Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Lost City (2022)

Not long ago I ran across a surprising, and rather quirky film project.  It's name was Guns Akimbo, and the greatest eyebrow raiser was that it starred Harry Potter as this photo negative muggle version of himself getting forced to participate in a feature-length Hunger Games parody, complete with a nightmare version of Katniss Everdeen.  It's one of those screwball ideas that have at least the potential to be as great on screen as it sounds on paper, provided you do it right.  The unfortunate truth is that the film's director, Jason Lei Howden, was unable to deliver on a full and complete vision that could have been promised by the idea.  The reason that's the case is because of the ironic disconnect between the goal's the director set out for himself, and the final product he wound up with.  The story itself was meant as a satire of, perhaps even a flat out attack on the writings of J.K. Rowling, and their overarching meaning.  What keeps the finished product from working either as a satirical jab, or even just a plain movie, is because in trying to criticize Rowling, Howden makes one, crucial mistake.  If the director truly believes there is nothing admirable about Rowling and her stories, then he shouldn't have capitulated to the very narrative structure and themes that go to make up the story scaffolding that he claims to dislike.  Instead of coming up with a fitting denouement that works as a proper denunciation, he winds up throwing in the towel near the end.

It's kind of a mistake in terms of the movie's overall narrative strategy.  What it says to me is that the director couldn't come up with as complete of a critique as he might have wished.  Either that or he got cold feet at the last minute and pulled his punches.  The final result is a film that degenerates into a confused muddle, with a middling action packed ending that sees the character tread through the same type of narrative arc that can be found in the Potter books.  The difference here is that everything just comes off as hollow, and unmeaning, leaving the viewer with an unfulfilled sense of dissatisfaction.  One gets the sense that the filmmaker wasted all that effort over nothing.  The curious thing is that he even got Daniel Radcliffe to agree to be a part of it.  At the time, it came off as little more than an amusing anecdote.  The kind of thing that might become a punchline afterthought for a brief span of time, and then is quickly forgotten about.  For a while there, I even thought I was just looking at a one-off.  Just a case of an actor made famous by a book having a bit of a lark poking fun at himself, and there was an end of it.  Instead, here we are now, watching another movie with a similar premise. 

Once again, Radcliffe is taking part in a film that seems to be acting as a running commentary on the role, story, and above all, the author that made him famous.  I'll admit this is not something I was counting on to happen.  Then I realized it's perhaps the sort of thing I should have expected, when you think about it.  When you become a target, after all, you'd better learn how to suffer what Shakespeare referred to as "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".  It's no secret that J.K. Rowling is now one of the biggest targets in the public square.  I guess I just didn't expect Radcliffe, of all people, to take such a concerted effort in pursuing something like an actual, ongoing critique of the writer and the meanings in her stories.  That was another left field surprise, however for the sake of argument, I think I'll roll with it.  Let's assume, for the moment, that the film under discussion today is meant by Radcliffe as a further satire of Rowling and her books.  What does this say about a film like The Lost City?

The Plot, and its Main Target.

Let's start out by listing a few attributes for the main character of the film.  When enough pieces are put together, what emerges is a rough composite parody version of Rowling herself.  To start with, Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) is a writer.  She's not just "good at her job", either.  Turns out she's managed to give herself a surprising amount of popularity in the eyes of what appears to be a genuine legion of fans.  The way she stumbled into this is through the level of success and acclaim that have been garnered from a book series that has managed to put her name on the map.  Is any of this starting to sound familia?  The similarities don't stop there.  It gets more interesting when the movie's script begins to tip its hand, or hint at aspects of Loretta's character that serve as pointers to real life facts about Rowling's own personal history.  These are the aspects of a public figure that tends to get overlooked by the vast majority of the crowd, even among those who probably once claimed to be her devoted readers.  Even at it's best, pop culture is a fickle, ambiguous, and uncertain prospect.  Experience has taught me that people's awareness of artists and the art they create is shifting and changeable in nature. 

