Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Three Fundamental Problems

This weekend I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as did most of you, I'm sure. I thought it was everything it should have been, and then some, and I really loved it.

OK. Now that that's cleared up, I want to discuss my three HUGE problems with it. I'll give the obligatory **Spoiler Alert** warning, but my problems won't give anything away to those who read the books and they really have nothing to do with the plot overall. But, you've been warned anyway.

1. Gratuitous nudity. I had read in Entertainment Weekly that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson kiss in the movie. This confused me greatly because Harry and Hermione definitely do not kiss in the book and nowhere in the series did JK Rowling allude to a love triangle. One of the great strengths of the book is that Harry doesn't get the girl. He gets everything else. Plus, Ron and Hermione are just better together. So, when it came to the kissing scene in Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I was relieved that it was all just a terrible trick being played on Ron by the forces of darkness.

Then, as the camera pans away, it becomes obvious Harry and Hermione are in a naked embrace (and wearing bronzer), and the swirls of fog below their waists imply either 1) they have no legs or 2) they are having sex. In either case, is this necessary? No! Of course it's not. Regardless of how old the actors are in real life (which is still only about 20, 21, by the way), they are playing 17 year olds in a series that, despite its evolution, is still largely appealing to young children. Teenagers have sex, yes. But not in Harry Potter. Gratuitous nudity is bad enough in movies, but when teenagers are involved, it takes on a new level of perversion which, while I'm not offended by in this case, remain disappointed in.

As writers, we should keep in mind that JK Rowling didn't allow such foolishness to occur in her books. Sex doesn't need to sell an already massively successful series. If Harry and Hermione, or any other two characters, actually had sex in the books, then go wild, Hollywood. Nudity all around. But writers should not add something that doesn't enrich, or stay true to, the plot just for the sake of shock value. As a rule, writers shouldn't really include anything, shock value or otherwise, that doesn't add to the story.

2. No one liked Jar Jar Binks anyway. OK, so in the Harry Potter movies, he's called Dobby, but you know what I mean. I suspect that Problem #2 will cause the most controversy here because I know there are people who like Dobby. To them I say, it's nothing personal. But to me, Dobby was obnoxious in Book 2, was the source of a terribly annoying subplot in Book 4 (remember SPEW?), and his death in Book 7 left me saying "finally!"

Regardless on one's opinion about Dobby as a character, my main problem with his death scene in Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was its length. Dobby was comic relief at best and a very minor character throughout the entire series. I was much more upset about Hedwig's death, both in the book and in the movie, because what did Hedwig ever do to anyone except deliver their mail? But I digress.

In a final book that kills off several important and beloved characters, some of whom managed to die within the first twenty minutes of the movie, the film decides to give this minor character a hero's death and later shows a teary-eyed Harry demanding a proper burial. Then, inexplicably, they show the burial! I'm sorry, movie producers, but there's a whole lot of book left to portray. I don't have the time or the level of care to waste on a CGI elf who, if you're only judging by the movies, hasn't been seen since Chamber of Secrets.

As I said, my hatred of Dobby as a character is strictly subjective. But there is still a writerly lesson to be learned here. Minor characters are important and can be beloved (see my Hedwig comment above), but in a series as rich as Harry Potter when so many other fates are at stake, characters should be treated with an appropriate weight. JK Rowling wrote off some very important characters as causalities of a war, and even though I was shocked at quickly some of them went, I understood what she was doing. Death scenes are hard to write, but keeping in mind the context in which you are writing them might make them a little bit easier. In the case of the Deathly Hallows film, Dobby's death was undeserving of the level of attention it received, which, for me, made the rest of the movie a little bit weaker.

3. Do Harry and Ginny Even Like Each Other? In the final season of The West Wing, the writers realized there were only a few episodes of the series left to go, so they very quickly remembered to get Josh and Donna together. This halfassed-ry cheapened their relationship for the audience who waited seven years to see it happen. Enter another seven-year series and say hello to Harry and Ginny.

