Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Burn the Stage – the series and the movie

When “Burn the Stage: the Movie” - a documentary about the seven-member South Korean group BTS and their Wings tour in 2017 - opened in cinemas around the world on November 15th, 2018, it reached the number 10 box office spot in the USA making it the country’s highest-grossing event-cinema music production ever. It reached number 6 in England and number 4 in Korea and even in my tiny country, Denmark, where BTS are hardly ever mentioned in the press, it gained more than $14,000 screen average.

Furthermore, the movie was only meant to be screened a single time in capitols in a few chosen countries, but currently the movie has been in theatres for over two weeks with several shows a day in a large number of cinemas in cities big and small in countries all over the world and more shows are still being added.

Before the theatrical release, another documentary about BTS and their Wings tour, where they gave forty concerts to a total of 550,000 people in three continents, has been made as an eight-episode series on YouTube Red (now Premium) with the first episode airing on March 28th, 2018. This is called “Burn the Stage” too, but apart from the title, the two have very little in common as form, contents and even message are different for the two releases.

Nitty-gritty series and calling-card movie
When you compare the two, they both have pros and cons. In the very first episode of the series, BTS’ explicitly tell the documentarists that they wish to show their fans (who go by the name of A.R.M.Y.) their true selves without concealing anything. Because of this, the series is a nitty-gritty documentary where the audience is the proverbial fly on the wall, witnessing all the ups and downs of BTS, their friendships and work relationships, what they do when they are not on stage and how it is to be a hardworking, but very tight-bonded band on the road, trying to break though internationally.

Although fans generally love the series, some (not me!) also find it a bit long with too many interviews with the BTS-members instead of footage of them goofing around. Others (still not me!) find it difficult to witness the hardships that BTS go through behind the scene like the youngest member Jungkook passing out backstage from fatigue after a concert and having to lie down on the floor and have an oxygen mask help him breathe, or the two members V and Jin argue backstage to such a degree that V ends up in tears. On the other hand, we also see the unique chemistry between the seven of them and the endless fun, love and respect they share with and have for each other.

In the movie, the focus has shifted to how professional BTS are and how they work together like a well-oiled machine. Up to 90% of the footage is new and instead of concentrating on the Wings tour, which lasted from February 18th to December 10th, 2017, the movie centers itself around the period from when BTS won their first Billboard Award in May 2017 to when they won their second in May 2018, where international fame was already theirs. As such, the movie is an international calling card for BTS aimed at fans and non-fans alike, where scenes of the highly efficient and hardworking BTS are highlighted and the funny, dorky sides toned down a bit.

Poetic narration replacing the fly-on-the-wall
Where BTS tell their own story in the series in personal one-on-one interviews scattered all over the episodes like an ongoing conversation with each member, the movie uses a narrator, who guides the audience along to make sure that we receive the right message. The narrator has the benefit of hindsight and is able to steer the audience to conclusions that weren’t even thought of during the tour, whereas in the series the band members talk directly to the camera while on tour, telling about their past, their hardships and friendship, and their wishes and hopes.

The main function of the narrator is to make BTS look less dorky (and human?) and enhance the view on them as the symbiotic work unit that they also are. Scenes that may seem to work against this view have been omitted, so Jungkook no longer passes out as only the clip with the icepack remains in the movie along with a brief mention of his indisposition. V and Jin no longer argue either, we only hear group leader RM’s consoling words to V before they go on stage, which without the context I found a bit confusing.

Instead the narrator lets the audience know that BTS don’t argue because they have learned to tone down their differences to become one and that injuries don’t matter to them because they have each other’s back. We even see this clearly in the movie, where V consoles member Jimin, when he cries in frustration over himself, whereas in the series, it is a staff member who comes to his aid.

