Dunking on Harry Potter

(fuck the new blogger interface. All the useful functions are hidden or gone, and everything else that was once intuitive and simple is now complicated and inconvenient)

It is now fashionable to hate Harry Potter, so let me declare that I was already an adult when the first movie came out, and well beyond the target age demographic when the books began. The following are my (slightly cleaned up) journal entries regarding the movies and the first book. If I thought there were anything to gain from posting most thoughtful reviews of the movies, I'd do it, but youtube is already saturated with better reviews and retrospectives than I could produce, so most of the following is what I wrote at the time.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philospher's Stone
by J. K. Rowling

[this review probably dates to 2004 or so]

I read this to find out what all the hype was about. While it’s certainly for a younger audience, it is still imaginative. We all want to believe in magic, and there’s something appealing about going somewhere to learn it. But the two-dimensional characters and the sparse descriptions hurt the book. Scenes and action are skimmed over so quickly without any time to dwell and digest them that it doesn’t feel like a vivid, fantastic world at all. But kids don’t need vivid descriptions; a little imagination goes a long way with them. Forget the movie. The book has more details that could’ve been included but weren’t—and they were important! Although the book’s ending is still just as disappointing. All that, and LOVE was what saved Harry? Nothing Harry does, no skill of his that defeats the villain, no loaded gun in act one, just deux ex machina. Sorry, but that just bugs me. It seemed (to my adult eyes) that Harry should be the hero by his own deed and not by luck. But it’s just for fun, and kids don’t need vividness to believe in something anyway. It’s a world kids and adults can identify with and that’s why it’s so popular.

[I only read the first book and did not care enough to read the rest. I did watch the movies, mostly because my mother loved them.]

October 2, 2005

Harry Potter. It’s all the rage these days and I can’t figure out why. Though it’s a fantastic world, the movies suck! So far we’re up to year three in the movies and they haven’t gotten better.

They’re all special effects sequences with flashes of a disconnected story in between. They all follow the pattern of: lots of special effects sequences, lots of pointless wandering and talking, then at the end the whole story is explained away—plot points slap together and I’m in my seat thinking where did all this come from? It wasn’t in the movie until now. All three have left me scratching my head.

Yeah, they have great special effects, but the stories are horribly incoherent. Just more examples of special effects trying to replace a story. The same thing happened to the Matrix sequels. The first one was great. But everything after that is deep hurting.

The first movie was all right, but there was no real plot. Just a bunch of CGI shots saran-wrapped together with a barely cohesive story, finishing in a laughable final confrontation. It was like watching a video game, but without the satisfaction of earning the cut sequences.

The second movie was worse. Had a bunch of side-plots that went no where. All that time making the transformation potion, and they learn nothing from it. It’s a two-hour series of irrelevant, confusing scenes with very little in between to give them meaning. The dialogue between Harry and Tom Riddle at the end is laugh-out-loud corny. And did you notice how the animators saved a lot of money by pasting Godzilla’s head on a snake’s body and trying to pass it off as the most deadly creature in existence? Maybe dying of laughter counts.

The third was dark, dreary, and confusing. The screenwriter chose a lot of pretty visual sequences, but didn’t include any exposition that established what was going on. All three movies suffer from this, but it’s at its worst here. At the end, a jumble of confusing plot points that were not in the movie came crashing together, but instead of making everything clear it only made me wonder where all this came from. Then the writer resorted to one of the worst clich├ęs in dialogue to finish the movie off: “your loved ones will always be with you in your heart.” We need a little more meaning than that, please. Oh, and the aunt inflation scene at the beginning was downright disgusting. It was supposed to be funny but I lost my appetite. And the werewolf looked stupid! Sheeze, they could’ve done something really cool with that! [Doctor Who would later have a better-looking werewolf, and that was for television.]

Through all the movies, Harry doesn’t really do anything. Things happen to him, but he doesn’t influence anything. Fortunately no matter what trouble he gets into something always shows up to rescue him; be it a flying car, a phoenix, his friends, or love itself. Why does he get all the attention when he doesn’t do anything?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
March 11, 2006

Just watched The Goblet of Fire. The Harry Potter movies aren’t getting any better. Steve Kloves needs to run these through another draft before they go into production because they don’t make any sense! Great special effects, but the movie itself didn't really make any sense. Even the humor was weak!

What the hell was the point of going through all that trouble to get Harry to win the tournament? Was it really that complicated to get him to the graveyard that they had to get him into the tournament and make sure he wins?! Couldn’t our new professor of the Dark Arts (don’t remember his name, which shows you how memorable he was) just trick Harry into picking up…oh, say, a bewitched schoolbook to send him to resurrect Voldemort? Why did it have to be the tournament trophy? And why did it take the whole school year to complete the tournament?

It looked like they were trying to flesh out some sort of argument between Harry and Ron, but the reason is unclear and it’s pretty anticlimactic. It goes no where. And there was some sort of argument between Hermione and Ron…but that also goes no where. Then there was the annoying reporter plot that went no where. And what was the point of the dance? They wasted so much time building up to it, and nothing happened! Somebody always pulls Harry away from standing up to Malfoy, the school is mad at him for no apparent reason. They didn’t go far enough with anything. Kloves doesn’t give these teenagers anything meaningful to say, and the adults are no better. The conversations are pointless and laughably lame. It’s the same thing that happened to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Instead of developing the story, giving weight to the events, and giving the characters some depth of feeling, they focused on the eye candy.

There seems to have been a conspiracy, but the screenwriter made no effort to introduce the players. So when the Dark Arts professor turns out to be…someone else…it doesn’t have any impact because this guy wasn’t even in the movie until the end!! WHO IS HE?! Who are all these other people? What happened? Why didn’t anyone tell us these things?

For the 4th movie in a row Harry doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t solve the egg mystery on his own, he doesn’t figure out how to beat the dragon on his own. Still don’t know how he got through the maze. Didn’t he send up red flares and try to get out? And once again Harry is rescued from the final confrontation. This time by the ghosts of his parents who appear just in time to activate the deux ex machina. Last time it was Buckbeak who saved him from actually doing something. The time before that it was a phoenix (and a flying car), and before that it was love! I think it’s curious that he’s been learning magic for four years and so far he’s barely used magic! He gets rescued a lot instead. Haven’t they taught him anything by now?

Mom says you have to watch the movies a few times before you see all the connections, but I think that’s bullshit. The more you watch something bad, the more your brain will try to organize the chaos and convince you it’s not so bad after all. I could watch The Hulk (or Manos, Hands of Fate) a dozen times and by the end I’d be convinced it was a good movie. It shouldn’t be that way; this stuff should be clear the first time. I think even kids deserve a solid, cohesive story. You shouldn’t use “it’s for the kids” as an excuse for lack of clarity.

She also says that you have to read the books to really understand the movies. This is also crap. If you have to read the book to understand the movie, why make the movie?

[Magic itself is a tricky thing to write about. For example, in Goblet of Fire, it's established the Ministry of Magic can't tell who was following Voldemort willingly and who was under the influence of a controlling curse. But earlier it's established that a truth-telling potion exists, so why not use that on everyone to find out? Things like this kept me from getting into the world, and they are why I never wanted to make magic a part of my stories. Without clear rules, the question the audience always asks is why didn't they use magic to solve this problem?]

February 18, 2008

Harry Potter 5: just as bad as all the others. Oh, it’s entertaining to watch, good visuals as usual, better humor than the previous movies, and a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor more cunning and evil than Voldemort himself. But the story! What the hell was happening? What about this prophesy that was so important to Voldemort? What was this weapon he wanted, the one he didn’t have before. What was it? And a fat lot of good the Order of the Phoenix did. They were just as useless as Harry. They just showed up for no apparent reason to save Harry from the Deatheaters. Yeah, Harry rescued again. Things are happening to and around him but he still isn’t doing anything. I hoped a different screenwriter would help the movie make some sense. Nope.

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

[My mother had passed away the previous year. She was a big Harry Potter fan. She lived long enough to read the last book.] For the sake of my mother, I went to see the new HP movie in theaters. This movie is a lot different from the others. It’s actually very slow, drawn out and doesn’t have as many obvious special effects scenes.