Ginny has a girlish crush on Harry from the very beginning of the series, but Harry basically ignores her until Book 6, presumably because she finally grew boobs and Cho Chang had recently proven herself to be a popularity whore. Harry and Ginny walk off into the sunset, making out in the woods, and doing all the stuff teenagers in love do when they're restricted to the pages of a children's book. Good for Ginny! Who doesn't like finally making out with their crush? Good for Harry too because Ginny is awesome. But, other than the occasional kiss, what chemistry is there between these two characters? They lack the passion of Ron and Hermione and their longest conversation resulted in Harry saying, "Sorry, but I have to leave you for an undetermined number of months so I can destroy a bunch of horcruxes." I like to think Book-Ginny thought to herself, Whatevs, I'll see what Dean Thomas is up to.

The lack of believability in book-version Harry and Ginny look like a romance novel compared to the way the films completely ignore their budding relationship. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 showed the two share a brief (and adorable) kiss early on, and when Harry, Ron, and Hermione flee for their lives, Harry calls out Ginny's name. That's the last time he says her name throughout the rest of the movie. Yes, he has bigger things on his mind, and I appreciated when Ron calls him out for being so seemingly uncaring. Still, it made me sad to know that Ginny ends up marrying Harry. Even though Harry is "chosen," Ginny deserves better. I mean, would it kill him to wonder aloud what Ginny's up to, or, ya know, if she's alive?

It made me wonder why Harry needed to end up with someone at all. It's the equivalent of making a female protagonist have a "happy ending in the form of marriage." Harry doesn't need to end up with anyone. He's already pretty amazing on his own. Ginny's strength matches his, so she'd be the best choice, but the audience doesn't necessarily need to see that happen. When writing, think of whether your characters really need romance by their story's end. Girls like Cho and guys like Dean are fine throughout - even a Harry and Ginny love affair is all well and good - but giving two characters a happily ever after because you feel obligated to do so isn't doing anyone any favors, characters included.

20 comments:

  1. Yes! Thank you for the Dobby point! I went with a large group who apparently teared up over the death of Dobby. I was laughing... discreetly, of course, because no one wants to be that annoying person in the movie theater.

    Did you hate when Harry said, "A proper burial. Without magic..."? Since when does Harry think magic isn't proper or less desirable somehow? Dobby's a freaking magical elf, too.

    When Hedwig died in the movie, I had forgotten he died in the books. So I cried out, "No!" At half volume, 'cause it's a movie theater.

    I always thought Ginny was JK Rowling writing herself into the story. Hence the bleh development and hasty marriage to Harry.

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  2. YES! 100% my problem with the movies and the books! Right on.

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  3. Yes! The nudity part was highly unexpected and not very appreciated. When it happened, I turned to my husband and said, "Well, I guess this isn't for kids anymore." Which is disturbing because there were a LOT of kids in the theater.

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  4. Need to get on the Dobby-hate band wagon. Not because he is the series' Jar Jar (though he is) or because I want to groan and skim every time he hops onto the page (though I do) but because of what he teaches children: that the way to atone for being bad is to hurt yourself.

    This is certainly dealt with with greater subtlety in the books than the movies, but I can't quite forgive Rowling for creating a character that children are supposed to love and find amusing who burns himself with a hot iron when he's been bad. Harry always seems more put out with the time Dobby takes from more important matters by hurting himself than with why it is wrong to physically punish himself. I don't believe in censorship or in shying away from harder issues in children's literature, but is that an idea Rowling really wanted to put into children's heads without the taking adequate time and care needed to address it?

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  5. Regarding that first point: when I saw that, I really think my mouth dropped open. And it lasted for entirely too long. I muttered to my roommate "MAKE IT STOP."

    Because really, that was just unnecessary.

    And the lack of chemistry between Harry and Ginny is really quite comical.

    I like Dobby, though... still, point taken.

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  6. @Allison - I agree that Dobby's self-mutilation isn't the best message, but I think Harry's overall exasperation with him makes kids realize that Harry is the voice of reason here, not Dobby.

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  7. From what I remember, the Dobby scene is actually a problem in the book, too--as is the easy dismissal of Hedwig's death (and Mad Eye Moody). When reading the book I remember being really frustrated by how affected Harry was by Dobby's death, but eventually chalked it up to it being a "final straw" situation--Dobby's death tipping Harry over the edge and allowing him to tap into grief for all the deaths that had come before. I wish they'd given it less screen time, nonetheless, and agree with Jaimie about the "proper burial without magic" comment--that wasn't in the book, was it?? How very Bewitched of them.

    I agree that the Harry-Ginny thing seems unnecessary, both in the books & the movie, as if it's a consolation prize since Harry doesn't get "the" girl--but then, this whole "I found my soulmate at age 16!" thing is an issue for me with YA in general. (Don't get me started on this theme in The Hunger Games!)

    One final note: when did the Weasley twins get un-cute? Travesty! Travesty!

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  8. @KJ - On the contrary, I thought Fred and George looked better than ever! I also love that Percy is dead to that entire family.

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  9. I'm still sort of shaking my head about the make-out scene. Because it was so out of place, it seemed more intense and painful. Yet...

    The Dobby scene dragged in the book, as I recall. There were tears and fairwells and a ritual donning of garments or something. I'm actually glad they cut it short in the movie.

    Completely agree about the last. Ginny is sort of a mum substitute for Harry, really, so it's creepy enough. But there were perfect moments where his feelings about Ginny could have only added to the pathos. And they were completely ignored. But it's not impossible for young people to bond under these circumstances. You see it less now that people are more mobile - but it does happen.

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  10. I would have liked the Ginny relationship to have been given more attention, but I do think it was important to the ultimate outcome of the series that Harry and Ginny hooked up. It was obvious from Book 1 they were destined for each other, so to me it didn't seem like an extraneous element. It's true that the series was not at all about their relationship, but it's not like they get married right after they graduate. (I hope.) One can imagine the real depth to their relationship coming later. Afterall, we don't really see Dumbledore's relationship "on stage" either, but it's still there, implied.

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  11. People didn't see H/G coming? Really? Wow, I thought it was made very obvious in about Book 5. There are signs that Harry likes her long way before he sees, just pay attention to the way he describes her and is always aware of her presence. Not to mention, there are two key scenes where Harry feels better and think it's for another reason. Read the books and pay attention to these subtle things and you'll be surprised. IDK, I felt their was chemistry - Ron/Hermione's "bickering" does not constitute as chemistry for me though but annoyance. But chemistry is subjective so.

    The movie H/G is disappointing of course. In the books, her kept thinking abt her and worrying where she was and what not. In the movies, there was none of this.

    Also, JKR has said multiple times that Hermione is her. So H/G is not JKR writing herself into the story.

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  12. Okay, I'm the last person not to see HP7 yet, so I can't comment on the lack of chemistry between Harry and Ginny in this movie, but I really wasn't feeling it in the last movie.

    It felt shoe-horned in, like the writers had kind of forgotten about that part until closer to the end. I think it was handled better in the book, but then again, most things are.

    But I think it's a good question: Does Harry (book or movie) need to end up with anyone? Probably not, but I think that a pretty big portion of the audience would have rioted if Harry didn't end up with a happily ever after, considering everything that's happened.

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  13. Very controversial.

    About the part where you can't see Harry and Hermoine's legs, I think that was in the book because the picture is coming out of the Horcrux so only the top is complete. Maybe the visual in the movie makes it look like it could be something I don't think it was meant to be.

    J.K. Rowling did spend a fair bit of time on Dobby's burial and little time about Hedwig's death, so it doesn't surprise me the film devoted more time. As for SPEW (my most hated HP subplot), that was Hermoine's fault and she bugged me in that book more than Dobby.

    I think for all Rowling's strengths, romance isn't one of them. Hermoine and Ron's chemistry was just eh to me. I thought she never spent enough time on Harry and Ginny. And Harry's thoughts about Ginny don't translate much into movie action. I'm glad they wound up together, but I wish she'd given them some moment after the defeat of Voldemort. Who would you go to first if not the love of your life no matter what just happened to Ginny's family?

