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The ominous tone is set early on in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The three young heroes who audiences across the globe have come to know and adore are alone and suffering in their own worlds.  Ron Weasley, the series’ least intellectually burdened of the trio, stands before his previously conflagrated family home in deep thought, feeling the chill of a future he can’t avoid.  In the Muggle world, brainiac witch Hermione Granger makes the heartbreaking choice to magically erase her existence from the memories of her loving non-magical parents in an attempt to keep them safe and free from the pain of what might happen to their child.  Harry Potter stares out the window of his uncle’s home watching as the Dursleys, the only family he’s ever known, flee to escape the danger their charge has innocuously brought upon them and the entire human race.  Harry takes one last look into the closet under the stairs where he lived most of his young life until the wizarding world reclaimed him.  He has outgrown it in every way, but would give anything to go back the simpler time the tiny enclosure represents.  The future is now and the end is near.

Brilliant start. The pairing of nostalgia and foreboding is thick throughout this seventh film in the wildly successful series and with good reason; this is it, folks.  Author J.K. Rowling held good to her promise that the adventures of “The Boy Who Lived” would cease at seven novels.  Warner Brothers felt there was so much to include in their finale they chopped the film into two parts, the second to be released in summer 2011.  Reintroducing characters and storylines not seen for many chapters; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows tries to pack in as much as it can for its audience.  While the first hour of Deathly Hallows is a ride one wishes would never end, the staunch refusal to make edits to Rowling’s opus is also the film’s weak spot and makes its second hour and a half a different affair, which could easily have ended far sooner.  In its favour, Deathly Hallows features some truly riveting sequences:  Harry and sworn protector Hagrid’s wild CGI-laden escape from Little Whinging is thrilling.  A white knuckle chase from the evil Lord Voldemort, whose final play after a methodical enslavement of the UK sparing neither Muggle nor Wizard is the murder of Harry, “The Chosen One” prophesied to destroy him.

I had hoped that writer Steve Kloves and director David Yates might actually correct some of the faults in what I felt was the poorest book in the series.  Deathly Hallows is the first move away from the Hogwarts wizarding school year template.  It also marks the first time we see the three young witches in the Muggle world for any length of time and the result displayed some of Rowling’s flaws as a writer as the book was a mass of minute questions we didn’t really need to wait seven books to answer.  There are silly plot devices, flat-out harebrained choices regarding the placement of some emotional moments and the worst pacing in the series.  Sadly, as is the source material, so goes the adaptation.  Things are crammed in the film so tight that many of the opportunities for real emotion go to waste.  The death early on of one of Harry’s first friends receives no better treatment in the film than it did in the novel.  The passing of another character and fan favourite earns barely more than a sigh from the others.  There’s so much happening in a vacuum here with deaths all over the place and a wealth of exposition shoved at the moviegoer -- brush up on your Horcrux knowledge and character lists, people, else you’ll be lost -- the film doesn’t sustain the real feeling it engenders brilliantly in the opening scenes.  The mood of grim portent reigns throughout, even during a supposedly joyful -- if absurd -- diversion of a Weasley wedding, about which Harry opines, “I don’t care about a wedding,” and frankly neither do we.  There are so many flaws in pacing, narrative and the strange point at which the film ends that this is far from being one of the best films in the franchise.

The inclusion of characters long gone by or who appear in a blink is a sop to the Harry Potter die-hards because precious little exposition is given to explain who the lady wearing all the pink with the psychotic giggle is, or the importance of the snowy white owl, and if you can’t recall which burly character the vicious werewolf Greyback is, you won’t be alone (- Though his leadership is supplanted by a fella we’ve never seen before, a strange cross between Adam Ant and Keith Richards.), and I still don’t understand why Voldemort has no nose.  You’ll also have to scrape the backs of your minds for who exactly John Hurt played and why his character is important and the same with a bunch of others in the film.  There is such an info dump of minor subplots and red herrings throughout that it’s a labour to keep track, mostly to find out after wading through an often incoherent mess that it wasn’t all that important anyway.  There is a startling moment of real talk delivered by Ron Weasley:  After endlessly tramping through a forest with the worst evils of the wizarding world at his heels, Ron says what the audience is thinking as Harry blindly rushes out to complete his trusted, deceased headmaster Dumbledore’s bidding; to find and destroy the last objects which will weaken Voldemort’s powers.  “Dumbledore sends you off after these Horcruxes, but doesn’t tell you how to destroy them.  Doesn’t that bother you?”  This is why Weasley is our king.

