Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

The situation is grim and the mood is dark in the penultimate Potter film. Perhaps some fans of the series will enjoy tagging along on Harry, Ron and Hermione's slow, tedious search to find the remaining Horcruxes (until they're distracted with the Hallows), but most will find themselves checking their watches and wondering when something's actually going to happen.

You all know that I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. You might remember when I went to the midnight release party for the final book. When I was still in grad school, I camped out for midnight screenings of the first few movies. And I've enjoyed most of the novels' accompanying film adaptations thus far (with Azkaban being my favorite). But I was not pleased with director David Yates' take on Hallows: Part I. I need to give it more time to sink in, but right now it's my least favorite of all of the movies. Even though I read the book, I still found myself lost by the overabundance of characters (who ARE all these bad guys?) and thrown by the disjointed narrative. Worst of all, I was bored stiff and left the theater feeling like I'd just wasted 2.5 hours of my life.

It was certainly wonderful to see the characters we love so much back on the big screen -- but where was the action? Is this what happens when source material is split in half in order to make more moola from two films? Even two of the most tension-filled parts of the story were pretty lifeless (one's a battle in the sky right at the beginning, and the other is the capture and torture of one of the good guys (you'll get no spoilers from me!))... and these scenes were over before they even got going. When I read these same sequences a few years ago, I remember being tense -- thoroughly scared about what might happen. While watching the film I felt no such emotions. So if Yates couldn't get the best parts of the first half of the book right, then you can imagine what the rest of the adaptation was like. Because no one can deny that much of the final Harry Potter book wasn't that compelling to begin with.

Yates kicks the movie off by reminding viewers of how horrible the state of the world is because of You Know Who's return. Muggles are being killed left and right, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) watches as pseudo-brother Dudley and his parents leave town. Hermione (Emma Watson) erases her parents' memories of her to spare them the pain of her upcoming disappearance, which she knows might end in her death. Ron (Rupert Grint) stares out at the burned field behind his house -- the field the Death Eater Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) torched in the last film. The trio is aware that the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better, and they have to find the remaining Horcruxes (pieces of You Know Who's soul) in order to put things right. So they've dropped out of Hogwarts to do just that.

What transpires over the next two and a half hours is the search for the Horcruxes. There's a burst of excitement here and there, but mostly there's just a lot of wandering around, bickering, and waiting. This is exactly what happened in the novel, and my disappointment with the film closely mirrors my disappointment with Rowling's final installment of the series (I'll spare you a repeat of my frustration with specific plot points... it's all there in my book review). Perhaps, then, it's really not Yates' fault that the adaptation is so slowly paced. When you take the kids out of Hogwarts, the school's charm -- or, if I wanted to be corny, I might say the school's magic -- disappears, and at this late point in the series, the plot is too convoluted and the action too spread out to keep viewers' attention.

Was there anything I liked about Deathly Hallows: Part I? Of course. While it's a downright shame that the vast majority of great characters (Snape, Hagrid, Draco, etc.) got almost no screen time, the three leads have really come into their own (after rocky starts) and there were a few of their segments I absolutely loved. One involved Ron's increasing frustration with the mind-numbing pace of their journey (perhaps I liked this scene because I was feeling the same thing?) and his growing insecurities about Harry and Hermione's relationship. Grint is turning out to be a wonderful comedic talent, but HP7 proved he has some dramatic chops as well.

In another lovely scene, viewers were treated to a semi-awkward but 100% endearing moment of bonding between Harry and Hermione at the lowest point of their quest -- it actually brought a tear to my eye.

But for the most part, the film just limped along, going through the motions, trudging toward its completely random conclusion. I mentioned above that the narrative was disconnected -- scenes were pieced together in a way that would make non-Potterheads struggle to figure out what's going on, and even the look and feel of scenes differed dramatically, like they weren't all a part of the same movie -- but nothing epitomized this more than the ending. It was so bizarre and so out-of-nowhere, that when the credits started rolling afterward, the theater I was in was completely silent. No clapping, no reactions, no nothing. I can only assume everyone was in shock at the mess they'd just witnessed. Or they'd already been lulled to sleep an hour earlier.

I know some critics enjoyed Deathly Hallows: Part I, but I've heard from enough Potter fans and have read enough other negative reviews to know that the response is going to be very split on this one. So let me know what you thought! I truly hope you enjoyed the movie more than I did! And let's pray that next year, Part 2 gives the series the awesome conclusion it deserves.

- e