It's hard to guarantee what will stick around in the pop cultural memory.  Everybody seems to have a passing knowledge of someone like Rowling or Eminem.  However, I wonder how many people would be genuinely uncertain whether names like Louis Armstrong, George Elliot, or Katherine Hepburn all once belonged to actual people, or if they were just made up monikers spun out of whole cloth.  It's like after you go past a certain point there's this curious incuriosity that sets in among most of the faces in the aisles.  The basic rule of thumb for the majority of the audience seems to be that nothing else is important beyond an agreed upon set of facts and figures.  The rest is just ephemera.  Whether or not this is a good or bad thing, the point is it never arrives at a clear understanding of the whole picture.  The is especially true when it comes to the personalities behind the art we allow ourselves to take in.  In the case of someone like Rowling, a film like The Lost City does the audience a bit of an unexpected favor.  I'd argue it gives us indirect hints and clues about Rowling's life that may have been brought up on numerous occasions before, and then have silently slipped clear out of the public awareness.

For one thing, Loretta has suffered a loss in her life.  She used to be part of a husband and wife team.  Now she's become a widow some time before the curtain rises on the action.  Lorie and her husband used to be a pretty great team back in the good old days.  They started out as archaeology students who both went on to graduate into first class scholars.  While it's true the academy tended to value John Sage's work over that of his wife, this doesn't appear to have been any major setback for them.  Perhaps part of the reason for that is because Loretta knew she had a loved one.  Having a shoulder there to lean on, in other words, seems to have been all that mattered, least as far as she was concerned.  And so, just like in a fairy tale, one day John was there, and in the next instant, it was like that old, Don Henley song.  "Everything can change, in a New York Minute".  We're never given any exact details about how the main character lost her husband.  Indeed, this fairy tale motif is kept intact throughout the story by the directors, Aaron and Adam Nee, choosing to go with the familiar narrative framework of letting it be this off-screen tragedy that acts as a motivating factor for the protagonist's behavior right at the start.

The trick with this setup is there are aspects of it that, while not dovetailing in exact detail from Rowling's life, do seem to be drawing on, or from it, as a sort of parodic, creative springboard.  In real life, for instance, the writer didn't suffer one loss.  There were two.  Both of them might be described as tragic, though for very different reasons.  It's true Rowling lost a husband a while back, though that was only because she appears to have suffered physical and sexual abuse at his hands.  You may call it a tragedy, though really it was more like a successful escape to freedom.  However, it was an escape that left her drained both physically and emotionally for a while, and she took a long time in recovering.  The real loss, as far as she was concerned, however, came from the unexpected death of her mother.  By the writer's own admission, it had a profound effect not just on her personal life, but also on her professional one.  Rowling has claimed on numerous occasions that the story of the Boy Who Lived was transformed at a fundamental level by her mother's passing long before anyone expected it to happen.

This is a crucial facet of reality that the work of fiction seems to both pick up, and then zero in on as the crux of both it's main character, and the unexpected journey she winds up going on.  And I can't shake the idea that this particular story element might have been helped along by possible suggestions, here and there, by none other than Harry Potter himself.  Dan Radcliffe had to have spent time pouring over the original seven books in order to nail his portrayal of the role that made him famous.  That means he not only had to have picked up on the strong theme of the Mother-Child bond that runs throughout the entire series (like a leitmotif in a symphony), it is also not out of court that this is an idea he might have talked about a length with none other than Rowling herself.  It places Radcliffe in a interesting, if somewhat ironic position.  He's probably the single other person out there with perhaps as close to a personal understanding of the boy with a lightning scar as the author who created, or found him.  

It wouldn't surprise me at all, therefore, if Radcliffe kept coming up to Bullock and the Nee brothers with ideas for how to work all this information he'd accumulated through his association with Rowling into this new satire of the Potter phenomenon.  That, in turn, leads to the question of just how the lampoon in this film is supposed to work?  The answer is provided by the film's plot.  When the first act begins, Loretta is shown to be someone who is "stuck in the past".  It an unenviable situation which even gets lamp shaded by a line of dialogue.  The Rowling parody gets told to her face that "You're so afraid of life hurting you again that you've stopped living".  What interesting to note is that this particular barb is hurled by the one character in the script who could be considered a stand-in for someone like Radcliffe himself.  If we're sticking with the idea that the whole film is a satire on Potter and its creator, then the script seems willing to go the extra mile and toss in what amounts to a very tongue-in-cheek caricature of the other main celebrity associated with the franchise.  This comes in the form of the film's second main lead, Adam Caprison, played by Channing Tatum.  Like a lot of stuff in this film, the character serves as parody, in this case of Radcliffe himself.  The difference is while the film treats Rowling with a mixture of scorn and pity, Radcliffe's send-up is handled with some humor.