What saves the film is its cast.  Once again the most famous trio of young actors the screen has ever seen delivers beautifully, which is harder this time as there’s not a lot of room to stretch acting chops in Deathly Hallows.  Mostly our team has got to look worried, frightened, angry, miserable or tormented through the nearly two and a half hour running time.  Rupert Grint might be the one I miss most when it’s all over; his timing and innate ability to lighten any scene is priceless here and so is his bluster when some bad witchy mojo sidles up to his teenage insecurities and threatens to split the three buds.  The precious moments of humour Grint provides to counter the abundance of relentless glumness is like Gatorade in the Sahara.  Helena Bonham-Carter comes into her own as the murderous nutjob Bellatrix Lestrange, looking like the high queen of Gothic Lolita fashion and trying her hand at tattoo arts.  We only have a teensy glimpse of Alan Rickman as former Dumbledore confidante and confirmed Harry-hater Severus Snape, but what a glimpse it is.  Clearly, the producers have given up any pretense of making this character unattractive and turned Snape into a Japanese rock star with eyeliner, flippy hair and pricey looking robes.  He looks less like the greasy fellow described in the books and more like the love child of Yoshiki and Sugizo from X Japan.  I will never decry the inclusion of Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, even when he’s not nearly so present in the book and it’s an interesting departure to see the aristocratic character less than his usual immaculately turned-out self, fallen from grace for having failed his Dark Lord.  Bill Nighy is another one not around nearly long enough as the leonine Rufus Scrimgeour, the aggressive new Minister of Magic.  Nighy has apparently brought Gary Oldman’s old Sirius Black toupee out of retirement with a good steaming. The Phelps brothers, James and Oliver, resume their comic relief roles as Fred and George, the mischievous Weasley twins, who bravely join the Order of the Phoenix and come away much holier than thou for their troubles.

The film’s other grace is the production itself, which is stunning to look at.  Happily, Harry Potter films are never done on the cheap and sequences like the chase on Hagrid’s motorcycle and a visit to an old Dumbledore friend for possible clues are brilliantly done, as is the fun moment early on when the Order of the Phoenix employs Polyjuice subterfuge to create multiple Harrys.  The scenes inside the Ministry of Magic have a very stark Communist propagandist feel with slanted literature and anti-Potter posters present.  There’s also a little Leni Riefenstahl inflection in the austere, monolithic filming of towering statues celebrating the oppression of Wizard over Muggle.  While the key to the mystery of how to conquer Voldemort read like a series of overly convoluted false trails, director Yates inserts stunning shadow puppet animation reminiscent of the eastern European artists to make the revelatory tale of The Three Brothers and the Deathly Hallows far more captivating than it is in the book.  So too was the scene entailing what was considered one of the bigger deaths in the story; Yates sensitively captures the moment giving it a far more organic and emotional core than on the page.

Six of one, a half dozen of the other.  If Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows can be simultaneously praised and faulted for one thing it is for sticking too close to its source in the one instance where there should have been more distance.  Huge opportunities to improve on a flawed story are missed:  Why, if the trio can Apparate anywhere in the world do they keep returning to the same woods as opposed to using Tokyo, New York City or the jungles of South America to hide themselves?  At this point, the kids are war torn wizard combat veterans who can Apparate at will, so why do they get captured by a ragtag crew of Snatchers?  Did we really need all those journeys back into the forest in the first place?  Had that and the glut of fanservice minutiae been cut, at least a good twenty minutes of running time might’ve been saved and legitimised the upcoming second chapter.  Luckily for this film, its narrative and pacing weaknesses are buoyed by its strengths, particularly its wonderful cast and beautiful production.  Still, after the increasing quality of each Harry Potter film (- Really kicking off and taking itself seriously with 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.), it would be a shame if the series ended with a relative whimper like part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

November 19th, 2010

 

 

Click here for our 2007 review (as Mighty Ganesha) of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Click here for our 2009 review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Warner Brothers)

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