Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and Storytelling

For the first time in seven years I went to a midnight showing of a film on opening night.  I have not done this since the third Lord of the Rings movie in 2003, but last night Brooke and I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I.  Doing something you do not normally do is a good way to gain new insights and several came out of last night's experience.

The first insight is that I am getting way too old for midnight showings.

The second insight was that the movie itself was both good and bad.  It was very much in line with the previous Harry Potter movies.  The movie captured the essence of the Potter universe like the others, but also like the others, it carried little of the depth of the books.  Many plot points were tweaked, twisted, or left out completely, leaving a lover of the books with some real disappointment.

A third insight was that, as Brooke and I were sitting in the theater with about an hour and a half until movie time, I noticed how many people were staring at their smart phones, surfing the internet, playing movies, texting, tweating, etc.  I looked at myself, then over to Brooke, and saw that we were doing the same thing.  We looked at each other, I pointed out how much things had changed in the last few years, and we both decided to put our phones away and play a game.  We started by trying to name every character in the Harry Potter universe that we could think of, alternating turns, with the first person stumped to be the loser.  Brooke of course won; not only is she better with names than I am, she has also read the books much more than I have.  We then switched and played the same game with Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, and our recent guilty pleasure, Friday Night Lights.

Playing this game with these TV shows as compared with Harry Potter, I noticed a fourth significant insight.  We could play the Potter game for quite some time, but we quickly ran out of characters with the TV shows.  That got me thinking about the different media for storytelling and what types of story TV and print media are good at telling.

The print version of the Harry Potter series is incredibly deep in terms of the universe it creates.  Rowling populates this world with a myriad of characters that are memorable, memorable enough to be recalled by even me who has read the books only once.  TV on the other hand yields far fewer memorable characters.  Not that TV is bad at characters.  Quite the contrary, I feel like I know and love many of the characters in TV land far better than some characters from the book world.  I love how Lost, Battlestar, and Alias tell about their main characters.  TV does this perhaps better than any other media.  Especially if the TV show has multiple seasons.  By the end of a viewing of Lost, one has had approximately 90 hours of screen time to get to know and love the characters.  But, it is only the main characters.  Print media I believe does side and fringe characters better.

So, what kind of media is best for telling stories?  I am not sure, both types have their strengths and weaknesses.  One thing I can say, TV does characters better than movies on the whole.  And Books do better than movies.  Movies are just too short.  Have you experienced any thing similar?  I would love to hear your take on this phenomenon.


  1. Okay, so this is my experience.

    One of the hardest things for me is when I watch a movie after I've read its book. Most of the time, its hard either because so much had to be left out, or because the directors changed the plot for their own devices. Personally, I think the best done book-to-movie series is Lord of the Rings, and even then, more than half the story had to be left out. There's simply not enough time. And I think that's what Mr. Reich's question boils down to. Shows, movies, and books all tell stories, but how much time do you really have to "get into it"? For me, sitting down and reading a book is an afternoon escape. A movie is done in what? An hour and a half? Two hours? Not nearly enough time to care about the characters unless the plot is really, really well done. So, my conclusion is that books are better at telling stories because they give you enough time to see the characters for who they are. (plus you're seeing them from the inside out, so you get a better understanding of each character)
    As to the other part of the blog (about the cell phones and stuff), that's already something that bothers me. I saw a commercial once, about three people on a ski lift. All three were either texting, checking emails, or surfing aps on their phones. I turned to my friend about half way through and asked her "why don't they just talk to the person sitting next to them?" I won't get into it too much, but I think in a way, technology has made this generation socially stunted. What I mean by that is that people seem more comfortable texting someone they know rather than talking to the person that they might not know as well who's standing right next to them. It's not necessarily bad, but it doesn't do much for improving vocal communication skills or dealing with awkward situations. It's more of an avoidance maneuver than an actual fault of any kind, but it's still kind of irksome to compete with a phone for someone's attention.

  2. To answer the question, I feel that Books are the best media for telling stories. Not only do books provide you with a better understanding of who the characters are and what they are thinking, you can also let your imagination run wild with what the characters look like in addition to the setting of the story line. This question also relates to religion in the fact that while I prefer books to movies for telling stories, there are different Christian sects (Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, etc.) that people prefer based upon their own personal doctrines and beliefs. There is nothing wrong or heretical with the other sects, it is just that everyone prefers something different. All in all--whether it is movies, books, TV shows, or religion, there is nothing wrong with the others, it is just what you personally prefer.

  3. Andrea SifuentesMay 9, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    Books are the best for storytelling for a few reasons:

    1. There are no limitations. You are not restricted by the amount of money alotted into making the book because it doesn't really cost that much more for a certain amount of pages versus another amount of pages. Authors are allowed to let the pen run as long as it takes to close the story perfectly.

    2. Since authors can have as many pages as they need they are able to create an entire world for readers to get lost in. They have the ability to make emotions rise within readers that make them so invested in the movie. When a character dies or is in mourning, we are allowed to cry along with them as long as we need to. Of course, you can cry and laugh in movies too, but you only have a couple seconds before everything changes and the time to mourn is over- the movie has moved on.

    3. Imagination is the greatest part of literature. The author uses his/her imagination to create the world and give you all the details and everything. But you are given the freedom to create voices, give them styles in some cases, imagine the places they go and how Butterbeer tastes. It is up to the reader to keep the world alive and we all have our own interpretations of everything we read.

    Books are the best outlet for people- they have the freedom to create something so deep and well rounded that they can appeal to everyone.