As portrayed by Tatum, Adam comes off as this sort of Fabio wannabe.  He makes for good cover model material, yet in real life he's just this schlub who's often clumsy on his feat, and clearly has no idea what to do once a life and death situation starts happening around him.  In other words, without stating anything flat out, the film's is quick and eager to highlight the disconnect between an actor like Radcliffe, and the fictional figure he portrays.  Much like Harry, the main character of Loretta's books is created and treated as this kind of ideal, or everyman figure.  He's drawn in the style of Alan Quatermain, or Indiana Jones, yet the basic idea of the text within the text is the same.  The imaginary figure known as Dash McMahon is meant to be this secondary world's version of Harry Potter, for better or worse.  It's a point that's driven home by, of all things, the font lettering that decorates the covers of Rowling's Loretta's books.  Anyone with even a passing, casual familiarity with the Hogwarts series will be able to look at the style of the movie's fake books and realize they've seen it somewhere before.  That's because the film appears to be borrowing from the work of Mary GrandPre.  She might not be a household name, yet her artwork probably is.  She's the illustrator of the Potter books.

It is GrandPre's illustrations of the Wizarding World and its inhabitants, including its main cast of characters, that have gone on to more or less solidify what Harry and his secondary landscape and architecture look like for the vast majority of audiences around the world.  The Lost City, meanwhile, doesn't draw on all of GrandPre's illustrative work for its story.  It's content to borrow from the exact same style of font that Mary used to design the titles for all of Harry's adventures.  It means the covers for Loretta's imaginary books are able put one in mind of the type of font you might see on editions for The Chamber of Secrets, or The Order of the Phoenix.  With all of these elements being fitted into place, its pretty clear how the film is trying to handle its satire.  It takes direct aim at Rowling herself, with the assistance, and quite possibly the connivance of Dan Radcliffe, who is seems more than willing to poke fun at himself and his most famous role.  So how does it all fit into the film's plot?

Well, as things start out, we find the movie's Rowling figure in a major slump.  When we first meet Loretta, she isn't just suffering from a case of writer's block.  She's kind of suffering one of, if not the absolute worst examples of the writing life that have ever been committed to film.  She manages to finish her latest novel, and yet its pretty clear she's crossed the line into not giving much of a rip territory, based on the lackluster closer she chooses for the book.  It ends with the novel's heroine realizing "the treasure she wanted was lost forever, and her adventures were coming to an end".  The film adds a nice meta touch by having the text within a text Indiana Potter figure observe, "That doesn't feel right".  His co-creator can't find much of a response to this, so she just blows it off, and calls it a day.  In essence, the first plot element we meet is a fictional writer whose lost all kinds of motivation.  She's losing interest in her three main hobbies, archaeology, cultural history, and literature.  It shown that all of these topics used to be a shared passion she had with her husband.  He's out of the frame now, and in his absence, Loretta seems to be losing a lot of vital bits and pieces of who she's supposed to be.

She's losing her taste for books, the writing doesn't seem as much fun anymore, and there's little to no interest left in finding out about other people, and how they craft and create whole civilizations out of nothing except dreams and determination.  The key point that Radcliffe and the Nee brothers are anxious to highlight in this opening chapter is that main character is someone who has fundamentally lost her way.  Applied to someone like J.K. Rowling, the opening point of the satire becomes obvious.  The directors even have their fictional Daniel stand-in call Loretta out on this, accusing her of becoming a kind of living mummy.  Adam tries to get her to see how much this imaginary universe's version of the Wizarding series, The Lovemore and Dash Adventures, means to the world around her.  Yet all Loretta cares about right now is just being left alone.  This initial state of stagnation kicks into a new gear when the villain (played by Radcliffe) shows up and asks Loretta for help.  As he explains it, he's been doing research, and conducting an very expensive excavation in a remote, South American Atlantic coastal island.  The goal of his search is to find an artifact known as the Crown of Fire.

