Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wizard People, Dear Reader (2004)

Ragtime Roast Beefy O'Weefy
Art knows no copyright. This isn't an advocacy for pirating or anything like that, because at the end of the day the guy who made your movie has to eat. But how much it costs to purchase a piece of media has nothing to do with the end result. The films of Kenneth Anger, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and this year's Sundance hit Escape From Tomorrow (which holy cow I want to see so badly) don't have their artistic value stripped away from them simply because they didn't pay for the rights of a song or show Mickey Mouse without asking Disney first.

This is probably a strange tangent to take before discussing what's basically a guy talking over Harry Potter with a funny voice. Calling Wizard People, Dear Reader art is a stretch in of itself. In it's own way, though, Brad Neely's alternative audio track to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a pretty good example of remix art. By presenting his own take on this major Hollywood entity, Neely transforms Chris Columbus' bland paint-by-numbers entity into a separate creature, a tale of a hard drinking, hard fighting 11 year old who, with his companions Ronnie the Bear and the Wreched Harmony, battle against his Dracula father. It's also possibly the funniest thing to ever come out of the internet.

Wizard People, Dear Reader is not really a movie. The closest thing I can compare it to is RiffTrax, where you download the track and sync it up accordingly with the movie. Only unlike RiffTrax, which interjects it's jokes into the movie's own audio, Wizard People just talks right over all that business. Ostensibly an audio book, the recording sometimes directly comments on what's happening onscreen and occasionally, when Neely gets bored of what is happening in the movie, just goes off on it's own thing, like when Harry's challenge to get the flying key becomes a long daydream about Harry teaching Native Americans magic, or how the dragon Norbert is actually Haggar the Horrible's  lovechild with the evil Val-Mart. It's a hilarious take on Harry Potter, managing to be both a pretty effective parody and occasionally a scathing critique of the movie, like when Harry rants to Hagrid on how stupid it is that he would tell Voldemort about the stone.

Thanks to the all-pervasive nature of the internet, there's nothing really that special about parodying or critiquing big Hollywood movies anymore. Now you can almost guarantee that there will be a two hour long super nitpicky takedown of whatever big blockbuster is being released that week within a day or two of it's premiere. But back in 2004 sharing like that was much more limited. YouTube wouldn't even be around for a year or so. What's more, this was around the same time that the RIAA was doing it's huge crackdown on Napster and other file sharing sites. Pirating and copyright were in the media's focus and with the recent controversy over The Grey Album people were pretty scared to do anything that would put them in potential legal trouble.

So as silly as it is, it was a pretty ballsy move on Neely's part to have a go at one of the biggest franchises of all time, only swapping out the audio. It premiered at the New York Underground Film Festival on a rented print of the film. As you can probably guess, Warner Bros. soon cracked down on any and all screening thereafter, threatening to pull any film distributed by them from any theater that showed the piece. If they could they would probably destroy the track to prevent further spread. It was different then now, where the major studios know that pursuing every harmless infringement (remember, nobody was profiting off of Wizard People, except for Neely's reputation) will only exasperate the problem and lead to the project gaining more notoriety, as would eventually happen.

Sure enough, thanks to exposure from the attempted suppression and the brilliance of the work itself, Wizard People, Dear Reader became a huge success. It arguably helped propel Neely's career moreso then ever. He had a stint on South Park and now runs the very funny China, IL on adult swim. But for my money this will always be his funniest thing. It just works so well, and most surprising at all, it never wears out it's welcome. At two and a half hours you would expect the novelty of Harry Potter with swearing and a lot of funny names to wear thin, but somehow it just gains more and more ground as it moves on. Maybe it's the weird consistency, or that even when you think you know all the rules it breaks them. Towards the end, when Voldemort's head is revealed to be on the back of Quirrell's, he just lets out this weird screen, stopping his narration just to tell us how fucked that visual is.

Probably my favorite moment, besides Ragtime Roast Beefy up there, is during the sorting ceremony. Neely is just doing his usual narration when, for one reason or another, the ridiculousness of the whole thing gets to him and he just starts genuinely laughing. His voice looses it's edge and he can do nothing but giggle at how stupid and hilarious the whole thing is. It's a funny little moment, weirdly humanizing the whole effort. Wizard People, Dear Reader can be downloaded at a multitude of sites you can find with a quick Google search, as well as can be watched, pre-synced and everything, in it's entirety on YouTube. It's more then worth a watch, you owe it to yourself to check this out if you even have a passing knowledge of Harry Potter. So remember, in the words of a certain boy wizard;

"I am a beautiful animal! I am a destroyer of worlds! I'm Harry Fucking Potter!!!"

On the Wicker Scale, Christopher Lee just told Nic Cage to wait in the freaking car.

No comments:

Post a Comment