Movies 20 Jul 2009 07:50 am

A ‘Harry Potter’ virgin

hpandhb

That’s what I am — a “Harry Potter” virgin. I tried to read the first book in the series but couldn’t get through it. Then I tried to see the first film but fell asleep about 20 minutes in. Despite being the sort of material that I should like, I have no affinity for all things Potter. Keep that in mind when I tell you about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I saw this weekend.

First of all, the movie is interminably long. (I did stay awake this time.) The British accents make everybody difficult to understand, or maybe it was the crappy speakers in my car, since I saw it at a drive-in. The plot is built on one contrivance and convenience after another: When somebody needs to know something, he or she learns it by listening at keyholes or through some goofy magical memory stick. When magic is involved, it’s awfully tempting to use it as a cheat to get your characters out of a tough scrape; all they has to do is utter a spell that we haven’t heard about before to make everything OK. That happens a few times here, although in the case of a luck potion, at least the screenwriter (and I assume Rowling, who probably put it in the original book) foreshadowed it.

My biggest complaint is that the movie just muddles on, not really building to anything in particular. Harry finds a book of spells that’s been modified by a mysterious “half-blood prince.” He uses the book to cheat his way through potion-making class to the irritation of his friends. There is some soap-operish romance, and then they play Quidditch for a while (even I know about Quidditch). Then Harry and his pals go to class, and then more soap opera, and more Quidditch, and a sacrificial hiding of the cheat-sheet book, until it’s time for Harry to go on a mission with Dumbledore, who’s been AWOL as headmaster. Oh, and there’s the death of a major character at the end, but it feels tacked on, emotionless.

It’s hard to “write to the middle,” as it were, since this chapter of the saga isn’t allowed any real closure, so nothing that happens feels very substantial or important. We’re just marking time until the conclusion. Maybe this stuff has a deeper meaning for those who have seen the other films or read the books. 

Again, it’s unfair of me to judge too harshly, since I’m a Potter virgin coming into the midst of things — a muggle, as it were. The movie is doing phenomenally well. Rowling’s greatest magic was and is her ability to turn on a whole generation of kids to the wonders of reading. I admire her for that, and the fierce devotion so many kids have for this material that they first encountered during their formative years makes it bulletproof, anyway. 

I feel guilty saying I don’t “get” Harry Potter, but I don’t.

2 Responses to “A ‘Harry Potter’ virgin”

  1. on 25 Jul 2009 at 1.Sue Schillig said …

    Dear Chris,
    Frankly, some advice on reading the series might help you. Here is what my then 11 or 12 year old son told me when he gave me a copy to read (not his own, that I bought for him of course, but a library copy I found for myself). “The first part is pretty boring Mom, but just keep reading. It gets better toward the end.

    He was correct, I’ve read them all, listened to 6/7 (the accent grows on you) and would recommend them hands down over the current hot favorite series Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. In that particular series (I listened to the first book) there is entirely too much whining. So, while to muggles Potter may seem contrived, my personal opinion is that vampires and werewolves are a whiny lot. Maybe it is all that rainy weather in the Northwest.

  2. on 31 Jul 2009 at 2.Chris said …

    My daughter, Malori, has read the first Twilight book and knows my love for most things horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, yet hasn’t recommended it. Since she knows whining gets on my nerves, that’s probably why.

    Thanks for the reading tips regarding Harry. Maybe I’ll try them again eventually. Right now, however, my “to read” pile is so large, it would take me a year of full-time reading just to work through it (OK, not really, but you know…), so I’m reluctant to add Mr. Potter to the mix.

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