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  14. I loved that Harry ended up with Ginny and had the happy family life. So much of his childhood was spent trying to survive one insanity after another so it felt satisfying to me, on a basic human level, that he ended up with a wife and kids. Happy.

    And I completely agree with you on the nudity. So gratuitous. Dobby's burial...yeah, agree with you there too. Poor Hedwig just fell from the sky and we never even had a chance to mourn him. Neither did Harry.

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  15. I loved the movie too, but you totally nailed my three roll-my-eyes issues.

    Ugh... that weird kissing scene... Harry and Hermione have such a brother/sister thing going. Seeing them naked together was just so, so wrong. I had to look away. I did, however, adore the scene in the tent when they danced.

    Dobby. Poor, annoying Dobby. I feel horrible saying this, but I was sort of relieved when he met his demise. Frankly, I was sadder about Hedwig's death, not to mention Mad Eye Moody's, which was completely glossed over!

    Harry and Ginny (or the lack thereof) don't bother me so much. I sort of wish she'd come along on the journey, but then the series has always focused on the trio, so that would have totally thrown things. As fabulous as she is, JK's strongest point isn't romance, and that's okay. She managed to get the main players married off, which is apparently her version of a happily ever after. :)

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  16. 1. Harry and Hermione definitely kiss in the book in that scene. I honestly don't remember if they were described as being naked, though. That bugged me just because it was so random that they were suddenly naked when they had been clothed a second earlier.
    2. Dobby's funeral is given that attention in the book because it made Harry realize that the horcruxes were more important than the hallows. From finding out about the hallows until that point, he was more focused on trying to find them than he was with finding the remaining horcruxes. Dobby dying while saving him reminded Harry that defeating Voldemort was all that mattered.
    3. Ginny in general kind of sucks in the movies (she was relegated to standing awkwardly in the background and staring at Harry), so it doesn't surprise me that the Harry/Ginny stuff didn't live up to expectations. I disagree with Harry not needing a happily-ever-after, though, because he's probably the one character in the history of fiction who absolutely needs one. I don't think every one needs to like Harry and Ginny as much as I do because to each his own, but there are plenty of hints and clues in the books that Harry likes Ginny and that it's not just a one-sided thing. All you have to do is read all of the books in a row and notice how often Ginny gets mentioned as time goes on. I especially noticed it during my last re-read over the past month. It's generally just throw away stuff that's really subtle (because JKR is awesome) - like Ginny saying something instead of Ron or Hermione, showing that she's there with them. The books are from Harry's pov so Ginny suddenly getting more mentions shows that Harry's noticing her more often.

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  17. Fantastic post! I have yet to see the movie, but I hope to see it soon. Thanks for clearing up the nudity thing. I'd heard all sorts of rumors but didn't understand what was going on in the movie as to why that would be there! Hah. Hollywood.

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  18. @Megan - I 100% agree that Harry deserves a happily ever after. My comment was that I didn't see why that necessarily needed to involve a love interest. I think if he were a female character, people would view it as a feminist statement. But for some reason, Harry staying single (at 17!) is sad?

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  19. By the way, my question wasn't directed at you personally!

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  20. I just see it as giving Harry a family, which is the only thing he ever wanted. Breaking out the Sorcerer's Stone reference to fully prove what an obsessive freak I am: when he looked into the Mirror of Erised what he saw was his family. I like to think that I would feel the same way if it was Harriet Potter but I don't know for sure. Actually that's a lie. If it was the exact same story with just the genders reversed I would feel the same way because I'm a sucker for love stories. I think the problem with other stories that make the happily-ever-after for women involve marriage is that it always seems like the chick isn't complete until she finds a guy who wants to marry her. Harry is already as complete as he can be after every thing he's been through.

    As for the whole getting married straight out of Hogwarts thing, it seems like it's not that unusual in the wizarding world. Besides, I see Hogwarts as more reminiscent of a college experience than high school, and I know plenty of people from my college class who are now married less than three years after graduating.

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