[Originally Published: April 19, 2011]
As the scene faded from view, I looked back and saw an enormous tree near the entrance of the obscure place.
Hidden in the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, the Deathly Hallows, is The Tale of the Three Brothers. Ostensibly, the short story is about how one cannot conquer, trick or hide from Death. In the end, the piece, expertly written in a tight form by J.K. Rowling, would find its home in two other artistic locales, including a collection, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, published a year after the final novel in the Potter series, with net proceeds benefiting the Children’s High Level Group (CHLG), an organization helping promote children’s rights and enriching the lives of vulnerable young people.
But it is within the sinister, sprawling, and subdued Part I of the Deathly Hallows film, that one finds the other hidden gem amongst a formidable tale of courageous fortitude—a short sequence, a mere three minute-plus animated film directed by Ben Hibon—which is pondered in this edition, as we look at The Tale of the Three Brothers, the shadow puppet-inspired film in Hallows, Part I, and Hibon’s earlier conquest of MTV Asia with Codehunters, in another gaze behind the celluloid curtain in our Hidden Flick series.
Somehow, in my excitement at discovering such a weird and wonderful establishment, I missed its totem-like power.
The Tale of the Three Brothers excels because it stands alone as its own story betwixt the elaborate Potter structure penned by Rowling. Interwoven within her seven-novel tomes is the sense that Rowling also had a few moral and ethical dilemmas she’d love to address, but like any fine fiction writer, she played her cards with subtle grace, always allowing the actions and words chosen by her characters to dictate the flow of events.
Within the Three Brothers, she hit one of her final peaks in the Harry Potter series by just getting to the point—aren’t we all living every day with the knowledge that we can master time and space in some sort of theoretical realm, but we can never master death? It is a simplistic tale, but she writes the piece with such chilling clarity that one is left enlightened by the experience in a very Zen way—hey, you’re gonna die, so it is up to YOU how you live before you cross that fine line between the material and the ethereal.
The tree was massive, and stood as a monument to something real and true, but there was very little life left on its long and gangly branches.
Hibon needed to film the animated sequence within the parameters laid out by Rowling, and do it in such a way that he respected the briefly-told material, and find a way to craft his own seal, his own identity, his own mark on the dark story of one’s encounter with Death. Granted, he also had to face the challenge of showcasing his piece within a film that was also directed by David Yates, who helmed all four of the final Potter films.
But Hibon met the challenge by emphasizing the visual motifs of the story. He chose an ancient shadow puppet format that is somehow timeless, and holding a rather magical quality when crafted by the third eye of a filmmaker like Hibon who can be succinct with a visual image without a lot of dialogue. What moves the piece along with even more delicate grandeur is the narration by Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger in the film series. She breathes life into a piece that is always creeping towards inevitable death.
However, the fact that what was there was so extraordinarily beautiful made the tree even more powerful, large, and magical.
The animator garnered some richly deserved praise from his brief work in Yates’ film. Currently, the Swiss-born director is at work on Pan, which purports to be a “dark contemporary version of Peter Pan,” not that the tale of lost children living with pirates on an island with an adult sporting a hook for a hand isn’t sinister enough. But before Potter and Pan, Hibon directed a six-minute animated short film for MTV Asia called Codehunters. Yes, he has done extensive work in various media, but this pearl stands out, along with the Potter set piece, for its action, visual ingenuity, speed, camera work, colors, and, most importantly, its complete and utter lack of respect for any dialogue.
Hibon learned the first rule of all good filmmakers early on—tell the story visually. And he does in Codehunters, as he did when he crafted a cinematic hidden gem that had memorable visual shots in The Tale of Three Brothers, albeit with some sublime narration written by Rowling, and spoken by Watson, and one presumes another artistically-fascinating film in Pan, an oft-told tale which could immensely benefit from a new perspective in an intriguing and fresh way. The future looms. Death? Not so fast…
I didn’t see the bareness, just the potential beauty and life in the small, new buds that were present and waiting to expand outwards in full bloom.
Hidden Flick – Season 5: