Sunday, December 27, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Incubus, Dostoevsky, Law and Order, white wine, NASCAR. What do all these things have in common? They are beloved by many, but I just don't get them. The Harry Potter phenomenon belongs at the top of that list.

Before the HP legions descend on me in fury, I'm not saying that Harry Potter is stupid, or poorly written, or trendy, or anything. I just don't get it.

When I tell this to fans of the franchise, they always look at me as if I just said, "You know what tastes good? Poop on a stick."

They always have the remedy: "Well, have you even read the books or watched the movies?"

I tell them yes, I read the first two books. They both struck me as elongated Scooby Doo episodes, where a group of young detectives must solve a mystery that reveals the villain at the end. They always say, "Oh, but it gets so much better!" Well, if I'm not into it at all after two full novels, I don't think a lightbulb's suddenly going to go off in my head when I plow through five more.

Then there are the movies. After yesterday's interminable viewing of Half-Blood Prince, I've now seen all of them except Order of the Phoenix. I guess I sort of liked Prisoner of Azkaban. That's about the best thing I can say for any of them.

Clearly, I'm missing whatever d.n.a. that causes one to like Harry Potter. There's really no reason I shouldn't. I like fantasy; the Lord of the Rings movies are great. I like coming-of-age stories. Many people whom I love and respect are huge fans of the series, most notably my wife.

I just don't get it. It doesn't work for me. I have complaints, but they're all pretty nitpicky.

I really dislike that although Dumbledore and the rest of the staff are supposedly powerful wizards, they don't do seem to do anything. Harry and his crew are left alone to battle evil on their own. Hogwart's also seems to have more double agents than all the seasons of 24 put together. Are there any "good," effectual, adult wizards? Not to my knowledge.

The kids are also put in unnecessarily dangerous situations. I found fault with some of the scenarios in Goblet of Fire. They were going to let one of the kids drown as part of the competition? What kind of school does that?

I know what fans will say: There wouldn't be a story if Dumbledore and the adults had their poop together. There needs to be danger. Ok, fine. Give me a reason why the kids are on their own so much; that's all I'm asking. I haven't seen it in either of the books I read or any of the movies.

I also can't deal with the wand fighting. The wands seem to be able to do lots of different things, with firing lightning the most common. But whenever there's a battle, it's just a lot of waving wands and people flying around. It leaves me cold.

Then there's quidditch. Quidditch is the dumbest game ever, and I will not argue this. You win and the game ends if you catch the snitch, yet only one person from each team is looking for it. Everyone else is flying around, bashing into to each other, trying to throw balls through hoops that net you only a fraction of the points that a snitch does. This makes absolutely no sense.

It's also incredibly dangerous. Presumably, players fall off their brooms all the time, from high in the air. As far as I know, there is no net nor safety precautions of any kind. Wouldn't this result in a lot of death?

I can also never really figure out what's going on. I know that Harry Potter fans could explain this to me, but the problem isn't that I am too stupid to understand complex plot structure. The problem is that the story never gains enough momentum for me to care about what happens next. I know there's a bad guy named Voldemort, but I still haven't figured out what he's doing that's so bad, other than boring me to death.

The Half-Blood Prince struck me as a bit darker than the earlier films, so it was perhaps more enjoyable. Still, I found myself bored by it, and my attention started to wane. The thing is, I know there must be something to it; it's got a great score on rottentomatoes (as do most of the other films). Whatever it is, I'm not getting it (although my wife didn't love this one either, at one point commenting that Prince "felt like it was going on forever," and also being confused as to what was going on).

I've come to accept that, for whatever reason, Harry Potter is just never going to grab me the way it does so many other people. It actually kind of makes me sad. I love a good franchise and anticipation of sequels as much as anyone, but I just can't share in the excitement.

Nolanometer Final Grade: C+


Lance Christian Johnson said...

I watched The Half Blood Prince again, and I have to admit that it's easily my least favorite in the series. I was kind of bored by it too, which is weird, because a lot of fans and critics liked it best. I agree that "Azkaban" is the best one.

I think the problem is that it's tricky to write about magic and magical characters. Some of the complaints that you have can also be applied to Lord of the Rings when it comes to Gandalf. How powerful is he, anyway? He seems to be able to do stuff when they need him to do it, but he can't do it when the plot needs the other characters to do it. It just comes with the genre, I guess, but since everybody uses magic in the Harry Potter stories, you wind up with even more of that.

The only thing where I think you get annoyingly nitpicky is your bit about "what kind of school does that?" Well, a school of witchcraft and wizardry would do that. I just take that sort of a thing as a given - if you want to be a wizard/witch, you're putting your life on the line. In that world, everybody just accepts it, so I have no problem accepting it as an audience member.

Skyelyn said...

I'm not going to hate on you, even though I am an HP fan. But I did just want to say, in response to:

They were going to let one of the kids drown as part of the competition? What kind of school does that?

If you read the books, you would know that they actually clarified this by saying the time limit was just a system, but they would have been perfectly fine.

Anyway. That's all.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Shoot, I kind of like that aspect better WITHOUT the explanation!

Nolan said...

Jessica, "They explained it in the book" is not a valid excuse for the movie.

And Lance, Gandalf kicks ass A LOT. Dumbledore does NOTHING.

Sarah said...

Jenny is the most ridiculous HP fan I know. In high school she kept trying to convince me to read the books. It just seemed to be an immature series and a waste of time to read (the two books I've attempted to read by Dostoevsky also fall into this category). I, like you, read the first two books and all of my feelings were confirmed. It was entertaining to a degree, but it was about a bunch of whiny emotional kids running around and not really getting into any sort of trouble, even though they were surrounded by it.

I took a break. Told Jenny that I would rather read "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" and "Matilda" before reading another Harry Potter book. Then I became ill and she brought me the "Azkaban" and "Goblet" to read. I obliged begrudgingly and found that I enjoyed the books significantly more than the first two. It seems that the books have been maturing over time with darker themes and more realistic situations that a crafty teenager could get into, and more importantly, get out of.

I have to view the books and the movies as entirely two completely different things. The movies are crap. I agree that the best film was "Azkaban" because it really wasn't all about Harry, it was more about everyone around him. Plus, Harry wasn't a whiny bitch, which he seems to become more and more in the films as they go on.

If you want to hate the movies, by all means, hate them. They are disappointing and have little insight to the thing that I like about the books. Yes Harry Potter is the main character, but there are so many individual stories being told. The movies can't handle all of the stories, so they focus on Harry. The books are more similarly written to "Lost". You have your main characters which get a lot of on-screen (or in-writing) time, but there are other stories of how they are connected and why they are the way they are.

Overall, I hope that you will eventually give the books a chance. If you still don't get it, I don't really know what to tell you. As one "nitpicking" pessimist to another, I recommend reading at least through to the fifth book. It's my favorite. Plus, it made me feel justified in not liking Harry and it's dark.