Saturday, November 27, 2010

Film Review/Recap - Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt.1

Hey all!

So once upon a time there was a boy. This boy was different from all other children, except all other children in stories of any kind. His name was Gary Sue. Excuse me, Harry Potter. He was a wizard and more importantly the protagonist of an increasingly absurd series of books. In this series he battled Hitler and his army of extreme right wing, fascist Nazi's. Excuse me, Harry instead battled He Who Shall Not Be Named and his army of extreme right wing, fascist Death-Eaters. Except he is named, repeatedly. He's called Voldemort.

Harry also had a circle of loyal friends, nicknamed Jailbait Maximus and the Ginger Joke Machine. This circle of friends had to watch as Harry spent an entire book giving out to them (The Order of The Phoenix) as well as repeatedly tried to get them all killed for ill-thought out reasons. To rub salt in their wounds Harry then got the books named after himself like an ego-manic. There was also an old dude who died at some point. Whatever.

Anyhow, Harry went through many trials, including having to appear in a play where he has sex with a horse to be taken seriously as an actor (or so he says) and a series of god-awful films being made about his life. Poor Harry had to suffer from become a teenage millionaire, having an army of borderline insane fans and having to work with Emma Watson, also known as Jailbait Maximus. I mean seriously, damn! Ahem... Poor Harry. Along the way the entire population of Earth read his books and almost double that went to see his movies because fuck reading right?

"Dobby?! Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

To be serious for a second, I have always enjoyed the Harry Potter books, even if I would be the first to admit there was some serious issues with their pacing and the amount of Deus Ex Machina moments that occur. At their core they are a magical coming of age tale, with the greatest contrast from book to book (the tone) being generated as much by Harry and his friends growing up and being moody, awkward teenagers as by the sinister background presence of He Who Will Not Be Named. These books have considerable merit behind them, even if the later books and in particular the last one (The Deathly Hallows) just don't hold up to the earlier installments.

Sadly the films have always fallen short of the promise of the books. Director Chris Columbus was not right for the first two films (The Philosophers Stone and The Chamber of Secrets) and instead created cheesy, goofy, horribly acted pieces of cinematic dog-shit. Alfonso Cuaron did a far better joke with the third film (The Prisoner of Azkaban) by making the humour actually funny and the scary parts (like the Dementors) genuinely unsettling. Most fans favourite book, The Prisoner of Azkaban is also regarded as one of the strongest films in the series.

So naturally they fired Cuaron and hired Mike Newell, who did a solid joke of The Goblet of Fire, managing to introduce a element of maturity and pathos that the series needed so badly. Which was promptly handed over to David Yates who directed the last two films (The Order of The Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince). Yates has done an alright job, with the films he directed tending to be based more around spectacular set-pieces then overall cohesion of story-telling or mood. Examples include the spectacular battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort at the end of Order of The Phoenix. Sadly the Yate films have some issues with characters (far too many, with not enough of importance to do) and rely on the viewers to know the books back-ways, often cutting from scene to scene without explaining what is motivating the new scenes. Now for the last and largest of the books, Yates has decided to break the story into two parts, hopefully giving him more time to explore and develop scenes and characters. Theres just one tiny problem with that...

Nothing at all happens for almost a third of the entire last book. Nothing. At all.

Or Sneezing, It is Cold Out There After All

This is a total scam! There was no godly reason to divide the story, as fans were quick to point out when this was announced. This is the last leg of a seven part adventure, how on earth could more build-up be needed?! What is the point, other then to milk people out of double their money? Actually that makes perfect sense, well played Hollywood, well played.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Grrr...) at least starts out strong. A very dark and almost poignant opening sequence shows all the main characters quietly preparing for the coming final battle, be it through wiping their parents memories to keep them safe and happy or looking lustfully at their favourite pet owl. This scene is very nicely contrasted with Voldemort and his army of Death-Eaters all sitting together as a united group, discussing their plans for the future and torturing a witch who smypathises with Muggles (non-magical folk, as if you didn't know). Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is as sinister as ever, speaking with disgust of the notion of Muggles and Pure-Blood wizards/witches breeding, bullying other members of the Death-Eaters and taking the time to feed his snake.

Voldemort - Not Afraid To Slap A Bitch

After that unsettling start we get an ambush, a frantic chase and the death of two significant characters. Wow, explosions, excitement, swearing! This film is looking pretty exciting. Also, fans will be quick to notice how loyally this film seems to stick to the book, which is so far paying off big time.

