Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

"Harry Potter and the Delay of the Inevitable, Part II"
"Oh!  Like We've Never Done THAT Before..."

It is very disturbing to me that the all-time box-office-generating series of all time is the "Harry Potter" series.  I've only read one of the novels—the first—and found it charming, nicely irreverent, and "tuned in" perceptively on the subject of kid-angst, albeit "special needs" students.  J.K. Rowling deserves all the acclaim and revenues for her wizard knock-off, and a special thanks (and maybe a medal or for getting kids to read again.

The movies started out with a wonderful charm under the directions of Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuarón.  But starting with the fourth film, everything started to be treated just a Death-Eater shade too darkly, the scripts being too respectful to their sources (while simultaneously neglecting the arcana that delighted in the Rowlings), and the neat visual touches that were thrown in and taken for granted as part of the magical landscape, really WERE taken for granted, and never advanced in sophistication, or inspiration.  The emphasis has been on economics—meeting deadlines and cranking them out under the lackluster director of the series' final four films, David Yates.

The same holds true for the new one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  Yates is back as the director (and Steve Kloves, thankfully, is back as scripter, providing bursts of dialogue freshness), and his shot-planning is just as uninspired as it has been his last two outingstaking his cues from the gloomy vista look of "The Lord of the Rings" series.  This time out, It is a Dark Time for the World, Muggle or No: the Big Nasty of the series, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, relishing the role) and his minions control the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts School.  Time to eliminate the one person he hasn't been able to kill—Harold James Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).  Harry's inner circle of loyalists spirit him away to hide him from The Dark Lord (which ends up killing a couple of them—and like every death in the series, they are disquietly unmoving).  Ultimately, the Trio to Whom Everything Happens (Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) separate from the group in a self-sacrificing quest to find the horcruxes—the movie seems confused about whether there are seven or merely three—that contain the souls of Voldemort's victims that are keeping him together.  Destroy the horcruxes and destroy Voldemort.  Sounds simple enough.  But, we go through an extended camping trip with the three where they are fugitives from dark Snatchers and Death-Eaters and petty disagreementsIt's not spoiling anything to say that they find precisely zero horcruxes, and, instead, discover the secret of the Deathly Hallows (told in a quite nice animated story), which would appear to negate all previous plot-points and quests...hence, they wouldn't be in the title if they weren't so damned important, as this isn't "Harry Potter and the Completely Superfluous Thingamabobs."  One walks out feeling as if one had just spent a dragon-choking wad of cash and two and a half hours of precious life-time having merely seen the pre-game show, the same result as from the last two films.

There are joys and differences: the kids have learned to be very subtle actors, and, as always, the cast of British thesps is head-spinning in scope and styles, and they all seem aware that they must make the most of their limited screen-time, and they do—Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter and Jason Isaacs go out of their way to make their every moment countBill Nighy makes his first appearance in a "Potter" and he has that sepulchral style that makes him a natural for it.  Some of the lines are clever, There are a couple of seat-jumps (remnants of when the film was to be released in 3-D),and there's even a touch of sex in this one—the kids are 17, now—with a chaste moment of Potter paramour Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) asking Harry to zip up her wedding frock, and a vision of a naked Harry and Hermione making out is produced at one point to infuriate Ron Weasley ("That was...disturbing," said the girls sitting behind

But, it's much ado about nothingWe're left at the cusp of the action to come (and there are no hints or previews of Part 2 after the credits, so don't stick around unless you want to hear Alexandre Desplat's serviceable—and momentarily inspired—stand-in score for John Williams'), a theatrical moment that is merely some villainous chest-thumping.  Not the best or most impressive way to end it.  At this point, I'm beginning to think that the Potter film series is like a box of Bertie Bott's jelly beans—one or two might be good, but there are a bunch of ugly unsatisfying ones in the mix

The one thing missing that I hope—but doubt—will re-appear for the finale,* is the one thing that should be emblematic for such a series: some inspired magic.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a Rental.

* Is there some sort of spell we can conjure to ensure there are no more sequels, prequels or "inspired by's?" 


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Ha. You dissenter, you. I'll always have mad love for these movies so I'm probably tinged with more than a little bias. The shift in tone from book four IS in lieu of the similar shift in the books, even though I'll admit that the fourth film doesn't do its job of making the change in tone organic, which is one of the reasons it's my least favourite of the movies. I'm anticipating this crazily, how can I not? I'm a member of the target audience.

SugaryCynic said...

I feel like I'm a bit more forgiving of the film's flaws, but then again I saw it for free so yeah. David Yates has definitely been my least favorite director of the series, dunno why they keep using him. I love all the actors they manage to cram into these movies, it's impressive. Also I feel like the animated bit negated all the bad things in the movie.

Simon said...

I hate to break this to you, Yojimbo dear, but this might be the only movie ever made that is completely, entirely critic-proof. Moreso than the Twilight series--which is new enough that the fanbase can roam out of the sphere given long enough a wait, which explains the hasty productions--this has been ingrained in my generation since we were seven or so. We'll see it if it's the biggest piece of horseshit ever produced on screens, because we dig these characters, and we squeal at the smallest hint of shipbuilding, and we cry when a character dies, man.

So, yeah, saw it, lost my mind from the pure epicness. Except they knock Mad Eye off and dye Tonks's hair some goddamn normal color. The horror.

Mike Lippert said...

It always suprises me to see how this series started as being magical and has slowly, one film at a time, after Chamber of Secrets, morphed into being no more than simply servicable. They are entertaining movies but the last two were kind of completely empty light shows. The first four however were something special.

The Mad Hatter said...

I really do wish WB had just said "damn the torpedoes" and turned Deathly Hallows into one epic 3hour + film

Yojimbo_5 said...

@ Andrew: What can I say, little brother, I WANT to like them more, but as movies, they do not excite me, in the way they could if they even tried.

@ Sugar: Yates directed the TV version of State of Play, and although he tries to play the peter jackson card, he's a TV director at heart. I loved the animated bit...a CGI'd stick-puppet telling of the Deathly hallows story...but all it did for me was show me what the movie 9with a little imagination) could accomplish.

@ Simon. You're not telling me anything I don't know, Si', but the concept of "critic-proof" only applies if you think a critic's job is to affect the box office of a film. I could care less about boffo. But it is a critic's job to analyze, distill and comment, and in that, HP7 (7 1/2?) is not critic-proof at all. The Death of Mad-Eye (off-screen and unseen) is emblematic of the way Yates and the film-makers are blowing this series—-nothing resonates, it just happens. More was made of the death of a CGI character we haven't seen since "Chamber of Secrets," which struck me caring about the death of the android, Data (WTF! Stop blubbering and build a new one!)

@ Mike: My fave is "Prisoner of Azkaban" because Cuaron brought a quick breeziness to it, with many moods besides desperate moroseness. And a desire for visual invention that Yates couldn't care less about (Ak! I just my CD of HP&TPOA from my shelf and the disc is missing!!)

@ Tetch: Shoot, yeah! I'd have gone almost 4 if it was GOOD! But, this is one is like watching the troops prepare for D-Day without the invasion. At some point, all you're doing is watching the weather.