Pass me that soapbox

Here is a spoiler alert. If you like Harry Potter, you will not enjoy this blog.

When I was child I had no interest whatsoever in stories about a boy who could magically fly, or a girl who could make herself invisible, or a belt that gave the wearer huge strength… or any other fantastical item of plain cheating. Because that’s exactly what they were! All those stories were, when you boil it down, centred around vapid characters who overcame difficulties by waving a magic wand or rubbing a magic apple, totally dependant on this hugely unfair advantage in their adventures. The ‘heroes’ of those stories overcame all opposition by trickery, and unfair advantage. As soon as I knew there was a magical element, I would close the book, or turn the page in the comic, turn away from the film. A complete and utter waste of time, and a waste of story-telling skill.

And now we come to Harry Potter. This week, so far, I’ve watched 5 films with my granddaughter (a huge HP fan). That’s what Covid has reduced me to. The room is cosy and she’s curled up, watching, enthralled and I am happy for her. I am. A bit puzzled but happy for her. As I write this she’s watching the first part of the last two films. I can’t bear any more. Endless clever-clever CGI, wraith-like devilish beings, nightmarish beasts, crashing strident sound tracks, more twists and turns than a plate of spaghetti, jump edits, tedious flash-backs, the shallowest of characters, swooping drone sequences, the most banal dialogue, an absence of humour and wit, and over it all the dread knowledge that there are 7 films in total to wade through, and that when this agony has ended another one is waiting.

Harry Potter’s vocabulary at 11 is exactly the same when he’s 16. He starts off well-meaning and bewildered and he ends the whole rotten saga as… yep, well-meaning and bewildered. It’s a characteristic of the writing that no one ever develops – they’re all the same in film 1 as they are in film 6 (I haven’t seen 7 yet. Here’s hoping they all tumble to ignominious deaths in a CGI cataclysm), Some are always stumbling disciples, the ghastly pert Hermione is always ghastly and pert, the baddies sneer and strut from their very first appearance until their inevitable demise. No one learns anything worth learning, there is no emotional discovery to be had, just trick after trick after trick. The good are unremittingly good and the bad are the polar opposite. When it looks as if Weasley is becoming measly – guess what? It’s not him at all, it’s a damn magic necklace containing a shard of a baddie’s soul. The magic necklace is taken off and he’s right back to being good old harmless Weasley. The good Gandolph is a dear old man with twinkly eyes and a silver beard, while the bad Voldermort has a disfigured face… you would think that by the 21st Century we would have learned that evil is invisible and appearance is irrelevant. You would think we might have found some shred of sensitivity that stopped us elevating ‘beauty’ and demonising disfigurement.

I’m not a snob. I love the original Star Trek TV series and the first films. For all its cardboard scenery and home made costumes, its risible science, it was a series with a heart. Its creator Gene Roddenberry (my hero!) wanted to explore great themes. I don’t think he even began to do so, but I honour him for his intent, and his amazing determination and audacity. But the Harry Potter franchise? These films, with a total budget of well over a billion dollars, have employed the best of the best – the design, the cast, the towering imagery of it all, the photography, the technology, the imagination of the creative team – it’s all amazing. The production values are second to none. Wonderfully vivid scenes pepper the long long drudge. I completely understand why youngsters get hooked.

What a shame these films never serve a story that’s worth telling. They make lots and lots of money, in the same way that casinos make money, in the same way that designer handbags make money. Is that what we want writing to do?

If we care about drama, we should care about the terrible waste of time and talent in these massively successful block-buster film series – there are film makers out there with real insight and thoughtfulness, new talent to encourage, writers with passion and something they’re burning to say. If drama doesn’t explore character and morality and – most of all – motive, if it doesn’t teach us something about ourselves, then what the hell is the point? We might as well sit in front of Postman Pat all night…. in fact it would be preferable.

Humanity is profoundly warm, strong, weak, adventurous, cruel, funny, self-deceiving, courageous, honest, greedy, challenging, jealous, grieving, lying, joyful, vengeful, manipulative, competitive…. we don’t need magic wands and computer generated imagery to show us that life is rich and exciting. We don’t need to cheat. The world is full to overflowing with characters who fascinate.

That’s an awful lot of listing. Sorry.

There. Rant over. Here’s a pic of the beach the other morning. Phew.

The heavens declare the glory of God

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