Month: December 2010

Give ‘Em Spell: Review for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1”

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The expectations when entering a theater showing an adaptation of a novel are either extremely high or extremely low. There is often doubt set in the mind of the pessimist, one of those “You can’t top the book” mindsets. The optimist has hopes that the filmmaker will include every minute detail from the novel, regardless of its impossibilities. And when the credits roll, more often than not, both people walk out of the theater with the same regard to the film. “The book was better.”

In the case of the Harry Potter films, the books have always been better. The screenwriters and producers have too often sacrificed character development and linear narrative for action and melodrama, making Potter fanatics furious everywhere. When Warner Brothers announced that the final book in JK Rowling’s fantastical series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, would be split in two, their audience was frothing at the mouth with pure rage and indignation. The reason, the producers said that splitting Deathly Hallows into two parts would enhance the film and allows for more detail, so that the narrative wouldn’t be as rushed and that the filmmakers could make it as faithful to the book as possible. Of course, fans refuted this claim, saying it was for money reasons.

As to whether or not the intention was to make it more faithful or to make more money, it doesn’t really matter in the end. We follow our hero after the sixth film and book, after Dumbledore has died, and the sense of foreboding and darkness is immediate. The first shots of the film are the trio, Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson), prepping for their journey to find the Horcruxes that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul. Every ounce of emotion is put forth, and then we are tossed into the throng of the War Against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

When we first experience the action, it’s during the Seven Potters scene, where members of the Order of the Phoenix transform briefly into Harry in order to act as decoys. It’s perhaps one of the most exciting scenes this year, not merely from the glitz of the special effects, but from the movement of the camera and the blood rushing music by Alexander Desplat. It’s loud and fun, as any Michael Bay film, but in its way, slightly more meaningful. Look at it; a troupe of people willing to risk their lives for the sake of the Greater Good, being led by a seventeen year old.

The film continues and is, by far, the darkest film of the series. It’s darker than Half-Blood Prince, which, for some reason, concentrated more on melodrama than character or story development. It’s nearly pitch black. But this is a good thing, considering that the heavy tome is filled with emotion and darkness throughout. The darkness does not overstay its welcome; rather it adds an interesting and suspenseful dimension to the film. From the moment it starts, the suspense never lets up, in a good way, and you can’t take your eyes off the screen. It’s action packed and makes your heart pound, but moving all the same.

While calling the film “Part 1”, the filmmakers did manage to put in a lot throughout the film without really sacrificing too much detail. It successfully went through the first three fifths of the book without stopping or hindering the immense pleasure one feels when watching a seemingly serialized film. The acting was top notch, which I am surprised to say. All three actors are blooming into delightful thespians upon the screen. Unlike the first few films where it seemed like the three were trying too hard and exerting too many facial muscles in each scene, the actors seemed more comfortable and it seemed like it was easier to show emotion rather than force it out. The senior actors, such as Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman, exude their character’s traits with ease and flamboyance, Bonham Carter playing Bellatrix Lestrange and simply hissing at the camera with hate and causing a rush of fear within the viewer. Rickman plays his usual sardonic/deadpan lines well, as usual, but his role is underwritten.

This is, without a doubt, the best looking Harry Potter film. The cinematography is simply astounding; with some of the most gorgeous shots I’ve seen in a long time. The camera sometimes slowly creeps and pans from one angle to another, and at other times is frantic within a chase scene and heading towards characters, as if the actors will collide with the screen. One could easily create a photo book just from the beautiful shots from the film. Eduardo Serra, whose cinematography has been seen in such films as The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Wings of the Dove, epitomizes perfection for such an emotionally complex film that adds action to the mix.  I think the film may have been shot in high definition, for the picture was clearer and sharper than one I’ve seen in ages. It added more depth and feel to the film. I swear, the imagery was the best I’ve seen in a long time.

The visual effects have improved greatly since Chris Columbus had to use a computer animated Radcliffe during the troll scene in the bathroom.  Now, things look more fantastical and realistic than ever. The serpent Nagini looks even more frightening as it lunges at the camera, both fangs so horrifying one jumps. Kreature and Dobby return to this film, Kreature first appearing in Order of the Phoenix. We haven’t seen Dobby since Chamber of Secrets in 2002. That’s nearly eight years, and there has been vast technical improvement since then. He looks more realistic, like a little midget who just so happens to be an actual elf. And because of this realism, he provides one of the most emotionally moving parts of the film.

Perhaps one the most important aspects of the film is the subject of what the Deathly Hallows are. For those of whom that haven’t read the seventh book, I say, “Are you waiting for an invitation?” Get with the program, people! This was newsworthy in 2007! Anyways, the Deathly Hallows were three objects that were created by Death to evade Death Himself and to grant power to three brothers who had met Him. It’s almost like a Grimm fairytale, with a lesson and wit violence and comeuppance. As to how they would have made this integral part of the book a legitimate part of the film, I was expecting a rather shoddy and sepia drowned flashback. I could not have imagined how fantastic this sequence was going to be. Blending traditional geometric shapes and shadow puppetry with 21st century technology, the silhouetted sequence plays like a frightful dream, basked in deep monaural colors and deep shading. Not only did it perfectly illustrate the fairytale and convey the needed message of the fable to the audience, but it did it in an imaginary and brilliant fashion; a fantastic hybrid of two art forms from completely different eras. The short, called Tale of the Three Brothers was directed by Ben Hibon.

The only particularly problematic thing in the film is the introduction of new characters that should have appeared several films ago. Mundungus Fletcher (Andy Linden), the notorious thief and scoundrel, was introduced in the fifth novel but only appears in this film, and very briefly. There’s the new Minster of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeor (Bill Nighy), was brought on from the sixth novel and now only appears a few times in this film. This is more the fault of the writers from the past, who neglected bring in characters from the past.

This film is spellbinding because, amongst other reasons, it is so incredible; it can be set apart from the rest of them and be taken upon its own glorious merit. It has all the right ingredients and then some more. Moving, exciting, and gorgeously shot, this is the best Harry Potter film thus far. The dark and eerie feel, foreboding what will come next; will make you hungry for more. I cannot wait until Part 2 comes out. Director David Yates does a fantastic job, making one of the best films of the year.

Grade: A-