The narrator furthermore goes on to say that BTS don’t need time apart because they treat each other with love and respect like friends and brothers, so scenes from the series where member Suga admits that he likes his alone-time and goes shopping for electronics on his own have been replaced with scenes of him and Jin going shopping in the movie. In the same way scenes in the series where BTS go to a restaurant without Suga and drink in the hotel without Jungkook have been replaced with the (equally entertaining) barbeque/pool scene where all seven are together.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t miss the pool scene for anything in the movie, but by omitting the more nitty-gritty scenes we don’t get to see just how strong the bond is between the BTS members and how they come together as one to solve their problems with grace and dignity in a very mature way like after the argument. Besides, the movie uses random footage from the tour as cutaway shots for the narration, regardless of what the shots originally signified, so scenes from, say, arguments can now be used as scenes of unity, which is rather confusing if you already know the series.

In any case, the narration is very poetic and emotive, referring to the dessert and sea lyrics from the hidden BTS track “The Sea” on their album “Love Yourself: Her”, and it often replaces the real sound of the band members talking so the audience is no longer a fly on the wall but is now looking at BTS through the filter of the narrator. Personally, I felt that some sort of glass wall had been put between BTS and me in the sense that the narrator made me very aware that I was sitting in a cinema and watching BTS on the big screen whereas in the series, I felt I was there, right in the middle of the tour along with the BTS members. In any case, many A.R.M.Y.s like the narration better than the original interviews with BTS because it is more poetic.

There are still interviews with BTS in the movie, though, as replacing the missing series-interviews, short new interviews with each member have been put at the end of the movie. Like the narrator, BTS now have the benefit of hindsight as well, so although the interviews seem fresh as they are much newer than the ones in the series, they lack a bit of the authenticity that the old ones had because they were conducted during the tour.

BTS members and cameos
Because BTS are now presented as a unit with no personality clashes, we don’t really get to see the different personalities of the group members in the movie like we did in the series. Here all seven of them stood out in their own way and we got to see them as the seven very talented, funny and individual persons who we as A.R.M.Y. know and love, but in the movie, only Suga and Jin stand out. Jin’s character is much brighter and funnier in the movie than in the series and Suga is outright hilarious! The five others BTS members are portraited much vaguer and almost one-dimensional in the movie.

On the other hand, V’s adorable Pomeranian puppy Yeontan and Big Hit Entertainment’s founder and CEO Bang Sihyuk (Hitman Bang) both cameo in the movie, something they don’t do in the series, and to be honest, they both got spontaneous applause much larger than BTS from the cinema audience, especially Yeontan.

Why the changes were made
To answer the question why Big Hit has made changes from the YouTube series to the movie, using a narrator, different scenes and a displaced timeline, I think the main reason is exactly what the movie shows: the lives of BTS are different now than when they started filming “Burn the Stage” for YouTube. They have made it to the top of the music industry now and are no longer uncertain of what is going to happen after the Wings tour like they were in the series. Furthermore, having reached international fame, Big Hit must be much more careful what they share about BTS as in our present political and social climate, even the most innocent things can be distorted and made into controversial fake news.

As BTS always think of A.R.M.Y. before themselves, I guess the changes also have been made to avoid upsetting A.R.M.Y. further by showing how hard the life as BTS can be at times, as that upset many when the series came out. Maybe Big Hit reasoned too that A.R.M.Y. have already paid for the series, so to give them value for their money, the theatrical version of the documentary had to be something completely different.

Finally, another reason for the changes is surely, that when you cut down four hours of documentary from a series to the very short runtime of 84 minutes of the theatrical version, you must find a new format and a new story or plot if you will. The plot of the series was how BTS managed to conquer America while on tour, and although it was a bit repetitious at times when you reached episode 6, you keep going anyway, as BTS is always darn good company.

The plot of the movie is far from as clear, as it is basically about the acclaimed entertainment unit BTS, who upon winning the Billboard Awards the first time, has a desire to perform at the award show the year after. Personally, I would have liked a plot a bit more solid like the one touched upon by RM in some of the last scenes in the movie. RM, who is a genius with an IQ of 148, mentions that living the hectic life as a member of BTS, they each have to find a way to live happily as this is what they tell their fans to do. In his mind, it is neither right nor authentic to ask A.R.M.Y. to be happy, if BTS are not happy themselves. This struggle to find happiness in such a hectic and public life would have been really interesting, but it is only mentioned briefly.

