Friday, December 03, 2010

the deathly hallows

Not enough Snape!

Now that I've got that out of my system ... I've been thinking about this film, a lot more than I thought about the bloated mess of a book that it is based on. It's impossible to not have all the things that bothered me about the book come rushing back. I love Harry Potter the character. The first book was wonderful. The following books in the series got progressively less good. They got longer and longer. And longer. The phenomenon was so out of control that apparently no one was brave enough suggest to J.K. Rowling that she should cut some things out, or to edit them. By the time we reached the last book, Rowling's meandering prose got the best of her and the rest of us.
... Rowling stated that she could not change the ending even if she wanted. "These books have been plotted for such a long time, and for six books now, that they're all leading a certain direction. So, I really can't." She also commented that the final volume related closely to the previous book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, "almost as though they are two halves of the same novel." She has said that the last chapter of the book was written "in something like 1990", as part of her earliest work on the series.—Wikipedia
Weak, weak, weak excuses and reasoning.

It seems mean to slam the books when I love the world and characters she created, but I can't help but tell it like I see it. Because the films by their very nature have to be shorter—it's not possible to fit in all of Rowling's wizarding world's details and eccentricities—I have always thought that they were more enjoyable than the books. True, some wonderful and creative details get lost, but so many other things that Rowling went on and on about—house elf rights, a few too many quidditch matches, the brutal deaths of major characters which became less shocking and more de rigeur as the series went on—are not missed by their omission.

I liked David Yates's Half-Blood Prince, and I'm sure he could have pulled off one (long) movie for Deathly Hallows, but
J. K. Rowling served as executive producer on Philosopher's Stone and was later appointed producer on the two-part Deathly Hallows, along side David Heyman and David Barron.—Wikipedia
It's hard to know whether the decision to make two films was driven by the desire to make more money or Rowling's creative involvement. But my guess is that the latter tipped the scales. "Less is more" is definitely not one of her mantras. I don't mind that there will be another film. I love these characters and these actors. But part of me wonders and wishes for the film that might have been if someone could have really chopped up the seventh book. Oh well, leave that to some YouTube auteur.

This movie is different from any of the other Harry Potter films, indeed any other film these days in that it reminded me a bit of the old Flash Gordon serials my dad liked to watch on T.V., but without the "story so far" intro. Deathly Hallows starts off with a bang and ends with a flash, with no explanations, or exposition, just go, go, go. I was fine with that, but it was clearly a film for the initiated. If this was someone's first Harry Potter film, they wouldn't have a clue what was happening or who was who. If they hadn't read the book or seen the last movie in a while, they might have trouble catching up. Even for someone like myself who has read all the books and seen the movies I felt a bit at sea sometimes, especially when scenes depicting Harry's mental connection to Voldemort tried to advance the story. Rapidly. Of course the break-neck pace was again trying to fit all of Rowling's plot points in. It could not have been an easy job at all to attempt adapting such a tome.

Yates & Co. were able to escape the tyranny of Rowling's narrative in the visuals. Deathly Hallows may be the best-looking Harry Potter film so far, and not just because its leading trio have grown up so gracefully (but they have.) The attention to detail in costumes and set design was wonderful. Maybe making two movies gave the filmmakers the extra incentive or money to really make things look right. Or maybe the state-of-the-art has just gotten that much better. Or maybe, knowing that this is it, they pulled out all the stops. One of my favorite sets was Grimmauld Place, which Harry inherited from his godfather Sirius Black. The peeling paint, the furniture, the bedrooms, had all the quirky atmosphere of Rowlng at her most descriptive. The special effects—the dis-asparating, the Death Eaters and especially the two house elves, Dobby and Kreacher, were amazing. I saw Deathly Hallows in IMAX and the settings and scenery added to the experience in a way that I don't remember from other Potter films, except maybe some exterior shots in Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban.

There were other moments in the film that added a depth that was never there in the source. An opening scene of Hermione erasing her parents' memory of her existence for their protection was truly moving. And a later scene when she hesitates to use the same spell on a Death Eater who has tried to kill the three young wizards is doubly touching—emotions an actor is able to convey that tons of words by Rowling never could. Another nice scene occurs between Harry and Hermione while they are "camping" in the woods. This was a particularly long, and let's face it—boring, section of the book. The film jettisons a lot of the endless bickering and hand-wringing and adds a scene where Harry asks Hermione to dance. It's a wonderful moment. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have always had crazy chemistry and this scene pays tribute to that, while also suggesting that Rupert Grint's Ron's jealous fears may not have been completely unfounded. It's actually very nice to see a bit of a love triangle, not just for prurient reasons, but because it would be more true to the situation, more true to their age.
Along the same lines is the ever-present theme of adolescence, in whose depiction Rowling has been purposeful in acknowledging her characters' sexualities and not leaving Harry, as she put it, "stuck in a state of permanent pre-pubescence."—Wikipedia
What a load of codswallop, as they might say in Hogsmeade. I'm not sure why Rowling always shied away from any realistic depiction of romance in the series. Any crush or other romantic scenes (and there weren't many) were always clumsy and wordy. I didn't really want to read about teen sex at Hogwarts, but the complete absence of it was strange. The movies have been much better at keeping it real in this regard.

Another weakness of the seventh book for me was that such a big deal was made of the horcruxes in the sixth book, Half-Blood Prince. Everyone was speculating about them while waiting for the final book to come out. When Deathly Hallows was finally published the horcruxes seemed to take a back seat to even more magical toys—the Hallows. More new stuff? Rowling just couldn't help herself from cramming everything in. Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 keeps its focus on the horcruxes, only introducing the Hallows near the film's end, which works quite well as a lead-in to Pt. 2. By this summer when we are ready for the series' conclusion, maybe the Hallows won't seem like such an afterthought.

The strongest scenes in the movie were when Harry and his pals were plopped in London and had to function without the familiar Hogwarts, parents, or friends to help them and frame their magical practice. A fight scene in a cafe was great. Not so great, as I mentioned before, was the camping trip. But the film gave it its best shot by making that middle section go by faster, adding the aforementioned pas-de-deux, and also especially a scene where a "charmed" Hermione is almost discovered by Death Eaters—delightfully creepy.

I did really like Deathly Hallows. It's more of a horror/action-adventure than any of the other Harry Potter films, but there were also moments when I laughed out loud. I cried at the same point in the film as I did in the book—when one beloved character died—possibly the most poignant and least gratuitous death in the entire series. But I can't shake the feeling that I walked into the middle of a story and didn't get to hear the punchline. It holds up as a piece of the puzzle, but could it hold up as a stand-alone film? Will it ever have to?
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