A few years ago a major pop culture event completely passed by us, more or less. The Harry Potter books and movies, which took the world by storm, landed with a thud in this house. We both started reading the books and lost interest by the third or fourth one. We only saw the first two movies in the theater. The Potterverse just didn’t grab either of us, and our lives went on.
However, the trip to England last year with Becky’s students revealed that this was a world that was very much as strong in their heads as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Batman was in mine. Stronger, in many ways. These were characters and stories these people grew up with and these figures had more resonance with them than anything we were familiar with. It was clear to Becky that she should know these stories to know where the students were coming from. I hopped along for the ride.
Not for the books, of course; neither of us is putting in that much work, but at least for the movies (which people claim are way different from the books, but whatever.) So we’ve been getting the movies from Netflix and going at them in order. Last night we hit the halfway point.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone I’d seen in the theater and had read the book for. It’s very much a “movie of the book” and I’ve commented before that it is less of a story and more of a checklist, like filling a room with Harry Potter stuff and then pointing a camera around it. Here’s the moving paintings, here’s some quidditch, here’s some wizard classes, and so forth. The story itself is nothing to write home about, and Harry is pretty much just a bumbling goof throughout the whole thing, doing little more than gawping as things happen around him. The other problem I have is that after you’ve seen Wizard People, Dear Reader it’s hard to go back to this unremarkable story.
Even die-hard Potterheads don’t give much credit to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it seems. This is the story you just have to get through, though it gives us some background to Voldemort and his mortal origins. More importantly, this is the story that establishes just how inept and useless the wizards of Hogwarts are. The giant mystery surrounding this whole thing should probably have been solved within the decades these guys had to do so, and the fact that Hermione is brought to the infirmary petrified with a note in her hand that nobody on staff notices is ridiculous, even for a kids’ book.
I’ve been told that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the movies, but I don’t know if that’s in terms of how it adapts the material or the movie itself, which seemed pretty average to me. Honestly, I don’t even remember a lot of what happens in it, except that there’s once again a huge mystery that any of the major wizards could have figured out if they gave a damn. There’s also a great scene where Hogwarts, a school that has a goddamn dungeon, won’t let Harry go to town and buy candy because his parents didn’t sign a permission slip. Oh yeah, this is also the story where we’re told that time manipulation is extremely dangerous so naturally the staff give it to a twelve-year old kid so she can take some extra classes.
We watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last night, and as I type that I realize it can’t be right because if we’d started it last night we’d still be watching. What I’m trying to say is, it’s long, or at least felt like it. The irony of this is that it could have been told in twenty minutes except that Voldemort is as worthless as his wizard enemies. The whole point of his plan is that he needs Harry in the graveyard so he can get some blood to regain life. To this end Voldemort arranges for Harry to get involved in the dumb and lethal Tri-Wizards Tournament (which could kill someone, but hey, there’s concerns about safety, so they don’t let anyone under 17 play, unless their name gets mysteriously entered and chosen, at which point apparently no force on Earth can prevent them from participating.) Despite the fact that Harry could lose or even die in this damn thing, the magic cup at the finish line is wizarded up so that it transports you to the graveyard. Voldemort needs Harry to win a contest he can’t legally enter and is probably outclassed in by the other participants and which could be fatal. Why not use your mole in Hogwarts to turn Harry’s, I dunno, toothbrush into this port-key. Harry goes to brush, gets teleported to the graveyard in his jammies without his wand, we’re all happy. Or here’s a thought; all Voldemort needs is Harry’s blood and not much of it, so wait for him to wind up hurt in the infirmary, which happens daily, impersonate a nurse there, grab the blood, and pow, you get what you want and don’t even tip off anyone else.
I know I’m being harsh on these stories, which are not written for me, but I’m seriously just not getting it. Obviously there’s something to all this, based on how large this story looms in the public consciousness. Maybe there’s a richness in the books that just doesn’t come through in the movies so far, but here at the halfway point, I still don’t care about these people or this world. (And it also doesn’t help that, coming at this material at my age, I can’t help but notice the bizarre class issues here or the fact that this is a society that could help the rest of the world but instead hides away turning cats into chalices because this is something that needs doing I guess. Like the Jedi in the Star Wars prequels, I don’t see the point in this group and certainly don’t know why anyone would turn their kids over to them.)
Now, I say that I don’t care about any of these characters, but that’s not entirely true. There are two of them I do care about.
With each movie these two creep me the hell out more and more.