It is rumored in the folklore of the island to be the headdress of the ruling queen monarch of what used to be a vast empire that might once have stretched over an impressive amount of the both the coastal and inland areas of the continent.  The person responsible for the creation of this legendary wealth and power is supposed to the closest thing ever to a Constantine or Alexander of the Americas.  It's quite the legacy to establish for oneself, and with his passing it seems as if it all fell apart, including the life of his queen.  It seems that most civilizations require more than the willpower of one man in order to survive and thrive.  If anything is to achieve such a feat, then it would have to come in the form of a ruling ideal, rather than any potentate.  According to the legend, she was buried alongside her husband, the king, wearing a headdress he made for her when they courting.  That crown, so it is said, was composed of dozens of burning red rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.  Hence it's title, the Crown of Fire.  It's remained high on the list of undiscovered priceless artifacts and rare antiquities ever since.

Abigail Fairfax, the 1% percent gentleman adventurer who has contacted Loretta, makes it clear that his goal is to uncover the whereabouts this Crown.  It was said to be hidden away within the confines of the titular Lost City of Calaman, named after the long gone ruler of the surrounding territories.  He's managed to uncover the archaeological remains of at least one corner of this forgotten kingdom.  So Fairfax knows it existed at one point.  What he's still looking for is the location of the Lost City itself.  Now all that digging around in the dirt has paid off to an extent.  His team has managed to uncover a fragment of parchment detailing the history of Calaman, and his queen, Taha.  It details a great deal of their final burial.  All that's missing, however, is the details of the location of their last resting place.  All the evidence gathered so far tells that this hidden tomb is the key the whole mystery.  Find that, and you will have discovered the location of the Crown of Fire.  Fairfax is sorry to have contacted Loretta so abruptly, in the middle of what is proving to be a disastrous book tour, of all things.  In fact, if he's being honest, it was really her late husband whom he was hoping to meet up with.  However, seeing as fate, karma, or what have you, has removed him from the stage, she's the best choice they're left with.

Retta does her best to politely decline.  All except flat out stating that what she'd like to do now, more than anything else, is to find a nice hole to crawl into.  At first, Radcliffe's character appears understanding, even conciliatory.  So he merely suggests that he at least give her a ride.  Loretta demurs on this, as well.  The problem is she didn't really pick up the meaning of the "gentleman's" words.  Guys like Fairfax don't tend to ask for what they want, more often than not.  Once their first attempt at being nice falls flat, then they'll just up and resort to "sterner tactics".  In his case, what this amounts to is kidnapping Loretta by force, and flying on his private jet to the islands where his excavation site is located, and pretty much forcing her to decipher the clues he's uncovered as a form of slave labor.  The good(?) news is that Adam managed to catch sight of this happening.  He wasn't in time to help stop a kidnapping, though he does prove smart enough to contact a professional tracker named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), who is able to locate where she is, and together the two set out on one of the most ridiculous rescue missions on Earth.  The trouble is getting rescued proves to be half the battle.  Pretty soon Loretta is one the run for her life, and the search for the Lost City takes a turn she didn't expect.

Conclusion: A Satire that Achieves a Very Ironic Goal.     

When it comes to a film like this, the task of the critic becomes a bit more complex.  The normal course of things is to try and see what all the essential elements of any given are, what thematic meanings these narrative ingredients can possibly have, and most important of all, whether or not the finished product amounts anything at all that can be considered entertaining.  That's the most important criterion above all others.  This is what amounts to a straightforward approach to critiquing a narrative, whether in a book or film.  The trick with a movie like The Lost City, however, is that it flat out demands it's readers approach it in a different way than you would other satires.  A good way to mark out the difference I'm talking about is to compare the Nee Brothers' film to a book like Jon Swift's Gulliver's Travels.  Both works can be spoken of as having a satirical edge.  The real difference between them, however, is not so much one of target, but rather that of approach.  Strange as it may sound, there's a literate, broad-minded humanism about Swift's fairy tale that allows it a wide and expansive scope, even as he takes aim at the foibles of his own times.  Things are different with the Radcliffe film.

