Sunday, November 28, 2010


"Why the constant surprise?"

The final volume of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has been brought to the screen, in the first of two films. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is one of the least energetic films in the entire series, and that's saying something after the last entry, H.P. AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE.

I'd enjoyed HALF-BLOOD PRINCE well enough, with some reservations. I then read J.K. Rowling's novel, and was just plain floored at how lame the film is in comparison with the book. The filmmakers seem to have gone very far out of their way to sanitize the book, to remove anything that might be too scary (scarcely a chapter of PRINCE goes by without news of a death or serious injury from Voldemort's forces) or, even more apparently frightening, anything that might show Harry displaying any disrespect to grownups at all. Very early in the novel, for instance, Harry has an extremely ugly encounter with Draco Malfoy's mother that basically ends with him shoving his wand in her face and begging her to make his day. Similar scenes with the useless new Minister of Magic, whom Harry (entirely justifiably) tells off in no uncertain terms are nowhere in the film.

Yeah, I know they can't cram everything into the movie. But those little moments are really crucial in showing Harry's increased sense of himself and his increased anger at the world in general, and in showing the general sense of messiness, of good characters who do things that they shouldn't, that characterizes Rowling's books (the ones that I've read, at least.) Add to that the total absence of the kind of energy that keeps the books such a delight to read, and some of which was actually present in the previous entry, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. After reading Rowling's novel, I'm going to have to put the film of HALF-BLOOD PRINCE among the most disappointing films in the series, right next to DEATHLY HALLOWS.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS continues director David Yates’ bizarre ongoing mission to deprive J.K. Rowling’s great mad characters and intricate stories of all the energy, for good and evil, that makes them such a delight to read at their best. Thus, instead of Pissed-Off Harry Potter, we get a merely Melancholy Harry Potter. The villains do a lot of portentous whispering and posing, with only Helena Bonham Carter going for mad scenery-chewing broke. The aim seems to have been to make the films more Capital-S Serious somehow, and the film suffers for it. The color scheme has been toned way down into a RETURN OF THE KING-esque permanent cloudy gray. The big climactic moments like the attack on a certain wedding and the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic fall very flat indeed -- there’s just no spark at all. Characters from the novels appear just long enough to remind one of their existence and emphasize how much has been cut from the story, which also means that name actors who have made great impressions in other installments appear just long enough to get paid and to remind you of better films (the criminal waste of such glories as David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Julie Walters, Brendan Gleeson, and Imelda Staunton’s magnificent Dolores Umbridge is among the film’s worst offenses). The storyline feels both too long (those interminable scenes of Harry & Co. wandering in the greenscreened wilderness) and yet incomplete, somehow, as if even bigger chunks than usual are being left out of what is after all only half of the story, and there are a couple of elements that require some explanation, like that little shard of mirror that Harry keeps consulting periodically -- sorry, but what was that again?

This is all really unforgiveable considering the splitting of the story into two films. If they were just going to cut the storyline to shreds, why not just do it all in one film and get it over with? Well duh. They’ll make a fuck of a lot more money from two films than from just one, of course.

To be fair, there are highlights. A clever moment where assorted characters assume Harry’s identity and appearance offers some good laughs via CGI -- the sudden appearance of Daniel Radcliffe’s features on Emma Watson’s face is the film’s real comic highlight. The animated sequence explaining the film’s title is splendid, and there’s admirable chemistry among the three young leads. Ms. Watson and Mr. Radcliffe do their customary fine work, and it is especially nice to see Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley finally showing some guts after all these years.

So in 8 months we’ll get Part II. I guess I’ll go. There’s one bit in the novel that I had been hoping to get a look at onscreen, between two of my very favorite actresses, a big scene that I know a lot of people have been looking forward to, based on assorted online postings I’ve been seeing. I hope that Yates Etc. will not fuck that scene up the way they’ve fucked up almost the entire first half of the story. My hopes would be much higher if Alfonso Cuaron were in charge.