A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 517 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 – July 30th, 2011

This review is going to be difficult. First of all, it’s coming at the end of a full week of Harry Potter. And I’m kind of on overload. It started showing up in my dreams the other night and while that was pretty cool, I think it’s indicative of just how overstuffed my brain is with this particular world. Second, I couldn’t really get it done on the 30th when we watched the movie and then before I worked on it on the 31st, we went to see the second part in the theater. So I’m coming at this review tempted to talk about both of them together but we didn’t watch part 2 for the project. We don’t own it yet. And I want to be able to review this movie as much on its own merits as possible. I just don’t think it’s going to be easy.

I remember very clearly when I read the book this movie is based on. We’d pre-ordered it and it was being released on a day I was off. If you’ve ever wondered if librarians get to read the books early, the answer in the case of the Potter books is no. My boss, who does all the purchasing for the department had to sign a number of forms and send them in and practically promise on pain of death to keep the books under wraps until they were released. I believe she was allowed to open them the day before and the cataloguing department staff were allowed to open the front and back covers to put bookplates and barcodes on the endpapers but they weren’t allowed to open them any further. And then the books were wheeled into the children’s room on a cart covered in a blanket to avoid anyone seeing them through the windows. My own personal copy arrived early the next morning and I read it cover to cover in one sitting and cried much of the way through the latter half.

The thing is, to get to that latter portion? You have to get through the camping. There’s a running gag in MST3K stemming from the episode Lost Continent, where the characters spend an inordinate amount of time rock climbing. Then there’s another episode, Hercules Against the Moon Men where there’s an interminable sand storm. Camping? Is this movie’s rock climbing and sandstorm rolled into one. Harry’s not back at Hogwarts this time around, which is a major departure for the series. Instead, he, Ron and Hermione are going to hunt down the horcruxes that Voldemort has stored pieces of his soul in and they are going to destroy them. That’s pretty much the plot here, along with some fighting and battle scenes to remind us that there’s a war going on. Harry and his friends head off after an attack on the Burrow during a wedding that one has to strain to believe is actually being celebrated in such a fashion at such a time. And they end up roughing it in the woods after spending some time at the old Black house. While camping they talk. And talk. And fight. And talk. And camp.

I remembered the camping taking up a huge part of the book. I remember feeling like there must be something more interesting going on elsewhere. I remember thinking that after the opening of the story one would think the pace would keep up. And the movie does get bogged down like the book did. The opening? Well, the opening is fantastic. It is perhaps the best opening of any of the movies. The Dursleys pack up and leave their home, leaving Harry alone there to wander the empty house and peer inside the cupboard he used to live in. And Hermione packs her things and uses magic to make her parents forget she ever existed. For the record, Hermione erasing herself from her parents’ life was when I started crying while watching this movie. That is one killer of a scene and the movie twisted the knife perfectly by fading her out of a collection of family photographs, one by one before sending Hermione walking down the street alone, with only her purse and her wand. Brutal. Then Hermione, Ron, Mad Eye and a bunch of other Order of the Phoenix members show up at Harry’s house and disguise themselves as him so they can confuse the Death Eaters and get Harry to safety. And there are casualties (though I do have to complain that J.K. Rowling is not really great about handling character deaths – she needs to check out Melanie Rawn for some tips if she’s going to be bloodthirsty). It’s a good, heart-thumping opener, full of magic and painful decisions and high stakes. And then there’s a wedding and the camping.

Now, let’s talk about the camping. Because, see, I understand why it’s in there at least in part. There’s a whole lot of character interaction for Harry, Ron and Hermione and it ends up strengthening all three of them by the end. It gives Harry time to think about the horcruxes and how he’s going to handle them. But it’s also a very long amount of time spent in a tent in the woods with only the three main characters to talk to. I’m fairly sure it was truncated heavily for the movie, with only the necessary moments kept in. I quite liked the scratchy radio they listened to for information on the Order and the war and the endless litany of names of the missing is simply haunting, especially knowing that the three of them are so far removed by necessity. But still, it drags. And there’s little getting around it because important things happen in the woods. Realistically, I know other things happened. I know Ron, Harry and Hermione broke into the Ministry before the camping. I know there was some good worldbuilding showing the oppressive regime of the new Minister of Magic. I know other things happened! I know they went to see Luna Lovegood’s father and learned about the Deathly Hallows from a book of wizarding fairy tales! But all I can really think of is the camping.

By the time we reach the final climax for this part of the movie I felt like I’d spent hours in the woods. The final battle, with Bellatrix and the Malfoys and our heroes, was more than welcome because it meant something was happening. I applaud the decision to split this story into two parts, because it definitely has enough story for well over four hours of screen time, but it’s to this movie’s detriment that all the camping has to happen first. It did its best! There’s clearly a lot of work done here to keep things moving and keep us interested. It’s just that the movie is working with a story that has a lot of its exposition and character arcs happening during the camping scenes. And with the timeline of the events in the story it’s not like that could be broken up and spread out over the two parts to keep the pace up. It’s not that this is a bad movie. It’s really quite good in many ways, including the performances of the three leads. I will say that having seen the second part? It was well worth every minute of camping to get to the battle at Hogwarts. I’m very much looking forward to the second part being released on DVD because I am very much looking forward to reviewing it. It’s been a wonderful week full of magic. Pity it has to end, but I’ve got to say, I think it ended well.

