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Entries in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 [2010] (1)

Friday
Nov262010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Amnesius Distinguis!

Before we begin, you should know that I’m not qualified to talk about how the Harry Potter films stack up to the books, having only read half of the first one a few years ago. 

In truth, I’m barely qualified to talk about the film series because my brain has a nasty habit of erasing the unique qualities of each entry the moment the credits role.  My recollection of the franchise is a mélange of random plot points and characters swirling around in a cyclone of indifference.  Since I’m only about thirty-six hours removed from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, I should act quickly.

If you’re a diehard fan of this series, you’ll likely love Harry Potter Seven.  It’s certainly the most grown-up film so far: there’s lots of death, lots of jealousy and fighting, and an ending in which it appears evil has finally gotten the upper hand.  If you’re merely a casual observer of the Potter movies (a real-life “muggle”), you’re more likely to wonder what all the fuss is about.

After all, haven’t the last three or four films ended with the dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) getting the upper hand, forcing the virtuous Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends to run and re-group?  It certainly seems that way.  And aside from a pretty spectacular couple of opening scenes, there’s nothing in Deathly Hallows to differentiate Part Seven from Parts Two or Four or Six.

The movie opens with Potter and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) leaving home for their umpteenth year at Hogwarts School for Wizards of Warcraft.  Things are different, though, because at the end of the previous film, Voldemort’s disciples took over the school, forcing Harry and co. to go on the lam.  In the most heartbreaking moment of the entire series, Hermione casts a spell on her parents to erase all memories of her before leaving home forever.

This is followed by a roundtable discussion in which Voldemort plots against Potter while torturing a Hogwarts professor who preached integration of magicians and muggles.  It’s a creepy, menacing few minutes that helps sell the heft of this penultimate chapter; I began to feel like I was watching an actual movie instead of just a Harry Potter movie.

Of course, the magic couldn’t last forever.  In the next sequence, a collection of wacky characters from the other films all converges on a secret location to help Harry get to a really safe secret location.  Their plan is to use a potion to disguise themselves as Harry and throw Voldemort’s minions off their tracks.  It’s a neat idea that opens the door for the series’ idea of high comedy when we see Radcliffe in a bra acting like a shy teenage girl.

But for anyone not too enchanted to use their brains, the execution of the plan might be a little worrisome: Seven of the decoys will set out on their own, while the real Harry Potter will fly through the air on a motorcycle driven by his loyal protector and head to the “secret location”, which happens to be his best friend’s house.  Hmmm…out of the eight different Potters, which one might you pursue?

This also opens up for discussion the method of travel.  The flying motorcycle is indeed cool, and it leads to a great high-altitude dogfight with the forces of evil; but over the next two hours, any time a character needs to escape, they simply teleport out of trouble, via a nifty, swirling disappearing act.  Am I to believe that a roomful of educated wizards found this to be a less desirable option than re-enacting the climax of E.T.?

Allow me to further drive this point home (and/or into the ground).  Before Harry’s friends become his clones, we’re told that the Council of Magic the Gathering has put The Trace on Harry, meaning that if he “so much as sneezes” they’ll be onto him—thus necessitating the need to go underground.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve sneezed lots of times; I’ve never turned seven friends into versions of myself.  Is the Council dumb as well as corrupt, or is cloning less conspicuous than sneezing in this jacked-up reality?

I’ve spent a lot of time on this early scene, but it’s not nitpicking.  I swear.  I’m simply breaking down a fine example of why none of these movies make any sense to me.  There’s endless talk about wands, hidden power symbols, and wizards’ fluctuating abilities; and for someone who doesn’t know a horcrux from a horseshoe it all adds up to lots of mumbling, moping and special effects that bend to the needs of the plot—logic be damned.

Okay, okay.  You want a synopsis for Deathly Hallows: Part One?  Here goes:  Harry hides; Harry is found; Harry and friends go camping; they squabble; they make up; Voldemort digs up the body of former Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to steal a powerful wand and we fade to black.

Everything else in this two-and-a-half hours is predictable connective tissue that has been well-used in the other movies.  The only remarkable thing here is the fact that everything happens so quickly that I just assumed Harry was having a really bad week; turns out these events span a couple of months, which is just bizarre and makes me wonder how much of the gazillion-page book was left out just to shoehorn the remaining bloat into a decent run-time.

And here we go, back to the books.  I understand that they’re a mega-popular worldwide phenomenon, and I’ve been accused of being ignorant of all the wonderful things I’m missing out on by just having watched the movies.  But movies are supposed to be more than moving Cliff’s Notes.  After spending almost a decade watching these characters’ adventures I can say with certainty that there is nothing about the story that demands eight films’ worth of telling.  If you were to trim all the fat out of the movies so far, you’d have a forgettable Disney Channel miniseries at best—call it six hours, including commercials.

These aren’t movies for grownups.  Deathly Hallows is too dark for children, but it’s still not a film that adults should go into with any hopes of being surprised or thrilled; not when we have Star Wars (the original three) and The Lord of the Rings at our fingertips.  The latter trilogy is especially important when discussing Deathly Hallows because a significant sub-plot involves a magical pendant that our main characters must figure out how to destroy.  Whoever wears it gradually succumbs to its dark powers, resulting in the trio’s temporary breakup.  Shouldn’t co-opting Tolkien warrant book burnings instead of midnight pre-release parties?

For all my gripes, I’ll acknowledge that the Potter movies are well-made and decently acted.  The special effects get better and more convincing every year, and I’m always amused at the series’ ability to put every popular British actor on the screen in some capacity (okay, not every one—yet; there’s still one film to go).  There’s a brief animated sequence towards the end of Deathly Hallows that blew me away, starting off as a 2D-looking fable and expanding into an imaginative 3D spectacle.  It’s the one time during the whole film that I felt director David Yates was more than simply awake.

It’s hard to see this franchise as anything but an annual moneymaking venture, like Back-to-School Sales or the War on Christmas.  I’ll be curious to see how this series is viewed in fifty years, if it’s viewed at all.  Maybe there’ll be some magic in Deathly Hallows: Part Two that will make everything worthwhile.  But I have a feeling we’re in for more moping and teleporting and reciting of spells before the inevitable, glorified lightsaber duel—the outcome of which is as easy to guess as the weekend box office.

These are our modern myths, kids.  Please join me in a good, long cry.