Saturday, November 20, 2010
DAMN Good Movies -- HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1
Those lucky, lucky people who already follow me on Facebook know that I have a fondness for writing up movie reviews so I’ve decided to start posting them here. If you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want it spoiled for you, then for cryin’ out loud, stop reading now. If, however, you are wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more fun and interesting than the ones without them…well, rock on.
So here we are, the penultimate Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. It’s been a long, nine-year road to get to this point in the movie saga and needless to say, expectations are understandably high. Unfortunately, returning director David Yates already suffered a big misstep with his previous film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so my big concern was whether we were in for more of the same.
To give the final novel in the series by writer J.K. Rowling its proper due, the decision was made to split it into two films which proved wise, in my opinion. The book ridiculously comes in at over 750 pages, so there’s an important decision to be made of where to divide it into two films. And unfortunately, the novel is so poorly structured and uneven, with a lot of pointless detail and drawn-out sequences between actual events that could and should have been trimmed out by any reasonably competent editor.
Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, thankfully, trim away a lot of Deathly Hallows’ fat and gristle but because of the need to adhere closely to the final novel, there’s still far too much left on the plate. Some very cool and entertaining scenes and filled in with overly long sequences (I’m looking at you, cross-country camping!) that make the film just draaaaaaaag at times. Characters will stand around debating their various motivations or something and you sit there wishing they’d just GET ON WITH IT.
It also doesn’t help that viewing this film requires you to be a master of all things Potter. Any newbie jumping in with this film will be completely lost as little to nothing is explained from what happened before or who all these characters are. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it means that you’ll need to be current on your homework before seeing this movie.
The thing is, Deathly Hallows Part 1 isn’t a bad film and at times, it’s really quite good. If you can survive all the unnecessary story padding, this was the most cinematic adaptation in the series so far. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra is exquisite at times, making those endless, uneventful camping scenes at least pretty to look at. In addition, there’s a beautifully animated sequence in the third act when Xenophilius Lovegood explains the significance of the Deathly Hallows. The Potter series has stepped up its game, at least in terms of presentation if not narrative.
It helps that the themes in this film are more mature. Characters die or are maimed throughout the film and you find yourself thinking back to the first film with Harry getting sorted into Gryffindor and playing Quidditch and realizing that this isn’t a kids’ fantasy series anymore. Just as Harry Potter readers grew up with the books, now Harry Potter audiences are forced to grow up with the film adaptations.
Once again, though, we have a Harry Potter film that focuses primarily on the three lead characters, Harry, Ron and Hermione, leaving the rest of the cast to little more than glorified cameos. Here’s what I feel stands out in this film…
HARRY JAMES POTTER: At this stage of the game, playing Harry Potter has to be effortless for Daniel Radcliffe. He gives Harry a hardened weariness in this film, showing him as determined to do what it takes to finish Voldemort while being worn down by all the crap that has happened to him and his friends up until this point. Harry’s ready to end this, once and for all, even if it means stripping down to his underwear and diving into an ice-covered pond at night to retrieve a sword.
RON BILIUS WEASLEY: I always enjoy seeing Rupert Grint as Ron. He’s the regular guy you can relate to in all this wizardry nonsense, although here he ends up becoming Samwise Gamgee to Harry Potter’s Frodo Baggins. Ron, like Hermione, is there to keep Harry focused on the task at hand, but also falls victim to the evil of the Horcrux locket in a pretty unsettling scene where he believes he sees Harry and Hermione making out with one another while naked. I’m sure the so-called “family values” groups will love that one.
HERMIONE JEAN GRANGER: Emma Watson gets to step up to the plate in a big way this time. After Ron is written out of the story in a Horcrux-fueled jealousy huff, it’s Hermione who gets promoted to Chief Sidekick, urging Harry onward in their cross-country camping quest. She’s the truly competent one who knows what she’s doing, but still ends up becoming someone for Harry to save every so often.
LORD “HE WHO MUST NOT BE CALLED TOM RIDDLE” VOLDEMORT: Finally secure in his place as the Big Bad, Voldemort gets to sit at the head of the table of bad guys and call the shots. However, because this isn’t the final film, he’s relegated to searching for the Elder Wand and being the film’s cliffhanger ending. As he fires a bolt of magical energy into the air, I half-expected him to go all He-Man from Masters of the Universe and shout “I HAVE THE POWERRRR!”
RUFUS SCRIMGEOUR: Finally making an appearance in a Harry Potter film is geek-favorite Bill Nighy. Although cut from the adapation of The Half-Blood Prince, Scrimgeour gets to be the one who reads Dumbledore’s will to Harry, Ron and Hermione to give them their magical thingamabobs that pay off later on.
BELLATRIX LESTRANGE: Just like Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter also gets a promotion to Chief Sidekick, only for Team Voldemort. With her street cred of killing Sirius Black, Bellatrix has become the second biggest threat so she gets to torture and threaten to kill Hermione. More importantly, though, she adds another kill to her resume by being the one who throws a knife into Dobby’s tummy.
DRACO MALFOY: Once Harry’s arch-nemesis, Draco has become a minor plot point now that Voldemort has moved in and taken over his family’s home as his Hall of Doom. He gets to wince as Muggle Studies teacher Charity Burbage becomes snake food for Nagini and act conflicted about whether all of this bad guy stuff was really a good idea.
