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.

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July 30, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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