July 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

July 30, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

It’s difficult to review this as a stand-alone movie because it really isn’t one in any sense. I think I probably would have felt cheated if I had gone to see this in the theaters – it is not even really half of a movie – it’s all the plot exposition and boring bits from the Deathly Hallows book presented as a feature film, but with none of the resolution. I can understand the thinking that split this movie in two, but it leaves this segment as a sort of orphan child, split off from anything which would have made it a coherent whole. I feel somewhat bad reviewing it in this form because it feels so very incomplete.

Plot-wise there’s quite a lot that goes on in this half of the Deathly Hallows. It’s clear from the very start that dark things are afoot and that the death of Albus Dumbledore at the end of the previous movie has left nothing to stop the rise to power once again of Voldemort and all his dark followers. Hermione, to protect her muggle parents, wipes their memories and leaves them alone. Harry, meanwhile, is on the edge of his seventeenth birthday and is left alone in the home of the Dursleys. The charms that have protected him as a child living with family will soon end, so the Order of the Phoenix show up on his doorstep to whisk him away to a new hiding place. They are pursued by death eaters led by Voldemort who is obsessed with killing Harry, but he is able to escape – at the cost of his trusty owl Hedwig and with casualties in the Order as well.

In his first attempt on Harry’s life in this movie Voldemort takes Lucious Malfoy’s wand, figuring that because it does not share a core with Harry’s it will be a better weapon. It doesn’t work. Voldemort now believes that the reason he is unable to defeat Harry is that his wand has insufficient power. He sets out to find a wand of ultimate power, and dispatches his death eaters to wreak havoc at the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacort. It is this, the destruction at the wedding of a friend, that convinces Harry that he needs to set out on his own to destroy the remaining horcruxes in which Voldemort has hidden his soul. Of course Ron and Hermione insist on tagging along and it’s a good thing they do because Harry’s going to need his friends with him.

Hermione has brought along a bottomless bag in which she has every possible thing they could need on their adventures from polyjuice potion to a magical tardis-tent. Without her Harry would have been sunk pretty quickly. As it is he and the other two are able to infiltrate the ministry of magic, which is fully in the grip of Voldemort’s despotic reign now, and steal back the locket that is the horcrux Dumbledore and Harry went after at the end of the last book. It’s pretty thrilling stuff, and it also shows how dark the wizarding world has gotten.

From there, though, things get a bit monotonous. The big problem this movie has is that Harry, Ron and Hermione really don’t have any idea what they’re doing. They get this one horcrux but don’t know how to destroy it. The locket corrupts them, sending Ron off in a huff, which makes things pretty bleak for Harry and Hermione. Through a bit of intervention from a mysterious benefactor (who has a patronus that looks like a doe – as Harry’s mother did) leads Harry to Goderick Griffendor’s sword in a frozen pond. They destroy the locket, but it brings them no closer to knowing what the remaining horcruxes are nor how to find them. There is a lot of bleak trudging around the English countryside listening to a radio broadcast that is a litany of names of the dead or disappeared. There’s a lot of camping in the woods or by lakes. There’s a lot of infighting between the three friends who are all at the end of their ropes.

We learn some about the Elder Wand, an artifact of rare power that Voldemort is desperately seeking in the hopes that it will allow him to defeat Harry Potter. After consulting with Luna Lovegood’s father about the Deathly Hallows (with a nicely animated fairy tale narrated by Hermione) the three friends are finally captured by snatchers in the woods and brought to Bellatrix Lastrange at the Malfoy estate. There they find Luna Lovegood, Olivander the wand shop owner, and Griphook the goblin from Gringots. Bellatrix flies into a rage when she sees the sword of Griffendor is with them and becomes convinced that they’ve been inside her vault at Gringots – torturing Hermione to find out what else they got there. They only barely escape with the help of Dobby the Free Elf, who gives his life to save theirs.

And the movie abruptly ends. I suppose I can understand that the film makers didn’t want to lose any of this plot exposition, and they didn’t want to make a five hour movie, but the result is that almost nothing happens in this film. By the end of it things are not much different than they were at the start. Harry, Ron and Hermione have managed to destroy only one of the remaining five horcruxes, don’t know what or where the remaining four are, and have learned a little about the nature of the elder wand. I honestly think that you could go to see the eighth movie – the second half of Deathly Hallows, without seeing this one and you wouldn’t feel you had missed much. All of the big action, all of the plot resolution, and a good deal of the horcrux hunting takes place in the last movie. This movie is filler. It’s nice to have it there so that the climax doesn’t feel rushed or too stuffed with exposition, but it’s not really a film of its own. I’m glad I didn’t see it in the theater both because I would have felt kind of empty afterwards and because I would have had to wait nine months for the real meat of this story.

July 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment