Extraordinary Schools for Extraordinary Students
Stories related to schools on the silver screen have never been more popular. However, the schools that make it onto the big screen often have something about them that is a little out of the ordinary.
For the majority of people, school was one of the most special periods of their lives. Often however, people are only too eager to graduate when they're at school, but them spend their working lives looking back fondly on their time spent in the classroom. Possibly because of such a special relationship, stories related to schools on the silver screen have never been more popular. However, the schools that make it onto the big screen often have something about them that it is a little out of the ordinary, whether in terms of the teaching environment, curriculum or perhaps the students themselves. But what is it about these schools that makes them so unforgettable?
An admission letter delivered by an owl, the secret Platform 9 3/4 to get to the school, the magically-hidden shopping street of Diagon Alley, the sentient sorting hat… If magic really did exist, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or “Hogwarts” for short, would undoubtedly be one of the most popular in the world. According to its rules on admission, anyone born with magical talent will automatically be placed on the admission list regardless of whether they come from a magical family or a Muggle family. After reaching the age of 11, those on the list will receive their very own admission letter from Hogwarts. As a result, numerous 11-year-old children have waited patiently for their letter from Hogwarts to be delivered by an owl ever since J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was released in 1997.
People's impression of how Hogwarts looks can be traced back to the first Harry Potter film in 2001. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, took this school which so many children were obsessed with onto the big screen, presenting the once-fantasy world to audiences for the first time. After the firstyear students arrive, they must first put on the Sorting Hat, which will judge their personalities and abilities to determine which of the four school Houses of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin they should join. The students enjoy classes filled with danger and fun including subjects such as Potions, History of Magic, Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration and Muggle Studies. These not only provide the students with in-depth knowledge about magic, but also help them understand the world of Muggles and the history of magic. Outside the classroom, the students get to take part in exciting activities and there is even a World Cup for Quidditch. As one of the three major European magic schools depicted in fiction, Hogwarts is a sacred place for disseminating knowledge on magic and a traditional and natural campus environment with an outstanding teaching atmosphere.
After the success of Harry Potter, many similar magic schools began to appear on the big screen, but Hogwarts still dominates. Interestingly, people seem unsatisfied that such a school only exists in the virtual world. So, after becoming officially accredited as an academic institution, the Grey School of Wizardry in California officially opened to enroll students in 2011, making it the first magic school in the Muggle world. The school was founded by Oberon Zell-ravenheart, a writer and the present headmaster, who originally established the school before J. K. Rowling burst onto the scene, offering subjects such as Alchemy, Beast Mastery, Language of Horses, Making of Magical Wands and Spell Casting. Nowadays, the Grey School of Wizardry focuses mainly on online teaching whilst periodically holding magic training camps. After paying the US$30 admission fee, you too can start your own magical journey. Although you might not necessarily learn anything you can use in the real world, having your very own diploma from such a school is something many people have always dreamed of.
When looked at against the Avengers and the Justice League, Marvel's X-men series looks almost like a different “species.” In 2000, after acquiring the copyright to use the characters, 20th Century Fox released the first X-men film directed by Brian Singer. Compared with the familiar entertainment-oriented Marvel film universe and the darker DC film universe, X-men is more realistic as most of its characters are both normal and yet also possess superpowers. The film also emphasises the mutants' status as a minority within society. Containing themes and topics related to social issues, the film enables audiences those who have not read the comic books to relate through similar realistic problems. With such a setting, the series has laid a more serious tone in which the X-men and
society echo each other allowing people to instantly distinguish the series from similar superhero films. Perhaps it is the realism in X-men that allowed a large audience to immediately fall for the Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters when they first saw it.
Founded by Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X), the Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is designed to help young mutants control their powers and learn how to get along with humans so that they can utilise their powers for the benefit of society. Though not a big part of the X-men series, stories of events from the school appear in most of the films and are key factors in moving the plot along. The first and second Deadpool movies, which take place in the same world as X-men, even include some tragic and funny stories from Wade Winston Wilson's (a.k.a. Deadpool) short stay in the Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. However, perhaps because it accepted too many mutants, the school has been plagued by disasters and is almost routinely destroyed. Luckily, rebuilding the school is not a problem for someone with the powers of Professor X.
Although well aware that the school in the film does not exist, many people still make the trip to Hatley Castle in Canada which served as the school in the franchise. Hatley Castle, located in Victoria's oldest municipal park, was built by James Dunsmuir, the eldest son of the Dunsmuir family, in 1908. The castle was designed in a Scottish style because of James Dunsmuir's Scottish ancestry and his nostalgia for his hometown. It was purchased at the start of World War II for use as a royal residence, although the Royal Family stayed in London, and was later used as a naval training academy. Nowadays, the castle's second floor and above serve as the administrative centre of the Royal Roads University of Canada. After featuring in blockbusters such as X-men and Deadpool, the castle now also hosts a growing number of film fans from around the world who make the pilgrimage to visit the “school.”
