Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"
Right off the bat, the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga -- well, the first half of it, anyway -- broadcasts that its mood will be substantially darker than its predecessors. War is come, and wizards, witches and non-magical muggles alike are battening down the hatches.
For me, the seriousness of the outing was underlined when Hermione cast a spell to "obliviate" herself from her muggle parents' memories, in order to protect them from reprisal at the hands of Lord Voldemort's forces. Watching her portrait fade from the family photographs, and knowing what she's giving up, is unsettling and grave.
I also appreciated that the blooming of teenage romance, so annoyingly pushed on us during "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," is appropriately tamped down. Harry and new love Ginny Weasley share one quick snog, and then she's thankfully given the boot for the rest of the movie. Even the Hermione/Ron Weasley quickening is mercifully kept at a low boil.
It didn't even occur to me until after "Deathly Hallows" was over -- and I should point out its 2½ hours fly by at a brisk pace -- that Hogwarts School, which has been the focal point of the entire series, is never glimpsed, or even mentioned.
The wand-wielding kids are all grown up, and school is most definitely out.
If you're not up to speed on the chronicle of the boy wizard, his friends and his evil nemesis ... well, then head to the video store or fire up your Netflix account, because you've no chance of catching on at this late date without seeing the other movies.
The last film ended with the death of benevolent schoolmaster Dumbledore, and the revelation that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, in slithery makeup) has divided his soul into several objects called Horcruxes. It's up to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) to find the rest of them, and destroy them.
Meanwhile, Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry of Magic -- the central government for the wizarding world -- and begun a reign of terror designed to weed out those wizards and witches not of pure blood, and to trap Harry and friends.
For non-readers of the books by J.K. Rowling (like me), it's difficult to keep track of the dozens of tertiary characters who flit in and out of the background. Pretty much all of them who aren't dead show up at some point, and a few of them are killed off.
One doomed character, whose name I won't reveal, hasn't been seen since about the third Potter movie. So to suddenly bring them back and then off them deprives their death of any emotional impact.
Director David Yates, who's helmed the last three Potter movies, and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who's penned all but one of the series, keep things moving along at a zippy tempo that focuses on the relationship between the Big Trio. The only place the story bogs down a bit is toward the middle, when the three are wandering in exile. The simmering conflict between Harry and Ron over Hermione's affections feels ginned up.
I will confess I'm not a big fan of Rowling's shoddy storytelling. Her imagination is great -- too great, in fact. Whenever the kids are presented with a problem, there's always a new spell, or a new magic object, or a new ally that pops up to aid them. Her story construction doesn't have an airtight feel because she always invents a new backdoor for her characters to wiggle out of.
For example, somewhere in the last couple of movies they've introduced a spell to "apparate," or teleport instantly from one place to another, along with those touching the caster. If so, why do they bother with broomsticks to get around? For that matter, why did Harry and all the kids have to climb aboard a special train to get to Hogwarts that first time? Wouldn't it be much easier to send a few wizards to poof all the kids there instantly?
But that's just my muggle mind talking.
3 stars out of four