all the competitors and spectators who attended the event, and special thanks to Dean and Rob for organizing the event in Rob’s wonderful private arcade, and Hector and Jack for coming all the way from California to attend the event. Talks are already underway in regards to a bigger event next year. Mason is hoping they do; he spent the morning practicing…
PS: If you want to hear me talk about the Commodore 64 version of Track and Field, I covered it a few months ago on my C64 game podcast, Sprite Castle.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Main
I learned a lot about computers between 1980 (the year we got our first one) and 1993, and doubled that knowledge between 1993 and 1995. In 1993 I built my first PC, in 1994 I got my first dial-up internet account, and in 1995 I began learning about computer networks.
I first gained access to the internet in the fall of ’94, thanks to a generous co-worker who shared his college dial-up internet username and password with me. You must understand how valuable this was at the time, back when people gladly paid by the hour for access to America Online. The college account I used was limited to text-only — no World Wide Web for me, not yet — but it was unlimited and it was free, granting me access to an entirely new world. Soon I was learning all about and exploring IRC, FTP, and Gopher sites.
It all started when a friend of a friend taught me how to download the college server’s list of usernames and passwords. The passwords were hashed (meaning you couldn’t directly read them), but another friend of a friend showed me how to crack them. Before long I had another computer running 24/7, dedicated to revealing those passwords. It guessed the short and simple ones first and then burned cycles for days and weeks trying to break the more difficult ones. My friend’s internet account had a limited amount of storage space. Having access to more accounts meant more storage space. Eventually I gained access to admin accounts with unlimited storage space and the ability to create other accounts. I ended up with many more accounts than I needed, because cracking them seemed dangerous and exciting.
Then I met other people who were inside other systems, doing similar things and willing to trade some of their accounts for some of mine. Once that number of people grew to half a dozen or more, we decided to meet in person to trade information and share knowledge at JJ’s Pizza.
A few of the shady members of this circle also happened to attended classes at the University of Oklahoma, and so JJ’s Pizza, located next to the campus, became our official meeting place. Once or twice a month, our little group of hooligans descended on JJ’s and, over a couple of large pizzas and pitchers of beer, took turns acting as both teachers and students. JJ’s had a side dining room and we were always the only people in it. At that time I owned a portable radio scanner, and sometimes I would turn it on and we would listen to the local police talk to one another over their radios as one guy soldered modifications to electronic devices and another wheeled and dealed in stolen internet accounts as a used car dealer might. Some people said a lot and others said barely anything. Over time I learned that the ones that said nothing at all were the ones to really be afraid of. Some people who aren’t very good with dealing with other human beings are dangerously good at dealing with computers.
I don’t remember how many times we met at JJ’s — a dozen, dozen and a half, tops. Like a lot of computer groups, things got to the point where everybody had shared everything they were willing to share with one another and the fun fizzled soon after.
The picture above of JJ’s Pizza was not taken twenty years ago when all this tomfoolery took place; I snapped it yesterday. I now drive past JJ’s Pizza every Tuesday and Thursday on my way to and from OU. I haven’t been back inside (I’m sure the old Rastan arcade machine is long gone), but I may stop by for lunch sometime soon to see if anything inside seems familiar.
Welcome to a new feature here at RobOHara.com I’m calling “Star Wars Wednesday,” in which I talk about a Star Wars item from my personal collection each Wednesday. (Okay, so the column title isn’t going to win any awards for originality…)
This week’s featured items are a pair of The Empire Strikes Back mugs, released by Deka in 1980. Deka released a series of plastic mugs and breakfast bowls for all three Star Wars films. Four different mugs were released for Empire: one with R2-D2, C-3P0 and Chewbacca; one with Yoda; one with Boba Fett and Darth Vader, and this one featuring Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. A cereal bowl featuring several characters from the film was also produced. Deka also released cups and bowls for Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, many of which can be seen on this seller’s page.
As you can see (specifically in Leia’s face on the top photo), the mugs often faded and changed colors after repeated washings. These are the original mugs I had as a kid and they definitely held their share of chocolate milk!
Star Wars wasn’t Deka’s only line of plastic mugs; they also produced mugs and cups for Strawberry Shortcake, the Smurfs, The Planet fo the Apes, Care Bears, the GoBots, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, Pac-Man, E.T., Popeye, Punky Brewster, the Muppets, and even for the 1976 remake of King Kong! If kids loved it, chances were Deka had a mug available for it.