With more and more secret agents appearing on the big screen, spy schools are no longer a novelty. The most popular spy school in recent years has to be Kingsman, a secret agent school in the UK which appeared in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service. In 2015, the mysterious secret service organisation was revealed to audiences in the film adapted from Mark Millar's comic book of the same title, directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton and others. Kingsman, ostensibly a tailor's shop on Saville Row, is in fact a counterterrorism spy organisation. The group was originally established in 1919 by wealthy British individuals who lost their heirs during World War I and so set up this modern “knighthood organisation” to eradicate terrorism. All the group's actions are conducted in the utmost secrecy, with the public completely unaware of their presence, meaning Kingsman is cloaked in mystery.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of the most recognisable spy films of recent years. In the first film, Michael Caine's Arthur and Colin Faith's Harry Hart are the backbones of Kingsman. In recruiting the newest member, Harry selects “Eggsy,” a young lad who has lost his way in life. Eggsy must then pass a series of dangerous training tests to join the organisation. Mid-way through his training, Richmond Valentine, a mentally unstable billionaire tech genius, begins to threaten the safety of the world. Eggsy needs to quickly become a secret agent to help put an end to this lethal threat. With many lines and plots that knowingly salute classic spy films such as 007 and The Bourne Identity, the film is extremely entertaining and full of British style. Also, whilst adopting a modern perspective, it exudes the essence of spy films from the 1960s and 70s. For that reason, the film has also been called “a love letter from a British director in Hollywood to British spy films.”
After the success of the first film, its follow-up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, was a huge worldwide hit after its release in 2017. Unlike the first film, Kingsman's UK headquarters was destroyed shortly after the sequel began. The helpless Eggsy and Merlin are then forced to go to the United States to fight alongside Statesman, their American counterpart. Perhaps because of the new setting, the contrasts between the English gentleman-style and the American cowboy-style became the film's biggest attraction. However, many of the audience had fallen in love with the series because of the original film attracted by its portrayal of elegant, aloof, well-dressed, well-spoken and polite English gentleman spies. As such, many audience members did not take well to all the changes and were disappointed by the absence of these signature elements in the new film.
“Society has rules and the first rule is: you go to college. You want to have a happy and successful life, you go to college. If you want to be somebody, you go to college. If you want to fit in, you go to college.” These lines come from Accepted, a 2006 American comedy film. Directed by Steve Pink and starring Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer and Blake Lively, Accepted tells the story of Bartleby Gaines, who gets rejected by eight colleges in a row after he graduates from high school. Feeling “cornered,” Bartleby creates a fake college with his friends: the South Harmon Institute of Technology.
Under the pressure of having to further his education and despite his doubts about the education system, Bartleby still has to face the fact that no college is willing to admit him. Fortunately, he was not the only student at his high school to be rejected by their colleges. In order to fool their parents, these “rejects” decide to create a fake college. Bartleby has his best friend Sherman create a website, hiring his uncle—a former teacher and now-marketing assistant— to pretend to be the dean, and leasing an abandoned psychiatric hospital as their campus. Although ostensibly an ordinary institute, the South Harmon Institute of Technology is fundamentally different from normal colleges: It was established from a lie and is suspected of being fake. The Institute has no rules, courses or curriculum, all of which were drawn up by the "founder" himself. Students are also not just students: they can also create their own classes, serve as their own teachers and even create subjects. The biggest surprise is that such an audacious plan turns out to be a success. Under the supervision of the institute, students start creating various personalised courses and the institute even passes an educational accreditation hearing.
Built on a seemingly ridiculous premise, the plot of Accepted is actually rather thought-provoking. The movie attacks narrow-thinking in higher education and affirms the ideas of protecting and cultivating young people's creativity and passion. Obviously, colleges “born” and run like the one in the film do not exist, but the educational philosophy it conveys and the sense of identity that universities should give their students is impressive. In reality, although there is no South Harmon Institute of Technology, there are quite a few universities with more open-minded thinking, including Chapman University in Orange County, the prototype for the film. Founded in 1861, Chapman University is one of California's most prestigious private universities, with its Dodge College of Film and Media Arts recognised as one of the top ten film schools in the world.
Not all schools are beautiful ivory towers. In Never Let Me Go, Hailsham is a boarding school unlike others, since every one of its “students” are clones.
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth all grew up at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic boarding school. Despite the school's many rules, the students' studies are relatively easy. They are only required to eat and drink well and occasionally take one or two art classes, after which, their paintings are taken away by a mysterious woman. One day, a teacher reveals to the students that they are actually clones who's sole purpose is to provide organs for other humans. However, the mysterious woman uses their paintings to convince the world that they are also real humans. This rattles those in the outside world and leads to the closure of the school, after which, the students are sent to different boarding schools to continue their lives. When they learn that if two clones are in love with each other, they can apply for a “deferral,” Kathy suddenly discovers that the relationships between the three begin to change.
The film is based on the novel
Never Let Me Go by the Japanese-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. The film stars Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as Kathy, Tommy and Ruth respectively, who each put in unforgettable performances. With its slowly unfolding air of tragedy, Never
Let Me Go stands out from other sci-fioriented, fast-paced films based around clones. Although Hailsham and the children's school lives are not the central focus of the movie, the most impressive part of the film is that after the students discover they are clones, they still wish to return to the idyllic school they once lived in, rather than be cast into the tragic life of being a clone raised to provide organs for others. Therefore, Never Let Me Go is generally considered more of a literary and art film under the disguise of sciencefiction which explores the themes of love, dystopia and personal identity. As Carey Mulligan, one of the film's leading actresses said, it's easy to think of Never Let Me Go as a sci-fi film, but in fact that's not exactly right. She explained that the film doesn't actually have a lot of sci-fi elements, instead it is set in different realities that have nothing to do with science fiction. The film is more about human souls and their states of existence.
A scene from X-men (2000) directed by Bryan Singer
Colin Firth and Taron Egerton in Kingsman:thesecretservice (2014) directed by Matthew Vaughn
Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield in Neverletmego (2010) directed by Mark Romanek