The entirety of the satire is constantly being filed down to a single point.  All other considerations are maybe not secondary, yet it's clear they are never as important as the goal that the directors and actor have in mind.  In fact, I wonder if maybe a better term to describe the Nee Brothers approach here is to call their film an "allegory" in the more limited, modern sense of the term.  There's very little of the medieval about the way they handle the film's message, or if there are any trace elements of the older form, then they are so faint as to make no real difference, one way or the other.  Swift's book was a clear example of the older style of allegorizing.  It's horizons carry a greater sense of scope than what Radcliffe and company seem to be going for, although this in itself might not be a complete tell on quality.  In order to find that out, we need to know more about the kind of satire they are making, and how it shapes the story they have to tell.  Here is where the one, unique quirk of the film comes into play.  It is not the first example out there of a fictional satire with a real life target in mind.  However, it is the first I've even seen where a lot of the other artistic categories are treated as an almost secondary concern.  Unlike Jon Swift, or Mark Twain, the entire value of the film is made to hang on the success of main line of attack.

I'll swear that's unique because writers like Swift or Twain seemed content to allow their allegories to become an organic part of the narratives they had to tell.  This means that even today their writings are capable of being read at more than one level.  This may account for why books written in the 18th and 19th centuries keep picking up new readers with each new generation.  The Nee Brothers and Radcliffe, however, give a much sterner focus on the point of their attack.  This does not mean their film can't be considered a story of layers.  It just means that the range of their artistic expression doesn't reach as far as it does with either Gulliver or Huck Finn.  On a surface level, the story of The Lost City comes off as a fun parody of the jungle adventure fantasy.  The basic setup is more a combination of H. Rider Haggard crossed with a Rosemary Rogers style Harlequin Romance than it is J.R.R. Tolkien, though the resemblance is close enough for the film's purposes.  It's when the viewer takes note of the movie's satirical purposes that we arrive at the second, and so far as I can tell, final layers of the narrative.

It's the whole point on which the picture is built around, and for better or worse, that amounts to nothing less than a critique, deconstruction, and maybe even a possible reconstruction of the life and work of J.K. Rowling.  This is the whole crux of the issue, the one element on which the directors have decided to hinge their film on.  The entire story, in other words, is forcing us to judge its success based on how well it lampoons and skewers another artist.  That is the single criterion it forces the critic to pay attention to when it comes to figuring out if it can be called a success.  It's a setup so rare, that I want to swear the only other time I've seen or read of something like this was with an earlier David Fincher film about the making of Citizen Kane.  The difference there is that it was an easy to dismiss effort.  Because the main claims of that film's message was too spurious to be taken seriously.  Here, however, Radcliffe and the film's directors are addressing what has become a public controversy.

I don't think there's any real need to go over the familiar details at this point.  Rowling stands accused of making comments that are insensitive, at best, to flat out derogatory, at worst, about the trans-gender community.  That seems to be the main inspiration point that got Radcliffe and the Brothers Nee started on this project.  Their initial goal was to have created the perfect, parodic stand-in for the Harry Potter author, and then bring her down to size.  So that means the real question the critic has to ask is whether or not the filmmakers are able to follow through with their intent?  Does the satire go for the jugular, and give no quarter?  Well, in order to answer that question, we're going to have to go into spoiler territory, and I'm not sure who is going to come away with any sense of satisfaction.  I guess this will have to count as a trigger warning, if necessary.  After she gets kidnapped, Loretta spends the rest of the film shuttling from one set piece sequence to another.  From a strictly dramatic standpoint it works.  With the exception of a scene involving leeches in a river, there's nothing that seems out of place.  All the action and the scenes flow well in terms of plotting, pacing, and direction.  The real question is whether or not anyone is going to be okay with the way Radcliffe handles his Rowling stand-in.

