I know I made a joke about avoiding the film in my previous review. That was a mistake; it is the equivalent of living ten minutes from Woodstock but refusing to go because the crowd is too big. So, allow me to rectify it.
The thing is, the franchise has betrayed me before. I have read (and like) all the books. They are well written and perfectly entertaining (as well as original). The films have been another story; honestly, I have not kept up with them. I hate the first two Chris Columbus entries with a passion that can be seen if the weather is cold enough. Yet I deeply enjoy the third one. Alfonso Cuaron managed to make Harry’s world feel like a living, breathing world. It is one of the great screen fantasies.
So, what do I think of the penultimate film of the franchise? I give it a hearty, enthusiastic “ehh.”
The franchise has taken two steps backwards since Cuaron. Harry Potter, as a film franchise, has never been able to shake the feeling that it is just going through the motions. It follows the source material too closely, to the point where characters in the film are reciting quotes rather than acting them out. There is very little cohesion in the work, except to say “alright, let’s film the next chapter.” It all just reeks of a cash grab and does not add anything to the mythos of the source material.
Why adapt something if you have nothing to say about it aside from “I would like to make some money?”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Article 7, Subsection 9, Verse 23) takes place after the evil for the sake of being evil wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has essentially taken over the world. He still seeks Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who has become public enemy number one, so he must go into hiding with his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Yet he also must destroy this year’s MacGuffin (something called Horcruxes) that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul. Yet his friends also feel afraid and overwhelmed of the situation, (especially when Harry and Hermione start flirting with each other) and have their friendships challenged.
OK, I am sure that many can already guess what my biggest complaint will be – the fact that this is “Part 1.” I want to see and judge the film as a whole, but Warner Brothers has not given me the option. Thus the film feels hopelessly like a prologue where not much happens. It builds up to something, but that something never comes. The film doesn’t logically end so much as stop.
I know what everyone is going to say -“but the book is so long that making it one film could not cover everything.” To which I reply -“films and books are completely different mediums. What works in one will not work in the other. This is not so the studio can be accurate to the vision. This is so they can make more money off of you, the viewers.”
But then, if there is a lesson this franchise has never learned, it is the fact that films and books are two completely different things. It plays like some sort of speedy afternoon reading at the local Barnes & Noble. The film hopelessly goes over as much detail from the books as possible to please the fans. The result is not only lazy (certain scenes are copy pasted from much superior British films; the Ministry of Magic’s logo is such an exact replica of the Ministry of Information’s in Brazil that I am surprised Terry Gilliam is not suing) it is also kind of insulting. Why would I need a filmmaker to interpret my own imagination for me? I am perfectly literate and if you have nothing else to say that I cannot read for myself, I am taking my business elsewhere.
Oh sure, the performances are better and this film is not a total loss. The kids have all come a long way since their debut. They do seem to have their own chemistry this time around (something they did not have in the first films) and I was genuinely pleased at the camaraderie they show. Plus the effects are impressive, Dobby manages to not come across as a complete annoyance (and actually does provide some laughs), David Yates’ direction is far tighter than normal and at least does stay on point, (unlike the doddering Columbus, who directed the first two with the same grace as a man walking around the bar at Happy Hour), and I am not even joking when I say the cast they have assembled is among the best of the year. But there is no sense of fun, except when Helena Bonham Carter shows up to play Bellatrix Lastrange and appropriately gives the sort of evil glee that all the villains need to have. The rest of it just goes through the motions, taking away any power the novels have. Even the spiteful Umbridge (my personal favorite villain from the books) comes across as sleep-walking her way through evil – she does it out of duty rather than any sort of motive.
How do the filmmakers break the mood? By having, no kidding, a dance scene. This is just as unintentionally hilarious as it sounds. Also, yes, as many already know, there is nudity. I would argue that it is not gratuitous, but it still felt somewhat inappropriate.
I don’t understand it. Rowling gave filmmakers a world that could have been expanded upon and show (or perhaps even deconstruct) the traditional hero’s journey and the challenges of adolescence. But instead of using the novels as a stepping stone, most directors (except the sainted Cuaron) have used it as the finish line. This is still a much better film than the originals, but I still cannot in good conscience recommend it. You know what you should do? Re-read the book. Read it aloud to your friends, your young nephews, nieces, and cousins. Hopefully, you may be able to read it to your own children. Everyone will see why the world fell in love with them. That is something no one watching the film can appreciate.