LUCIUS MALFOY: Another former threat reduced to henchman status, Lucius gets to hand over his wand to Voldemort for the aforementioned smoking of Charity Burbage. Oh, and he also gets to look scared and conflicted about everything.
SEVERUS SNAPE: After taking out Dumbledore in the previous film, Snape should be primed for this film but he merely gets to sit at the bad guy table and presumably bide his time for the final film. He does get announced, however, as the new Headmaster of Hogwart’s, which would’ve been interesting if we had actually gotten to see Hogwart’s.
DOLORES UMBRIDGE: Once the Big Bad of Order of the Phoenix, Imelda Staunton makes a nice, albeit brief return here as Umbridge. As the head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission, she gets to head up the Joseph McCarthyesque “Are you now or have you ever been a Muggle” witch—errrr, Muggle hunt inside the Ministry of Magic.
PETER “WORMTAIL” PETTIGREW: Still rocking the silver replacement hand given to him by Voldemort, Wormtail continues his Grima Wormtongue-like underling role. He, however, doesn’t get to sit at the bad guy table and merely gets to keep an eye on prisoners that eventually escape.
MUNDUNGUS FLETCHER: For some reason unexplained in the film, the Order of the Phoenix lets this former Azkaban prisoner become one of the Harry Potter impersonator decoys used to get the real Harry out of Privet Drive. He’s also the guy who gets the Slytherin’s locket Horcrux to Umbridge. Essentially, he’s yet another superfluous character in Rowling’s narrative doing something that could easily have been done by someone else.
RUBEUS HAGRID: Hagrid doesn’t get too much screen time in this one, but he does get to dust off the flying motorcycle that we haven’t seen since way back in The Sorcerer’s Stone to get Harry out of Privet Drive to safety. He also gets a quick reunion with his girlfriend Madame Maxine at Bill and Fleur’s wedding.
XENOPHILIUS LOVEGOOD: Future Spider-Man movie villain actor Rhys Ifans gets to play Luna Lovegood’s father. His sole purpose in the movie seems to be to give Harry, Ron and Hermione background information on the significance of the Deathly Hallows and set up them for a pointless Death Eater assault to get the return of his kidnapped daughter.
LUNA LOVEGOOD: After a couple of great appearances, Luna is relegated to a couple of brief cameos, once at the wedding and once as a prisoner at Malfoy Manor. Hopefully, she gets more screen time in the final film.
FRED AND GEORGE WEASLEY: The twins’ primary appearance is during the Harry Potter decoy sequence, but George gets his left ear severed in an unseen battle. He does, however, get a very funny appearance later on with a toothbrush sticking out of the hole in his ear.
GINEVRA “GINNY” MOLLY WEASLEY: Once again, the love of Harry Potter’s life gets absolutely nothing to do. Ginny’s sole purpose for being in this film to give Harry a passionate kiss before the wedding that gets interrupted by one of her brothers.
ARTHUR AND MOLLY WEASLEY: Arthur and Molly get another cameo appearance but simply as Order of the Phoenix members and for the wedding. Molly does gets a bit more screen time to fret over her wounded son, George.
ALASTOR “MAD-EYE” MOODY: Brendon Gleeson makes a welcome return as Mad-Eye as he leads the decoy operation with the Order, but then is killed off-screen and mentioned only in a far too quick “Oh, by the way, Mad-Eye Moody’s dead” explanation.
REMUS LUPIN AND NYMPHADORA TONKS: Lupin and Tonks return for the Privet Drive decoy operation to reveal that they’re now married and Tonks is preggers, although that revelation is only implied. Sadly, Tonks is no longer as hot as she used to be in Order of the Phoenix, especially with her fondess of banging middle-aged werewolves.
NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM: Neville’s sole purpose in this movie is to tell Death Eaters that Harry Potter isn’t on the train going to Hogwart’s. Seriously, that’s it.
ALBUS PERCIVAL WULFRIC BRIAN DUMBLEDORE: Yes, he’s still dead. However, he does make an appearance as a perfectly undecomposed corpse so that Voldemort can take the Elder Wand from his grave.
VERNON, PETUNIA AND DUDLEY DURSLEY: The Dursleys get a quick cameo as they’re scene getting in their car to flee from Privet Drive. That’s it.
DOBBY THE JAR-JAR BINKS ELF: Dies. Finally. He does, however, get the most heroic death in the movie, at least the only one to have any real meaning.
KREACHER: Doesn’t die, but stops being a jerk for unexplained reasons.
NAGINI: Voldemort’s pet snake gets more screen time than most of the Potter cast, especially with a creepy sequence when she impersonates Bathilda Bagshot from inside her own corpse.
HEDWIG: Harry’s pet owl dies abruptly in an absolutely thankless death during Harry’s escape from Privet Drive. Harry mentions that it appears as if she was trying to protect him, but then he makes absolutely no mention of her for the rest of the entire film.
All in all, I felt Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part 1 was a solid, albeit uneven, installment of the series. It suffers from having to adhere closely to the first half of a poorly structured final novel, leaving little room for improvement. However, it does provide sufficient raising of the stakes for the final showdown in Part 2 next summer and should be more entertaining if you watch both parts back-to-back.
And for anyone who might be wondering, here’s my personal ranking of the Harry Potter films:
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)