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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Jul162009

« In Which Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince Lacks The Granger-Potter Intercourse We Were Hoping For »

Harry Potter and The New Victorians

by ELEANOR MORROW

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a short series of photoshoots assembled into an incoherent movie. If you didn't read the books, you wouldn't be crazy to ask what the hell is going on. I mean they basically ruined three of the central moments in the series here. I did not even cry when Dumbledore died.

Many have written themselves into a corner trying to hate on Harry Potter, most notably A.S. Byatt. As she put it:

Ms. Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, ''only personal.'' Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

Whoa. All art serves a purpose. Whatever got 100 million people reading books can't be all bad. In translation, the films can't possibly represent the books, which are essentially an awkwardly written first effort from a juvenile-level author at best. Miss Rowling was in no position to write a great fantasy, but she gave it a shot, and it's easy to write this stuff. Stephanie Meyer owns NBC now, right?

Seriously though, the films were destined to be bad unless one person made them all Peter Jackson-style. They did a good job with the first one and the newness of it, and then the lighting design just started getting darker. Everyone's complexion became vampiric like Twilight. No one is having very much fun. It makes you wish they had all just rewatched Legend 5,000 times before shooting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

But hey, that's what Harry Potter is — it is so general, so easy, it can take on any cultural phenomenon and incorporate it within the flexibility of the narrative (if the lame, we must find seven parts of the villain's soul plot can be called a narrative). Harry and his friends are a projective lense through which we view the younger part of our population.

The news is not great, you guys. On the film or on the generation it purports to depict. The piece of art that accomplishes largely the same thing as Harry Potter is The Up Series, a British invention of documentary television that checked in on seven kids at ages 7, 14, 21, 28...every seven years and so on. The results were mind-boggling.

Neil turned out to be the most unpredictable of the entire group. At seven he was funny, full of life and hope. By the time of 21 Up he was homeless in London, having dropped out of Aberdeen University after one term, and was living in a squat and finding work as he could on building sites. During the interview he is clearly in an agitated state, and it becomes apparent that he has mental health issues and is struggling to cope with life; he mentions he had had thoughts of suicide. At 28 he was still homeless, although now in Scotland; by 35 he was living in a council house on the Shetland Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, writing and appearing in the local pantomime. By the time of 42 Up he had finally found some stability in his life (with some help from Bruce--he was living in Bruce's apartment in London and Bruce had become a source of emotional support) and was involved in local council politics.

Harry, Hermione and Ron are juniors in high school and yet they haven't ascended much further than heavy petting. The adults in their lives are impotent creatures — even the murderer who takes the Unbreakable Vow is kind of a weak shit in the end.

The biggest evidence we have of the most serious villain to haunt non-Muggles in history is a smoky shadow in the sky. This was Voldemort! He had unlimited power! His lieutenants murdered untold wizards. But hey, what could he do? These three were about:

Over time the series has resisted efforts to make it less British, and for an American child, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince becomes a bizarre instruction of repressed sexual politics. The main crux of the matter is, all the pale faces have a very Victorian sexuality and have to observe customs or they're crying about another girl kissing their man, just kissing. How can an inner city girl who has worked two jobs by the age of 16 supposed to empathize with such an empty beacon of a woman?

A strange Muggle moment at a diner opens Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry gets hit on by an appealing black waitress who tells him that she gets off at eleven. It's obvious from her dress that she could have Harry screaming his dead parents names in ecstasy by the time she's done with him. Yet he happily retreats into his fake Victorian world — one that doesn't seem quite so magical anymore. I thought the point was that Hogwarts isn't identical to whatever Muggle High School Potter might have attended. I guess if Hermione can go to Clown College, Harry doesn't need more school.

On the whole, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince doesn't offer a terribly great image of English men and women, but it's an even worse portrayal of young people forging out in the world. Harry's bosom buddy Neville Longbottom has one scene in this movie, and he's serving Harry the lord a tray of hors d'oeuvres at a party for the more fameball Hogwarts students. And Harry thanks him.