Odd things, great things
Had the movie been longer, say two hours, it would have been more realistic to keep the old gritty storyline, but the short runtime is not enough to get under the skin of BTS. Despite Hitman Bang mentioning in the movie that people love BTS because of their rookie mentality, this mentality doesn’t quite come across. I found that out when speaking to non-A.R.M.Y.s who have watched the movie, because they don’t understand why we, A.R.M.Y., love BTS so much.

The non-A.R.M.Y. audience I met praised the hard work and great success of BTS, but they found that BTS came across as your typical teenage idol band on screen and not the particularly humble, kind and different artists, that we as A.R.M.Y. know, who bravely speak about subjects like mental health, social awareness, equal rights etc. I guess much of BTS’ amazing chemistry, talent, silliness, kindness and social and cultural bravery is lost in the transition from series to movie if you’re not a fan, who knows that these qualities are there.

Another thing lost in the transition is the spelling of BTS’ names. I found it really odd that they were spelled in a different way in the movie than what they usually are. RM’s real name is Namjoon and Suga’s is Yoongi, but the movie subs spell them Namjun and Yunki. It is not wrong, as both are Romanized versions of the Korean names, but as the movie is BTS’ calling card, why introduce the members with names spelled in a way that you won’t see anywhere else?

When that is said, it seems that the majority of A.R.M.Y.s prefers the movie to the series as it has a much more poetic, light and positive vibe to it. As a professional writer, I personally prefer the series, though, as I have always been told: “show, don’t tell”, and the movie with its narrator tells whereas the series with its fly-on-the-wall approach shows.

When it comes to viewing, though, the movie is way better as in the cinema I met a lot of lovely fellow A.R.M.Y.s who come from all walks of life and range from preteens to grandparents. Meeting A.R.M.Y. is rare, particularly here in Denmark that must be one of the only western countries where the press won’t take BTS seriously as they think they are the new One Direction and not what they really are; the Beatles of their generation who through their music, lyrics, messages and actions have a lot of cultural, social and, let’s just admit it, political influence and power worldwide.

Behind the stage and behind the scene
All in all, I think both the series and the movie are worth seeing, no matter if you are A.R.M.Y. or not. With their many differences, the two productions would benefit from having different titles, though, so that people won’t get them mixed up. Personally I find “Burn the Stage” a great title for the movie as it is mostly an introduction to BTS and their workload, but the series could successfully change name to “Behind the Scene” as this is more about what goes on in the private lives of the group members and it is where you’ll be able to get a closer and more detailed look into the BTS members and their world. Like a friend of my daughter put it, “The movie shows you BTS behind the stage, but the series shows them behind the scene”.

As I’m A.R.M.Y. I have already bought “Burn the Stage” the series and watched it several times with great pleasure and should the movie be available on DVD someday, I will definitely buy it too, as I’m already looking forward to seeing Yeontan again along with the pool scene and Suga with his red wine, not to mention the credits. You really have to watch all the credits. They are almost as hilarious as Suga!

N.B. Before you wonder why I haven’t mentioned BTS member J-Hope: J-Hope is my bias and as a J-Hope stan I was devastated to see all his great scenes from the series missing in the movie. Furthermore, as a Soapie I was equally devastated to see all the Sope (Suga and J-Hope)-moments from the series replaced by Suga and red wine / J-Hope and Yeontan – although it was funny!
I purple you

© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2018
Proud A.R.M.Y. since spring 2016

Monday, November 12, 2018

Harry Potter Festival, bye-bye

Last year the Harry Potter Festival here in Odense, Denmark, celebrated its 15th anniversary. Over the years, the festival has grown from being a small, local event organised by Odense Library for a handful of kids to a full-scale festival taking place all over town and lasting three days with 10,000+ visitors. But not anymore.

