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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

13 Aug

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 posterSynopsis

Ralph Fiennes leads a Capone like committee of baddies who are out to get Harry Potter.  We see H.P. himself at his house and he must escape from Fiennes’ pursuit. Lots of pals assume H.P.’s appearance to throw pursuers off the scent.  H.P., Ron and Hermione  disguise themselves as adults to get into the Ministry of Magic where they take a locket. Then they go from place to place and camp out in a tent  Ron gets jealous and quits, leaving H.P. and Hermione to bond. Then H.P. and Hermione turn up at his parents’ on Christmas Eve and are attacked by a snake. Then they’re in a forest and H.P. gets a sword from a frozen pond and he’s rescued by the returning Ron.  They then chat to a sorcerer in his lonely house who tells a story of three brothers.  Then they’re attacked by Snatchers and taken to H. Bonham Carter’s jail where Dobby rescues them and he’s killed by Helena B.C.  Then R. Fiennes steals Michael Gambons’ wand, and we wait for Part 2.

Criticism

If you try to critcize H.P. you feel like a mosquito trying to topple a brick wall.  There are a few enjoyable scenes:  the tale of the three brothers is done like an Indonesian shadow puppet theatre, it reminds me of Regers’ 1950’s fairy tale silhouettes.  The scene in the forest is quite atmospheric, the Forest of Dean in the middle of winter.  The rest is underwhelming.  The three leads are charisma deficient, prolonged scenes with them are an ordeal.  I watched this with a couple of H.P. fans and they told me that new material has been interpolated, other scenes have been changed from the book.  This is curious, since J.K.R. is known as a control addict, one of the reasons she split Book 7 into two films is to get the details from the book.  It seems the romance between Hermione and Harry threatens to elbow aside any fidelity to the text, not that it’s any great loss.

I think I’ve alluded to this before, but the curious thing about a story dependant on magic is that it can undermine narrative development because it pre-empts conflict and its resolution.  When you know you can always escape a situation, then is there any reason for engagement in the first place?  The scenes are disjointed from an overall incoherence so that they do not achieve the cohesion of successive episodes.  They are more like set pieces embellishing the real interest in the story:  the sexual tension between the three adolescents.  After all, the childhood audience for H.P. has grown up with these three leads so that’s the central concern, isn’t it?  If (like me) you don’t read the books then this film does not stand on its own.  There’s cross referencing and reporting back from the other books but the viewer hasn’t got that luxury if he/she watches this on its own.

Another problem with this and other films is the comfortable familiarity of the scenes.  We either get modern British houses, public school Gothic in Hogwarts (but not in this film though) and a lonely ramshackle house in the middle of a bleak moor, a real forest and the Ministry of Magic entered by toilets.  We get jumps from place to place without any underlying continuum (which we get in the Alice books).  There is rationed visual novelty in each scene and what inventiveness there is, gets repeated in all the films:  the moving paintings and newspaper pictures, the Dr Who hi-tech wands, the oversized python.  There is plenty of gloominess which surrounds the eruption into hi-tech jinks which are merely frenetically extra contextual.  The Ministry of Magic looks like a mixture of a Victorian municipal palace and a posh toilet.  Dobby the elf looks like Vladimir Putin as a garden gnome

What. H.P. can offer is the chance for a well known actor to inject some of their own skill into the scene, and that can be a pleasure, although John Hurt only gets a few minutes.  There’s a real shrewdness and sharpness in some of the group dynamics but it gets spoiled by the three leads dumping their amateur acting across scene after scene.  Finally it’s all too much an expression of Britishness in the naughties, and those limitations will become starker as time goes by.  Arthur Mee with 21st century knowingness.

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One response to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

  1. Cathryn

    August 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    If I remember rightly, I felt short-changed (and ripped-off frankly) by this film. The splitting of the final book into two-parts meant that this film captured the slowness of the book’s beginning, and therfore by sticking quite faithfully to the book it was a little dull. Generally each book starts slowly and builds to an exciting action packed climax that draws together the threads and clues intruduced earlier. Here we get none of the pay-off and all of the hard work! The camping sections were supposed to be mind-numbingly dull for the characters – making a film of it was to torture us too! The films generally drop a lot of the detail that would make them more coherent wholes, but I suppose that is the balance that each has to strike. As a stand-alone film Part 1 doesn’t work, you need the prior knowledge of the book to enjoy it.
    I’m not sure what your friends meant by the change to the story – the Ron jealousy thread was there in the book, and was magnified by the evil influence of the locket.
    I agree that the acting lets these films down, Daniel Radcliffe’s, wooden one-dimensional Harry, doesn’t get my sympathy, and this film in particular is light on the participation of other characters played by stronger actors.
    As for the problem of stories involving magic, Rowling alludes to this in the beginning of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ when the Minister for Magic visits our ‘muggle’ Prime Minister to warn of Voldermort’s return:

    ‘The Prime Minister gazed hopelessly at the pair of them for a moment, then the words he had fought to supress all evening burst from him at last.
    “But for heaven’s sake – you’re wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out – well – anything!”
    Scimgeour turned slowly on the spot and exchanged an incredulous look with Fudge, who really did manage a smile this time as he said kindly, “The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister.”
    And with that, the two wizards stepped one after the other into the bright green fire and vanished.’

    Neither of my youngest had read this book, so after watching Part 1 I read the whole of the Deathly Hallows out loud to them, because they too felt the film was not enough!

     

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