The paring back of all the original and interesting material from the novel notwithstanding, what's left over is a bunch of teens who bear more resemblance to the cast of Gossip Girl than the fearsome force that created Dumbledore's Army in the previous novel. In addition, Rowling clumsily wrote all her best characters out of the script. Harry's uncle Sirius, played by Gary Oldman, formed a unique relationship with the orphan wizard. And then Sirius was killed off for no real reason, and Hagrid got turned in an impotent animal lover. For shame!

Shit, even House Slytherin looks like they're going to break into tears at any moment. Draco Malfoy shouldn't engender sympathy, you want to scream at David Yates, the film's clearly overmatched director. I'm not sure what's worse: that he thinks a giggling schoolgirl who likes Ron should get all the laughs, or that the only lines granted to people of color are apologies and invective?

A major element of the previous films, and somehow deleted in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is the idea that what appears one way on the surface is something different indeed. I saw the film with a capacity crowd on 66th Street, and there was the occasional gasp at some new special effects feat — the way leaves moved on a tree, or the sight of dead tarantula as dusk fell on Hogwarts.

But mainly everything is exactly what it seems to be: Snape is the villain getting his task from his master, and the film ends when he carries it out. Dumbledore has Harry's best interest in mind, everyone gets with the person they're supposed to. The worst thing you can do is not make choices in a fantasy.

Since Rowling isn't much of a writer, the books follow a similar, easy template. There is some sort of mystery that these three Scooby Doo types must sort out.

In the films we are thankful for this progression; it keeps us guessing instead of watching a series of interrelated scenes that never quite add up to a whole. In The Half-Blood Prince, the point was supposed to be us finding out who the Half-Blood Prince is. But no one every really asks that question, no tries to solve it. It's the entire plot of the book and yet it has disappeared from the film! I'll grant you that it's not a very satisfying riddle, but at least it was a riddle.

So we're left with the personal issues of these three beanpoles.

Even stripped of the magic that made Harry a sensation, screenwriter Steve Kloves could have been forgiven had he not directly ignored and never sufficiently investigated the love between Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. "You're my best friend," she tells him as she leans up against him. They know each other too well. They don't know Ron: he's like a child that needs constant reassurance, and they both fail to connect with the other adults in their lives. Here they had something, and they threw it away.

Harry Potter was about being an outsider, an outcast. The first image of this film is flashbulbs popping off at the newly famous Potter. He's not an outsider anymore, he's a star, and it doesn't matter if Hermione Granger's parents were dentists — she's going to Brown now. Harry plans to drop out of school. He's mired in existential dread. "Voldemort killed my parents," he tells everyone in hearing range, as if they didn't remember. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince features Harry losing yet another father figure. I'm afraid I cried all the tears I had for the last three.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She lives in Manhattan, and tumbls here.

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Reader Comments (13)

whoa, I had to get a 1490 on my SAT to get into that clown college

July 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralex carnevale

Fantastic review, you said everything I was thinking but couldn't articulate. The real tragedy is that having grown up half in love with the series, we are all the more unforgiving when it fails to stand under criticism.

July 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherineS.

Spoiler - (As if anyone has not read the 7th book - Come on, it's been 2 years people).

For the record- Snape's actual (heroic) motives are revealed in the final book. But I agree with everything else.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

wow, that was fun to read really. I love the harry potter series. Especially the books.

October 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLily

The Harry Potter books and movies would never have been promoted by the large media companies if they would have supported the Jewish goals.

It is very clear that the main goals of these books and movies is to indoctrinate children.

The mudblood theme is central to this.

In doing so they even used racial stereotyping.

Patraying Harry as a Jewish like boy and portraying his major enemies as blond blue-eyed people thus referring to the Nazi ubermensch myth.

As if every blond-blue-eyed human beiing is a nazi.

This makes it pure Jewish supporting racism.

(You find the same way of working in many orther Hollywood films which are for the majority distributed by Jewish controlled companies)

I'm sad that i had to notice these facts. After I did I became very aware of Jewish indoctrination.
I didn't do that before. Now, I'm awake and notice it everywhere in the media.