While it appears their website is no longer available, the earliest trademark for Deka Plastics, Inc of Elizabeth, NJ, I could find was in 1960, and the last one I could find was in 1992. If you’re interested, you can still find tons of these mugs and cups for sale cheap on Etsy and eBay.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Main
Less than two weeks ago I had never watched a Harry Potter film. I wish I had a legitimate excuse for that. I’m not offended by movies about magic, nor to I dislike mystical, fantasy movies. The first film in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released less than a month before Mason was born in 2001 and Susan and I were pretty busy. Soon the second movie was released and I couldn’t watch that one before I watched the first one, and then it seems like I turned around and there were eight films and I gave up on watching them.
If anything at all turned me off of the films it was the common statement that the films were “this generation’s Star Wars.” My generation’s Star Wars IS Star Wars, thank you very much!
As a “40-something” I don’t talk to a lot of “20-somethings,” but I recently learned if you want to talk to “20-somethings” about the art of writing fiction, you need to be able to speak the language of Harry Potter.
And so roughly two weeks ago I watched 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Saturday night I watched the final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) and in between I watched all the others. With a background deeply rooted in Star Wars it was impossible for me to watch the films without noting similarities between the two. As I worked my way through the films I made jokes to myself about the adventures of Harry Skywalker and his friends Ron Solo and Princess Hermione Organa as they sought to do battle with the mystical Dark Lord Darth Voldemort using their magic light wands, with help from the wise elder Dumbledore Kenobi, the magical Yodobby, the ghosts of loved ones who have passed… and Warwick Davis.
— SPOILERS BELOW —
All kidding aside, I did enjoy the movies. The “chosen one” plot device is a common one (see: Star Wars, the Matrix, Ender’s Game, The Lord of the Rings, The Sword in the Stone, Conan, etc.), but there’s a reason it works as kids and adults alike like to wonder “what if…” Although the stars of the film were pretty young in the early films, as they aged I could tell they were going to have to deal with the love triangle between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. In Star Wars I learned that the hero (Luke) saves the day and the sidekick (Han) gets the girl, which is what I expected to happen in the end here as well.
Watching all the movies in such a short period of time allows you to not only appreciate them as individual films, but as a single piece of work as well. I liked how the series began and ended at Hogwart’s, with Harry’s adventure beginning and ending at the train station. By watching the films one after another it was obvious how far special effects advanced during the series’ ten year span. The computer animated snake in the first film was borderline atrocious, and by the last film we had not only animated snakes but entire CGI armies fighting one another. (For what it’s worth I’ve yet to feel any emotion while watching CGI armies fight, be it orcs or stormtroopers.)
Knowing almost nothing about the films I was genuinely shocked when a few of the characters died, although from a story perspective most of them were pretty predictable. I didn’t know that Snape was going to even have a story arc, but based on the ending of the sixth movie (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) it was obvious that Snape would either be killed or save the day (or, perhaps in a broader view, both). The most dangerous thing to the story was the introduction of time travel; once that Pandora’s Box has been opened it’s hard to close it, and makes viewers wonder why they didn’t use it continually for every single encounter.
The only real complaint I had with the films was the actors’ British accent. While I understand it was an intentional choice, it made it hard for me to make out a lot of the dialog. If I ever have more time to go back and revisit the films, I’ll do it with the subtitles on.
In response to everybody who’s about to suggest “the books are better,” I’m sure you’re right. The movies are what I had time for right now. If my queue gets low, I’ll add these to it.
I was a little disappointed by the very end of the series as I assumed Harry and his friends would be the next generation of professors working at Hogwart’s. I read somewhere that the main trio went on to work for the Ministry of Magic, but I didn’t get that from the film.
Last year while on vacation in California we visited the Warner Bros. studio tour and got to see their entire area of props from the Harry Potter films. You can view the Harry Potter items here, and (obviously) things like the giant spider, the fireplace full of letters and the hat Mason is wearing in the below picture make more sense now.
And now with words like muggles, death eaters and horcrux added to my vocabulary, I bid adieu to the chosen one and his magical friends and move on the other next thing!