You see, from the moment he kidnaps her, all that happens to Loretta is that first she gets rescued, then she and the film's Potter actor parody have to make an extended run through the jungle.  This whole second act is where the film is able to have fun as we're treated to the two main leads bumbling their way through a make-believe rain forest setting, each of them finding out just how way out of their depth they both are, and that neither of them is, in the strictest, a true adventurer.  One of them is a wannabe actor whose trying to come to terms with the role everyone identifies him with, while his companion is an artist who has lost her motivation.  In addition to providing the film's main source of comedy, the jungle also winds up acting as a kind of crucible in which each main character discover not only their flaws, but also moments of strength that they niether of them realized they had, or else just never bothered to notice these capabilities in the first place.  The most innocuous example is when Adam realizes he might just have it in him to be something like an action hero if he puts his mind to it.  This, for the record, is the main arc of the character, and the satire that he's meant to symbolize.

In terms of being a satirical parody, it means that while the directors are willing to make him a figure a ridicule, they are willing to go a bit more easier on him.  The movie is saying that, yeah, this guy's a klutz, thought he doesn't have to be, and you can tell his heart's in the right place, at least.  When you apply this to Radcliffe, the character' real life model, it shows how both the directors and the actor remain aware of his flaws, his sense of ego, and how this can trip him up if he's not careful.  They also cut him some slack, realizing that he is a man of ideals, even if he's never perfect about it.  That's a pretty good summary of the thematic content of Adam's character.  And it's relatively simple compared with the film's main target.  In Loretta's case, what happens is that her trek through the jungle (after griping and complaints) results in the slow rediscovery of all the elements that gave her an interest in both scholarship and the arts.  As she travels through the jungle, the disgruntled author keeps stumbling upon bits and pieces of ancient ruins or folk legends that assemble into a puzzle that slowly points the way to the location of the Lost City and it's Crown of Fire.  To her own surprise, Loretta finds herself taking a genuine interest in it again, like she used to do back in the old days.  It soon becomes clear that this unwanted adventure has begun to rekindle an inner spark that she thought had gone out long ago.

Still, here she is now, years after she thought she'd lost her main source of inspiration (i.e. a loved one in the figure of her mother husband), and instead she finds herself being drawn back to her old artistic enthusiasm for the history and mythology of ancient cultures.  Believe it or not, the whole thing does act as an allegory for Rowling, so long as you know what you're looking at.  The trick here is that in order to understand the satire of this movie, you kind of need to have what might be called the right amount of cultural literacy under the lid in order to understand how the attack on Rowling works.  To make a long story short, all the best literary scholarship that I've ever read on Rowling convince me that she must have this curious, almost (by modern standards) quirky antiquarian streak in her nature.  All of the original Potter books display the work of a hand that takes a great deal of interest in what might be termed the compiled lore of both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Writers like J.R.R. Tolkien were capable of doing the same thing in their own work.  The difference is Tolkien still has a good public reputation to his name, and the film seems to know this.  So it incorporates this aspect of Rowling's literary technique into its satire.  The irony is the way it ends its attack on the writer.

The entire resolution of the story hinges on the legend of the Lost City and the way it ties in, on a thematic level, to the character of Rowling Loretta herself.  Without giving too much away, both our heroes and Radcliffe's villain finally reach the Crown of Fire, and it's revealed as a treasure of sorts, just not the kind Fairfax was looking for.  There is a crown hidden away in a tomb, and yet it's real value speaks to the romantic bond between a king and the woman who loved him.  This is unveiled as the crucial plot point, the denouement which the entire story has been pointing at, hinting at, or working it's way towards.  It's also where the filmmakers seem to be drawing the most inspiration from Rowling's own artistry.  It's the one moment where anyone who's ever decided to try and make a close reading of the Potter saga will sit up and take notice, because what Radcliffe and the Nees appear to be up to is using the key story element from J.K.'s own series and turning it into a kind of weapon which can be used against its creator.  Now I have to admit this could amount to a clever tactic.  All you'd need to do is two things.  The first is that you have to highlight what is the main point, or (for lack of a better term) moral value of the Hogwarts story.  Then you have to find and demonstrate proof that this is an ideal that the author herself is incapable of living up to.  In short, you must prove J.K. Rowling is a liar.

