Friday, November 19, 2010

Myriad Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

This is not going to be a proper review- all my thoughts are too jumbled and all over the place, and it's been forever since I've written a proper review anyway. But it's 4:18 a.m. and I just got back from HP7.1 with Ana, and I have things to say, I tell you!

So first of all: I am of the camp that was TOTALLY STOKED when it was announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was going to be made into TWO movies instead of one. I have had the "2 vs. 1" fight with a certain friend of mine time and again, because apparently we have nothing better to do on the phone than discuss Harry Potter at length. Here is my stance: HP7 is perhaps the most intricate book in the series. It's the culmination of a whole mess of things, all of which were touched on at least at one point in the preceding 6 movies, so to throw away anything would be to do an incredible disservice to the story. My certain friend claims that the first half of HP7 is boring and angsty and sees our heroes do nothing but wander about in the woods. He is wrong. It is character-driven and moody, to be sure, but since when does that make for bad cinema? Since never. Thus, parts of me were almost more excited about HP7.1 than the Grand Finale of the whole thing. Give me mood, baby- Harry Potter thrives on it.

And boy howdy, was there mood! Absolute boatloads of it, and it was used SO WELL that I hardly even know where to start. This was the only one of the movies that will not take place primarily at Hogwarts, and maybe that's why I responded to it so well- not that I don't love Hogwarts in all its gothic splendor, but I don't relish the way the movies- even the later ones- have taken to doing long sweeping shots of the castle and its grounds, as if just to remind everyone that oh hey, remember? We're in a castle! A MAGIC CASTLE! Removing the three main characters from this world created a raw reality, one in which they're not safely guarded by teachers and Dumbledore. It's what I loved about the book, and I'm glad that it worked out so well in the movie. In the end, this is the story of Harry Potter, not the story of What Happened In Magic Land When The Bad Wizard Came Back.

HP7.1 does a lovely, striking job with all of this, with the edgy, terrified teenagers it follows, and especially with the look of the thing. Eduardo Serra, the rather underappreciated cinematographer of The Girl With The Pearl Earring and The Wings of the Dove, goes to town with the visual storytelling, especially with regards to Harry- the long lens close-ups of Harry when Ron starts to turn on him are just delightful, and the natural lighting, so rare in a Harry Potter film, is exactly what was required of this turn in the "real world." Oh sure, a lot of this was due to David Yates- David Yates, aka the best thing to happen to this franchise since Alfonso Cuaron- but Serra held is own against such past Harry Potter DP heavyweights as Bruno Delbonnel and Slawomir Idziak.

I don't know whether it's David Yates or simply the fact that the three stars are no longer awkward teenagers who basically stumbled into their roles by looking the part, but I cannot say enough how much Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have blossomed as actors. They've gotten better with every film (funny how that corresponds to every film improving upon its predecessors), but even in HP6 there were some icktastic acting moments, some overdramatization particularly on the part of Watson, and some bits where you could tell they were reciting lines. Not so with this film- I breathed a sigh of relief at the end when I realized that hurray, finally I could go into the next Harry Potter movie without worrying about these three kids butchering their characters. They were natural and sincere and funny when they needed to be without any of it seeming forced. Perhaps I am overly critical of child actors, but seriously- have any of you watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone recently? It makes me long for the dramatic subtlety of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

One thing I'm not completely sure about regarding Yates' direction was the segment in which Hermione reads aloud the Tale of the Three Brothers, from which the legend of the Deathly Hallows derives and the jumping-off point for the final film- it is animated. Yes, you read that right: animated. I am of two minds on this, because the animation was beautiful and elegant and lent the segment a sort of distancing from the rest of the wizarding world on screen- the kind of distance that perhaps was appropriate given how the characters regarded it, as nothing more than a legend. However, the distancing was also exactly the problem I had with it. It took me out of the entire movie, and made me notice once again that not only was I sitting in a theater, I was actively dissecting why the director made this choice, and formulating ideas about it. I always think that's a bad sign, when I begin to overthink a cinematic choice while it's actually happening. It was also so completely incongruous with the style of the rest of the franchise that I feel it was the wrong decision based on that alone... yet at the same time, what else could they have done? No one wants to see a strange, desaturated flash back with random actors portraying characters that aren't even really characters in the books. So perhaps making it so different was a good thing. I don't know.

I'm not going to go into the ways things were changed from the book, other than to say that for the most part I thought every decision was appropriate. I could talk about little changes all night, and no one wants to read a fanatic's ramblings about such things. Again, Yates was the best director for this series because he knows what to cut, and what to slightly alter to make a sleek movie out of a rather long and winding book. He didn't have to change as much this time as with HP5 and 6, which again is why it was a good decision to make it into two films. I can't wait to see what they do with the last one, and how they resolve certain things that were not addressed in this film. When the movie ended tonight I felt like I could have sat there for another three hours, watching right up until the end of the story. In other words, I loved it. I know I'm a Harry Potter dork and so of course I loved it, but I really do think that it may be the most interesting of the lot thus far.

 It should be noted, just to brag, that Ana and I totally pinpointed the exact scene at which they were going to cut the book in half. Perhaps it was obvious, but we were proud of ourselves. And I loved the slight additional scene (not seen, but merely recounted, in the book) they stuck in there to end this first movie- it worked really well. Kudos.

Oh and also, the scene at the beginning with the 7 Harry Potters was adorable.

I'm sure I'll come up with more to say, but now it's almost 5 a.m. and hey, I have to work tomorrow. Happy Harry Potter Day!!!!