Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Harry Potter 7.1 has the unenviable task of turning the most turgid bits of the Harry Potter series into a film. Every last bit of action is played up as far as possible, every comedic opportunity seized with aplomb, and our heroes still spend upwards of half the movie wandering around in a deserted forest sniping at each other and whining about how hard their job is. If it were twenty minutes shorter, it would actually be pretty good, assuming a proper finale follows it next year. The directing really keeps this film alive: every time you roll your eyes, there is a scene change or an inappropriate joke or (weirdly) an extended storybook animation sequence to divert your attention until it's back to brooding and unresolved sexual tension. One noticeable gaffe is the narrative dissonance between the heroes' pervasive fear of Voldemort and his unambitious presentation as an evil CEO with a creepy face. A little more mystery would have helped sell his evil powers when the plot gives him no real opportunity to do so.

My real beef with Deathly Hallows #1 is J.K. Rowling. I'm not the first one to note that Harry and company are suddenly transported into a narrative straight out of Zelda - the good guys have to assemble the following items before returning to the location of the first book in the series, just like a bad video game:
  1. 7 Horcruxes, magic items that Voldemort hid years ago and is remarkably nonchalant about protecting
  2. 3 Deathly Hallows, legendary magic items that nobody bothered to collect until Harry and Voldemort had the idea at the exact same time
  3. 1 legendary sword
  4. 1 replacement magic wand
  5. 3 gifts from Albus "Deus Ex Machina" Dumbledore, which are so convenient they imply that Dumbledore has read ahead in the series
Rowling sees the end on the horizon but is still unwilling to kill more than 1 character per book, or to avoid a happy ending for any of Harry's merry band, so she contents herself with systematically eliminating all of Harry's escape clauses so they can be replaced with new ones. Owl with a homing beacon? Elf immune to anti-magic fields? Plucky wizard resistance group? They bite the dust in tearful, dramatic scenes, which lose much of their value for those of us who haven't been exposed to any Harry Potter since the last movie came out. Pro-Harry critics make admirable attempts to read a deeper meaning into the structure of this penultimate installment, but really it's just there to handle the ridiculous amount of exposition Rowling pulls out of her hat to make sure everyone doesn't see the twist ending coming from 300 pages away.

P.S. The funniest thing about this movie is still the Potter Puppet Pals, which had us all grinning from ear to ear late into the night.

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