This is the twofold task that Harry and the Two Brothers need to accomplish in order to prove the overall argument of their satire.  If they can do that, then they might just have the author cornered.  So, how does all this play out in practice?  Well, that's...interesting.  When they get to the tomb of the Crown of Fire, they open it, discover the real treasure that was referred to in the legend of the Lost City, and this discovery allow the film's Rowling stand-in to have a moment of epiphany.  Here's where the irony comes in.  Loretta's moment of realization at the Tomb of the Crown can be read either way.  It can mean that she's learned how to no longer be trapped by the past, and is therefore able to move on from her grief.  Or it could be a pointer to the main character realizing that the love she and her late husband had for one another is not something spent and done forever, and is instead something that goes on, even after the big curtain call.  The idea here being that the quality of Love can be its own key to immortality.  The real punchline comes in once you realize that both ideas are not mutually exclusive, but rather are perfect, more or less natural complimentaries.  This, then, is the note that the film decides to leave off on, even bowing out in classical style, with the promise of a wedding.

Now, to be fair, there is no reason whatsoever that this kind of setup can't make for a good story.  There's just one problem.  Radcliffe and the Nee Brothers initially set out to try and satirically skewer Rowling.  The joke is that instead, they wind up repeating the same mistake that Jason Howden does in Guns Akimbo.  Rather than finding the right critique which could put the author in her place, if that's the goal, all you've done is knock over your Chess piece, and conceded the board to your opponent.  The way the filmmakers go about sabotaging their own satire is done in the same two part fashion.  First, they recapitulate the main theme of the Potter series.  Then, rather than skewer their target, it really does seem as if all they can bring themselves to do is extend a kind of olive branch in her direction. 

I'll have to admit, two in a row of this sort of thing is rather impressive, if ironic.  It just leaves one hell of a question lingering over the whole affair.  Why do you suppose they caved in like that, without even barely putting up a fight?  Well, I think I may know at least part of the answer.  However strange this is going to sound, it really does appear to be the unspoken truth behind this film.  It really does seem as if, try as he might, it remains somehow impossible for Daniel Radcliffe to shake off this lingering sense of admiration for the author who has more or less made him famous.  I even get the sense that Radcliffe can't bring himself to repudiate what he sees as the sophistication of Rowling's artistic abilities.  Apparently, he likes them enough to use in his own movie.  Call it the crowning bit of irony.

It's the final, inescapable fact that the film presents us with.  This is something that was probably always there from the start, perhaps even before the cameras rolled on the first reel of film.  If that's the case, then it means this movie could never succeed in being a real jab at the author of Harry Potter.  Instead, it's more like watching another artist trying to work out a very critical commentary on another, and then discovering that he doesn't have it in him to go through with it.  Something tells me that Radcliffe is probably just as shocked as the rest of us, in private, at least.  So what does all this leave us with, when it comes to judging the finished product?  I said way back at the start the the final goal of any potential artwork is to be entertaining.  All other themes, symbols, and considerations are what the poet Wordsworth described as "subordinate helpers" towards that main goal.  The same operation appears to be the case with Radcliffe's film, and what it leaves us with is a film that can be described as entertaining.  It's just that it winds up working on a very ironic level.  What starts out as an attack and ends up on a perhaps unintended note of tribute.  It's as if Radcliffe and the Nees pulled their punches.

They might have gone in ready to skewer Rowling and her work in the name of all that's right.  Instead, when the got to point where it was time to deliver the final, nail-in-the-coffin blow, it does seem as if none of them could bring themselves to do it.  The best logical reason for this is also the most obvious.  The directors and the actor are all really big fans of hers, and it's an outlook they can't seem to shake from their minds.  As a result, instead of using Rowling's own themes as a means of unveiling her as a lying, bigoted, charlatan, the trio leave off by more or less proposing a toast for her.  There's just one, obvious problem with all this.  The film they wound up with might be able to work as an entertainment, however this is not the kind of film the vast majority of former fans are ever going to like.  

I'm afraid those who think Rowling should be made to pay for what is a self-evident trespass are going to have to look elsewhere for allies in this fight.  It seems as if Harry Potter sort of outed himself in a way that exposes him as less of a helper in this cause than anyone might have thought before just now.  It leaves us with a film which works as an extension of the themes and ideas of J.K. Rowling, and yet it's a success which sort of has no choice except to displease a large swath of the fandom.  It looks very much as if The Lost City might just wind up as the film that can never win, no matter how hard it tries. 

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