This year Warner Bros. said no, not just to the festival here in Odense, but to all Harry Potter festivals world wide with more than 10.000 visitors. These festivals are no longer allowed to use the Harry Potter name or any other name or invention from the Harry Potter universe. I suppose Warner Bros. are afraid that the festivals use the Harry Potter brand to rake in money, but to my knowledge most of the festivals are free. Furthermore, the festivals play a huge part in the process of passing on the love for Harry Potter and his universe to new generations of readers as the books themselves are old hat by now. This way Warner Bros. is saying no to free marketing to the younger generations, marketing that money can’t buy.
With that said, the festival still took place here in Odense, this time during October 18th-20th, 2018, but under a new name. Instead of the obvious choice, calling the festival “The Festival That Must Not Be Named”, the new festival name is “Magic Days in Odense” and as it is no longer a Harry Potter festival, it embraces everything magic from every fantasy universe possible. When you walk down the streets you no longer meet just the characters from Harry Potter like Dumbledore, Hagrid and He Who Must Not Be Named, but also characters from “Lord of the Rings”, “Game of Thrones” and “Narnia”. I for one met Mr. Tumnus!

Still, it was clear that the festival had been planned as a Harry Potter Festival before Warner Bros. stopped the event makers from using the Harry Potter name. Thus, many of the activities were the same as previous years, but with new names. The Dursley home was now called the Jensen home, Madam Malkin’s Robes was called Madam Dorthea’s Robe Workshop, Honeyduke’s became The Sugar Fairy’s Candy Store, St. Mungos Hospital was St. Albani Infirmary, Diagon Alley was Elf Alley, Eeylps Owl Emporium became Feathers and Flying Owl Emporium, Ollivanders was Magic Wand Emporium, Flourish and Blotts was Magical Writings and Stationary, The Daily Prophet was Wizard Tidings, Borgin and Burkes was The Magic Second-hand Shop and finally Gringotts became Fafner Bank and the currency Galleons became Odinars.

Quidditch was still the same, though, as quidditch was a real word long before Harry Potter and the sport has become a real-life-sport with international rules and everything. The ODEON film concert was also still associated to Harry Potter as it was “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets™ in concert” performed by Odense Symphony Orchestra, but other than that it was difficult to find any of the old names and characters.

Of the many new things this year, I especially noticed three. The first one was what should have been the Weasley home but instead of a visit to the Weasleys, festival goers could now visit “The Pumpernikkel Family – a Magic Home”. It was still the Weasleys, though, down to Mrs. Weasleys charmed knitting and the clock that individually monitors each of the Weasleys whereabouts.

The second thing that stood out was the making of a new, Nordic wizarding school called Nordheim. Originally when the festival started now sixteen years ago, it was as Hogwarts where a few kids were able to attend. Over the years, Hogwarts grew and a couple of hundred students attended each year until 2010 where J. K. Rowling visited the festival. Up until then Hogwarts had been situated in Odense townhall, but that year Rowling used the town hall to read to a few children and have lunch with Odense’s notabilities, so Hogwarts was closed that year and remained closed every year since then.

Now that the festival no longer has to do with Harry Potter, a wizarding school can be found in the town hall again, namely the Nordheim Wizarding Academy, that consists of four houses named after the four elements Fire, Air, Water and Earth. The colour of the Fire house is gold and the house stands for intelligence, diligence and bravery. The Fire house educates people of the law, hunters of evil magic, dragon handlers and inventors. The colour of the Air house is silver, and the house stands for friendship, loyalty and empathy. It educates healers, rune throwers, astrologists, astronomers, soothsayers and unicorn riders. The colour of the Earth house is green, and the house stands for diplomacy, unity and respect. It educates diplomats, translators and linguists, phoenix breeders, teachers and explorers. Finally, the colour of the Water house is blue, and the house stands for ingenuity, patience and creativity. The house educates potion masters, charm inventors, experts within maritime magic, merpeople experts and alchemists.

In some ways the houses of the Nordheim Wizarding Academy are similar to Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, although they have merged a bit, but what happen inside the walls of the academy I do not know, as this event was sold out in advance, but from what I can see in the programme, the students were to learn herbology, divination, runes, crystals, taming of monsters and how to use magic in battle.

