This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

January 2, 2002 - Movies Can Encourage Kids to Read

What is WRONG with movie reviewers?

My first instinct is to be kind. They had a bad day. They just don't happen to like a particular film genre.

But then you wonder. If you choose to review movies for a living, I presume it's because you really like movies. The lights go down, the excitement of anticipation mounts. The story snatches you up to the screen. Then, later, you get to write about it! A movie critic should be happy.

Of course, a good critic should tell you when something doesn't work. But the observation should be tendered with a note of regret. We WANT to be transported, we want to believe that greatness is possible. That we see it so seldom is no cause for celebration.

Why is it, then, that so many movie reviewers get, well, snotty? Here, I'm responding to several incomprehensibly uncomprehending reviews of two movies I've seen lately. The first was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The second was "Lord of the Rings."

I liked both movies, a lot, for two reasons.

First, they presume intelligence, both on the part of the creator, and the part of the audience.

Despite the fantastic element of both movies, the issues are all too real. In the case of Harry Potter, how do you discover the real self? Does it depend on the treatment you receive from relatives? Does it require strict adherence to institutional rules?

Lord of the Rings asks: how and when should one leave the comforts of the shire, of home, of possessions all too precious? What does it mean to be tested?

They both tackle other questions with impressive directness. How should one respond to evil? What does it mean to be, or to have, a friend?

Both have a keen eye toward character. And both, in my opinion, were very well acted.

The second reason I like these movies is that they get kids to read. I can't tell you how many young people I've seen lugging around copies of the works of J.K Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien. It does a librarian's heart good to see big books in the hands of small children.

It's something of a miracle. Children have grown accustomed to getting their dreams relayed through Hollywood. They might seek the appropriate action figures, but if there's a book at all, it's written AFTER the movie, and it only comes out in paperback. In short, their dreams are commodities, transient by design.

But these two movies don't come from Hollywood. Not coincidentally, they both break the tidy American formula for length, itself based on the carefully stunted attention span of children raised in front of the tube.

It's as if these movies poked a window through the small room of their cinematic expectations. Fascinated, many children then turned to the source, the books on which the movies are based. Those children then discovered they could add whole new wings to their imaginations. No new purchase necessary.

In sum, I disagree with the critics. I enjoyed both movies tremendously, as did my children. All of us scurried back to the books, where we found great riches and life lessons.

Unlike a movie critic, I'm still happy with my field. When I crack the cover of a book (gently, gently), I still expect to find magic. And I do.

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