Cue another ambush and then Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermonie (Emma Watson) fight the world's least effective assassins in a cafe (The assassins decide the best way to start off a fight is of course with your backs to your targets, who are watching you closely) and escape again. Ok, enough with the escaping and lets try something else. How about we sit in a field for almost an hour of the films 2 hour 30 minutes running time?

The majority of the film will see our heroes sit on their hands and do nothing. Ron moans a lot and says unfunny things. Harry doesn't know what to do. There is a plot involving Ron getting jealous of Harry and Hermonie together, even though no red-blooded male could really blame Harry now could they? There is also a sub-plot involving an evil necklace they all decide to wear even when its obvious it messes with their heads and occasionally tried to strangle them. Harry still doesn't know what to do. Ron leaves the guys to their camping and runs off, probably to listen to some My Chemical Romance. Harry and Hermonie have one of the most pointless and awkward dancing scenes since that awful sequence in Spiderman 3 where dance is used as an expression of evil.

Harry STILL doesn't know what to do. A sword appears in a frozen lake for no fucking reason (And don't even try to tell me "Oh its like the legend of King Arthur" because seriously, fuck that). Luckily Ron also appears at the exact right time to save Harry from drowning, because Harry sees nothing wrong with going swimming at night naked in frozen lakes. Unlike this film, Harry clearly isn't much good at treading water. I've just saved you 1 hour of your life you could spend learning to play the flute or watching Dexter.

And Before You Ask, No. There Isn't Even Any Underage Drinking Going On

The other 1 hour 30 minutes of the films running time all revolve around this extended camping trip but thankfully break the tedium. There is an amusing scene involving breaking into the Ministry of Magic, that culminates with Ron quasi-face-raping a lady who was almost executed. Because he's the funny one! Another Christmas scene involving an old lady who is actually a giant snake (Bloody Essex girls, never know what you'll get) would be a lot more effective if it weren't for the choppy editing. Even so this scene is somewhat terrifying, with the effects work in particular having come a long way since this series began. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1, as well as being the darkest film in the series so far, is also the scariest and most brutal. In one of the final scenes in the film Hermonie gets the word Mudblood carved into her arm, followed by the death of the most innocent and well meaning character in the entire Harry Potter universe, Dobby the house-elf.

Also of merit is a beautifully rendered animated section explaining the term Deathly Hallows and the three magical Macguffins that will come in very important in the next film. There are moments of superb acting (the acting being up to now the series Achilles heel) from most of the cast. Emma Watson's career after this series ends should be particularly strong, with her pulling off the widest range of emotions of any character in the film. The destruction of the necklace scene has an almost Lovecraftian edge of mental horror and wickedness to it, which has been hinted at but never really managed in previous films.

In other words Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a stereotypical David Yates directed Harry Potter film. It has some fantastic set-pieces but doesn't really work as a whole. The inclusion of elements such as genuine sexual tension are a boon to the series but a little bit late at this stage. The amount of filler in this film is more apparent then previous installments due to the slow uneven pace. The amount of characters that come and go is insane, yet very few characters get time to develop in any way. For example, the only scene with Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) only show him acting constipated and uneasy. When you can only give Alan Rickman 3 minutes of screen time in a 2 hour 30 minutes movie, you have made a mistake.

The division of the book doesn't seem justified based on the evidence here. This film fails to be great due to sticking too rigidly to the confines and short-comings of the subject material. Sometimes that can be a pretty bad move, not to mention that people already know these stories inside out and expected David Yates to trim the fat off the 7th book. Instead he sticks to the story of the 7th book to an almost religious degree. This is odd considering how little respect earlier films have had for the other books at times.

WHELL?! DED YA!? *Grabs Harry And Shakes Him*

Sadly this film was everything fans expected it to be, a bloated but enjoyable film, enlivened by some great set-pieces and dragged down by its own slow, ponderous weight. On balance, a perfectly average film, at a time when there are much better things in the cinema. It remains to be seen if Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallow Part 2 (Hallow Harder) can redeem Part 1 enough to make it worthwhile.

Final Score : 2.5 Exploded House Out of 5.

See If You Like : The Other Harry Potter Films, Camping Trips.

Til next time.

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