The third and final event that caught my eye was called “Theatre Magic”. It had absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter, but still it was the best feature of this festival. Usually the title of “the best” goes to the Brandts 13 Museum during Harry Potter festivals, as the museum used to be the home of Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon, The Fat Lady, Professor McGonagall and an annual surprise that has ranged from the Prefects’ Bathroom over the Goblet of Fire to Fluffy the gigantic, vicious, three-headed dog. But now Brandts 13 is closed to the public as it has been turned into an art academy, so there is no tea, no surprise and worst of all no McGonagall (who is an old acquaintance of mine) anymore. Instead you could visit Odense Theatre where my sister knows the caretaker. Typical that she knows the local Filch, she is a Slytherin after all, whereas I am Ravenclaw.

In any case, the visit to the theatre was quite exceptional as equipped with only a flashlight (or like us the light from my mobile phone!) you were sent into the dark basement under the theatre after having seen a short video about ghosts. You had to find clues in order to get out again and the hunt for clues brought us all over the theatre. First, we visited skeletons, monsters and very smelly fog in the basement where we saw the revolving theatre scene from below as well. We came through all kinds of wardrobes, workshops, prop rooms etc. on a backstage tour of the theatre. We even crossed the stage and it was interesting to see the theatre hall from the viewpoint of the actors. It actually seemed quite small although the theatre has three floors. We ended up backstage with the local “Filch” and he told us stories about the former theatre manager Helge Rungwald, who since his death in 1960 has haunted the theatre. He has been seen many times in the same spot on the balcony above the upstairs bar. We didn’t see him, though, but luckily we managed to get all the clues so we were able to get out of the theatre again.

Although there was plenty to do at the festival as it consisted of about sixty different events, it was still approximately ten events less than during the Harry Potter Festivals. On top of it, it was a lot more expensive this year and furthermore many of the events and shops only took “real” money. If you wanted to try everything, you would have to use around DKK 1,700 (€228 / $283) in “real” money plus money for food and whatever you had to pay in different shops and workshops in Odinars. I was honestly a little shocked to find out that even to enter a shop, no matter if you bought something or not, you had to pay between 100 and 300 Odinars to get in as during the Harry Potter Festival days you visited shops for free, of course. Other activities during “Magic Days in Odense” cost up to 600 Odinars and even a glass of butterbeer cost 750 Odinars. In the bank you got 1,000 Odinars for DKK 50, so butterbeer was DKK 37,50 (€5 / $6,25) and it didn’t even taste like proper butterbeer. Anyway, all in all per person you would need perhaps DKK 2.500 (€336 / $416) to try everything at the festival, but then again you can’t try everything as there are age restrictions. At some of the events you had to be younger than fifteen to participate, at others you had to be over eighteen.

Furthermore, some events were sold out even before the programme was printed so you didn’t have a chance to participate unless you knew about the events BEFORE the programme came out. The sold out events were “The Magic Train” (formerly the Hogwarts Express), “Visit the Wizard College”, “Slippery Snake Slime”, “The School of Ghosts”, “Banquet at the Nordheim Wizarding Academy” and “ODEON – Film Concert”.

Doing the math, I realised that if every visitor tried everything at “Magic Days in Odense”, the festival would earn DKK 25 million (€ 3.4 million / $ 4,2 million), but of course it doesn’t. In fact, I think the festival only breaks even, as making such a huge annual festival is expensive. I have no idea if the festival is going to have the same number of visitors in years to come, now that it is no longer a Harry Potter festival, but I know that they can count me out. I’m a Harry Potter film nerd (not so much the books), so this is the end for me. It is really strange to write after all these years, but I won’t be back next year.

Visit “Magic Days in Odense” in 2019 if you like everything magic and has enough money to spend. I won’t be there, though, as I can find better use for my money. So bye-bye, annual festival. I still think “The Festival That Must Not Be Named” would have been a better name.


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