Thursday, 25 November 2010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part One (2010)

At the risk of alienating thousands of 'Potterheads', I must confess that I did not think much of the latest film. To clearly state my position, I am actually something of a fan. I have read all of the books, seen each film on the big screen shortly after release, and do have DVDs of all of them. However, despite the already numerous raves on IMDb, I am unable to enthuse.

So what is the problem? The main one is, I think, to have split the final chapter into two parts. I will not be cynical and conclude that this was done to make the franchise even more of a moneyspinner, although that is of course one net result. I will be charitable and believe that it was done to remain more faithful to the original text with a minimum of skipping and reducing the action. But I am not a purist. I didn't enjoy any of the previous movies any the less for their omissions; whenever a book is adapted for the screen, there are inevitably necessary changes and it is seldom that these completely ruin the finished film, which the cineaste must take on its own merits. By dividing the action into what may be two unequal parts, the director and his crew have given us a very, very slow movie, barely alleviated by the occasional set piece. In the previous movie we learned that Harry must locate and destroy a number of horcruxes to allow good to win over evil. In this film only one of the remainder was found and eventually destroyed, leaving a larger number to come in Part Two. In fact one wonders how they managed to fill up the best part of two and a half hours here.

A second problem is the over-emphasis on Daniel Radcliffe's Harry, Emma Watson's Hermione, and Rupert Grint's Ron. While the trio have matured in their acting skills over the seven movies, watching them on their seemingly endless and random quest does produce a measure of tedium. Most of the remaining and well-loved characters are given minimal screen time and some old favourites don't even get a look-in. Ralph Fiennes' noseless Voldemont and Helena Bonham-Carter's overeager Bellatrix are given some play, but most of the other characters seem treated as background decoration. Also I must agree with those who feel that Grint seems at the end of his tether and that he is growing bored with his role as the gormless although ultimately faithful Ron.

This is not to say that there are not some things for the viewer to enjoy in this dark entry, generally far from the fun and frolics when the movie was largely Hogwarts-set. There is one bit of inspired animation as the tale is told of the three brothers whose symbols became the Deathly Hallows, a modern-day riff on silhouette animation reminiscent of the great Lotte Reninger. Changing the cast into multiple Harry Potters to affect his escape at the film's start is also mildly amusing in a somewhat jejune way. Voldemont's CGI snake is well done too, although very probably a little too scary for the young 'uns. Unfortunately, much of the joy and most of the humour has been drained from the series as the emphasis veers towards racial purity (no more mudbloods) and the triumph of the Dark Side.

The film ends with a cliffhanger, reminding me of those old Saturday serials, shown to get the moviegoer back next week. However in this instance we have to wait until some time next year (rather than next Saturday) to discover what happens next. Those of us who have read the book know the answer. Viewers new to the series may not really care.
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