The harrowing of Harry Potter ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The harrowing of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 1
My rating:

As I mentioned in my Retro Reviews of the Harry Potter movies, I came late to becoming a fan of the series, having not been too keen on the first two. But I've greatly enjoyed the rest, and now I'm a bona fide card-carrying Pothead - albeit one who still hasn't read the books, which I'm saving for when all the films are finished. It's been over a year since the last one, which I remember walking out of feeling like the year-and-a-half wait till the next comes out would be almost unbearable. And yes, I've only watched it now a good two weeks after its release, and that's partly because I forced myself to watch 2 Alam first before it got yanked out of theatres. And you all know how that went.

But the wait was well worth it.

With the death of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), his most powerful opponent, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his forces are free to terrorize the wizarding world. But he has yet to find Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who has a small band of allies and friends willing to lay down their lives to protect him. Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy), the Minister of Magic, pays him a visit and executes Dumbledore's will, bequeathing items to Harry as well as his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) that will help them find the remaining four Horcruxes that contain pieces of Voldemort's soul; only by destroying them can the Dark Lord be defeated. But then a Death Eater attack forces Harry, Ron and Hermione to go on the run - and then news arrives that their enemies have taken over the Ministry itself. Alone, hunted, and with few clues to aid them, they begin to give in to despair.

Yes, it's only half a movie. Yes, it's a blatant and shameless move by Warner Brothers to wring twice as much money out of us. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the entire story unresolved. And yes, you're gonna have to wait another frustrating six months to watch the rest if it. But you know what? None of that mattered to me. I said in my review of Half-Blood Prince that I've grown to love these characters and this world so much that my objectivity as a critic is probably already compromised. Well, so be it. Incomplete or not, I enjoyed the heck out of Deathly Hallows pt. 1.

Yes, it's slow. Yes, that was a criticism of the last movie as well. Yes, the camping scenes do go on and on - but that's sort of the point of them. Harry and co. are mired in a hellish combination of anxiety, boredom and frustration. The world as they know it has crumbled; friends and family are far away and possibly in danger - just as they are themselves; they know it is up to them to defeat Voldemort, but they have no idea how and where to start; and in the meantime, all they can do is stew in their own fears and insecurities. Unlike many critics whose reviews I've read, I wasn't bored in the least throughout this sequence, because I felt it - every inch of their despair and desperation. When Hermione suggests that they just stay where they are, living in a tent in a bleak, isolated forest, and grow old together, I believed they would. I believed I would if I were them.

J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5, once had this response to a criticism from a viewer. Said viewer was complaining that there were too many filler episodes about the characters' personal problems, and not enough major developments on the overarching plot. Straczynski's response was that the character-centric stories were necessary, so that when the major developments happened, the audience would care about the most important element of the show - the characters. I think this dictum is clearly at work here. We need to feel our young heroes' hopelessness, so that their eventual triumph is all the more satisfying. Even in the previous film, we needed to see their silly teenage romances, so that watching them deal with deadly serious, world-shaking issues is all the more impactful. And yes, we needed to see that awkward dance scene between Harry and Hermione. Yes, it raised a few snickers, but the point of it was to show that these two 17-year-olds have known each other since they were 11, and that in the darkest period of their lives they're reminding each other what it's like to be 11-year-olds again.

So yes, it worked for me. It didn't all work, though; it has its share of plot flaws. For all the time spent on its three principal characters' emotions, it truncates a lot of plot information and exposition. Just when I'm feeling proud of remembering who Ollivander (John Hurt) is - a character not seen since Philosopher's Stone - the movie hits me with some guy named Gregorovitch. I'm not sure exactly how Harry found the sword of Gryffindor other than via a deus ex machina (then again, it just wouldn't be a Harry Potter movie without those). I'm seriously hoping that the trail of clues they're following to find the Horcruxes don't turn out to be Dumbledore just screwing around with them when he could've just told them what they need to know. And a number of crucial events - particularly the deaths of more than one long-established character - are short-shrifted by having them take place off-screen.

But frankly, I could overlook all this just fine. David Yates really is turning out to be the man for the franchise; he has a firm hold on where the story needs to go, and he proves surprisingly adept at experimenting with different tonalities and filming styles. The Godric's Hollow scene is practically straight-up horror, and a chase scene late in the movie is positively Bourne-esque. And if it was his idea to portray the story of the titular Deathly Hallows in gorgeously stylized animation, it was an inspired one. The huge supporting cast have exceedingly minor roles, some appearing in just one scene and sometimes having just one line, but I reckon they'll all show up again in Deathly Hallows pt. 2. In fact, I'm almost certain that the next and final installment will be utterly awesome. I figure that's a pretty good endorsement for this one.

NEXT REVIEW: The Next Three Days
Expectations: watching it for Paul Haggis more than anything else


k0k s3n w4i said...

since this is just part one, you might want to wait a bit before writing off gryffindor's sword as a deus ex machina.

gregorovitch was mentioned once in goblet of fire (the book) in passing. but i guess even if they threw it in, in the 4th film, people would definitely have forgotten it. it's different seeing it in print.

if a person have not seen an adapted movie and haven't read the source material, i usually recommend that the see the film first. the book can survive that. a film would fare a lot worse if its viewer have read the book first. this is just a rule of thumb. doesn't necessarily apply to all.

but for the potter series, i honestly think that the books need to be read first, because the films are obviously made for the fans. i consider the latest film to be nigh inaccessible for people who haven't read the book (considering how many complaints i kept hearing from people around me about how they don't understand what's going on at all).

i think yates is the best director the franchise got, but i think it's a shame that he's having to play catch up now with all the crucial details that all the previous directors left out of the previous films.

p.s. i started reading the potter series from the 4th book and as a result, i prematurely found out about book 3's twist. the result is, i thought prisoner of azkaban was one of the weakest in the series - while it's the fave book of most fans.

profwacko said...

trying not giving a spoiler... but the founding of the sword was not deus ex machina.

After watching the 5th film, i was getting serious with Harry Potter. I read the 6th book and back track reading it from 1 to 6 again and finally the last book.

Agreed with my fellow commenter above, if you didnt read the book yet, watch the movie first, read later.

Adi said...

boo! 4 bintang?
aku bagi 4 tahi bintang. haha

deck said...

I'm surprised that you commented on the deus ex machina of the sword, but not on Dobby's sudden appearance. The books cover the mirror shard but previous movies have skipped it so it just stands out now. Also, weren't you curious how the Weasley house was apparently burnt to ashes in the last movie but seems fine now?

TMBF said...

@wankongyew: I could buy Dobby's appearance; he ran into Kreacher and decided to tag along. Was the mirror shard never covered in the movies? I thought that was a detail I just forgot about. I remembered the burning of the Weasleys' house, but I thought they dealt with it; it did look like a hastily patched-together burnt-out shell.

Unknown said...

Watching this movie made me think about how good the Last Airbender could have been. They could have a)gotten a good director. b)gotten good child actors. and b)split the story into six/nine films instead of three. It had the potential to be the new Harry Potter.