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I guess I'm in the minority in posting on this blog, but not with the rest of the world. I think all of the books were fantastic and well written, and I feel you just missed it all. Each story built upon the other, and they weren't all supposed to be happy-go-lucky books because there was a great tragedy coming. There's no way you could have thought you knew what was going to happen from book to book; I certainly didn't. Even Rowling said she wasn't really sure if she was going to kill Harry off at the end. And no one could have seen Snape ending up being what he was all along.

I will say that, as much as I've loved the movies, I'm one of those people who wouldn't have minded them being 3 1/2 hours long, at least from book #4, just so they could have fit a few more things that were in the books into them. The thing with the elves is going to stun some people who didn't read book 4, and some of the other back stories that the books contained that aren't in the movies will either confuse people or have others, like myself, wondering why they went in the direction they did. We certainly didn't know there was going to be this love thing coming in the 6th movie since it wasn't in the 6th book.

One of the things the movies have done, however, which the books really couldn't, that I'm proud of is that it's thrown out all the hesitations that many movies have with younger kids as it pertains to race relations. Harry's first kiss is with an Asian girl, Jenny's is with a black boy, and Harry chats up a black young woman as well. For once, minorities are shown to exist in the world; the Lord of the Ring movie series could have touched upon this in some way, if you ask me.

Nope; I'm a full supporter of these books and movies, and they continue giving me great joy.

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

Make your own life more simple take the credit loans and all you need.

March 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKinney27Michelle

What the hell is wrong with you people? This is a children's book, stop trying to force your political beliefs into the plot. The plot doesn't have to be fucking Sherlock Holmes.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWTF

yeah seriously people this book is not about nazis and shit! really you need to get a life if harry potter "opened your eyes" to that kind of bullshit the storie is about good, and evil, wizards, and unicorns get a fucking life!

January 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermadison

I think that this review was as far off as it could possibly be. Please go read the books instead of just skimming them and making a horrible review. Proof that you just skimmed them? Sirius Black is Harry's godfather, NOT his uncle. Please do your research next time.

June 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKamryn
I just want to point out you didn't have to read OR watch the films. Besides since when did we ask your opinion you filthy muggle? Us Potterheads believe, heck we know, this is the best film and books ever made. You got a problem with that? Also I want you to know tha us Potterheads will ALL track you down and god damn kill you. Want to know why? We're dedicated to our fandom. If you think you can do any better go on try.

I can't believe you actually have the guts to insult Harry Potter. I love the series and guess what. The film your critising was written by one of the greatest women who walked this earth. Know any other films whose studios they was filmed in was set aside with the set for a studio tour? Do you know any other films that people have grown up with? I don't think so!!!!!! This series (both books and films) are what I've grown up with and by insulting it your insulting me.

I would like you to know that if you hear a knock on the door, it's Hagrid. In case youhaven't noticed Harry Potter is one of the most original series I know (other than Twilight and thats only because they have bloody sparkling emo fairy princesses in) and I advice you to get a reality check. The Harry Potter page on facebook has over 53 million likes and some people don't have facebook. You didn't cry when Dumbledore died? I did. I'm hard to make cry at a book or film yet every death within that series you've just been insulting had me in tears.

So think before you write and publish. Harry Potter a mistake or miracle? A miracle, no doubt.
I actually think the nice thing about harry and hermione is their totally unadulterated friendship. Kind of a bummer to see people reading into what they wish was a relationship. Why can't a girl and a guy be just friends? You are totally entitled to your opinions, and respect that. Still JK Rowling deserves way more credit than you give her in this post (the credit you give = none). She struggled with depression and still managed to become the first author to become a billionaire from writing. I admire her and would never go so far as to say that she "can't write." She is a strong, intelligent, and inspiring woman. If you hate the movie franchise: fine. Hating the novels is a little sad, though. And comparing harry potter to gossip girl? yikes.
if you think hermione is an "empty beacon of a woman," you obviously never read the books. Why do you think women would not respect or identify with her? she is compassionate, brave, extremely intelligent, and has worked harder than any other teenager that I have ever read about.
July 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersarah hall

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