So Harry finds this book that belongs to the half-blood prince, and it shows him… Something. The right way to make a living dead potion is all we see it helps him do. Then Dumbledore recruits Harry to get to know his new potions professor better to extract some information out of him. Information that’s crucial to the history of Tom Riddle. And finally, at long last, Harry does something. He succeeds in getting the information out of this guy. But… Did Dumbledore already know? He admitted that’s why he’s been taking trips away from Hogwarts—to find the objects that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul—and his hand was charred and scarred since the movie began; so he knew what he was destroying. He already had the location of that one piece before Harry showed him that memory. Did he even need the information if he already knew what he was searching for?

And about the vanishing cabinet. I understand it…but why did it take all year for Draco to let the deatheaters into Hogwarts? Why Draco? Why not Snape?

This was a much slower, more suspenseful movie than the previous Potter films. I like the change of pace, and I walked out of the theater with a sense of awe about what I saw… But I still don’t fully understand it. What was the deal with the half-blood prince? So it’s Snape, so what? What does it mean? What was the significance of the book? And the only thing the deatheaters did when they got into the school was burn Hagrid’s house and smash some plates? What was the point? I wanted to see more of what Draco was going through as well—I thought yes, Draco is coming of age at last, finally he’s growing out of being a childish bully and he’s going to do something! Well…does he?

The movie wasn’t as bad I was expecting. The humor in this movie was genuinely funny, and Radcliffe shows he can actually act. It was nice seeing Harry being assertive and confident when he drank the liquid luck. Finally a little bit of range coming from both the character and the actor.

But I still don’t get it. There were probably a lot of important details in the book that didn’t make it into the movie, as usual. Eh, it was probably the best Potter film yet (remember the bar for that is very low), but I did get a little antsy in my seat waiting for something to happen. The movie is so slow, and very little happens that has a consequence. Again, so what about the half-blood prince?

[I understand now that the movie was building up to Dumbledore's death, but for me that was not nearly enough. I liked Sir Richard Harris' Dumbledore. I never got to like this new guy, so I felt nothing when his version of Dumbledore died.]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

We saw the last Harry Potter movie there. It was good to see how everything ends, but once again Harry doesn’t destroy the horcruxes, he doesn’t discover anything, he doesn’t solve anything. It’s even debatable that he kills Voldemort in the end. If it’s true that he’s the last horcrux, then he should have died at the end. He really should have. It doesn’t make sense that he lives on, because it means he still doesn’t do anything. 7 books and 8 films, and Harry is always rescued and everyone else stands up for him. He’s still a passive main character.

[Looking back on it all, since I never thought them important enough to write up proper reviews at the time, I think what bothered me most about HP is that he remains a passive protagonist throughout the entire series. He never takes charge, he never engages, he never affects anything. For seven years he learns magic but never uses it in any meaningful way, and learning magic does not change him at all. Magic is never given a consistent set of rules, so for much of the movies I was thinking isn't there a spell to take care of this or that?

I respect that the author made it up as she went, but I think it was clear she felt the pressure of running a media empire by the time book 4 came along, and the story suffered because of it. Goblet of Fire was the point where I started to shout at the screen, and I'm not the only one.]

Bonus: if you say something shitty in a public setting, the reactions you get are just inevitable. J. K. Rowling’s take on the trans community, for example, is laughable and illogical. Predatory men do not need to fake being trans just to gain access to the lady’s bathroom, and they are certainly not planning to. There are plenty of easier ways for abusive men to get close to women, such as straight marriage, or bars, or the workplace. Using the “bathroom argument” as the center pillar of your viewpoint is ridiculous, and she totally deserves the reactions she’s getting.

(Going out on a limb: Whenever some preacher or pundit adamantly speaks out against gays, there’s a near-certain chance that person will be outed for having a homosexual affair. It happens so often: the people who are most vocally against a thing are doing the thing themselves, and they hate what they’re doing, so they condemn the group. I fully expect JKR to come out as trans herself at some point. Will she be welcome? Who knows, but it’s rather telling that she would choose this particular hill on which to die.)


Popular Posts