Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


  • Released Internationally on 19/11/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 19/11/10

Preview (first published 01/11/10 in VIDA magazine)

In a nutshell

It's here. Between this November and next summer, we can finally enjoy the climactic act of what has turned out to be an entire decade of Harry Potter on the big screen. Those who have devoured the books know how it ends, but that shouldn't diminish the excitement of seeing it unfold before our eyes. There will be no sequels, there will be no prequels, there will be no spin-offs. The story ends here.

Why we're hyped

With the slow development of Harry's facial hair, and the passage of each scholastic year at Hogwarts, the books got progressively better and darker. But from the fourth book onwards, the width of each book increased too, with the predictable result that many subplots and details were axed from the film versions. Which might account for why Azkaban (the third one) seems to linger in my memory as the best so far. For the grand finale however, it was decided early on that the film would be released in two halves, allowing lots more screen time, attention to detail, and proper send-offs for the array of characters. That idea worked pretty well with Kill Bill, and here again we have two closely linked, skilled individuals locked in a duel to the death - Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. By the end of it, there can be only one.

Who's in it?

To list the cast and their previous achievements would cause me to encroach on other articles, as all the surviving characters of the series are of course back for the curtain call. Over the years the Harry Potter films have enlisted the services of a sizeable chunk of the British acting elite, and there are over twenty big names listed for this final film. The young actors behind the three main characters – Harry, Hermione and Ron – have become famous thanks to the franchise, and we can expect them to tackle most of the action once again. They won't be within the protective walls of Hogwarts, however. This time they're off across the country in a race against time to find and destroy Voldemort's 'Horcruxes'. (Needless to say, it helps to see or read the other six before tackling this). The major new addition is the delightful Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Shaun of the Dead) as the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour. Behind the scenes, David Yates, who directed the last two, has been entrusted with the finale, as has screenwriter Steve Kloves, who adapted all seven of the books. Author JK Rowling exerts her influence as the producer. The music of the last two outings was a bit below key, but this time around Alexandre Desplat, probably the most busy and interesting film score composer of the moment, has promised to make ample use of the signature themes from the first few films. And there's still a chance that John Williams himself, who wrote those theme (plus most other movie themes the average person can whistle or hum) will be back for Part 2. Love them or hate them, the Harry Potter books have sealed their place in history for a number of reasons, and the success of the film franchise is one of them. Whatever the audience opinion at the end of it all, this if the film event of the year.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Review (22/11/10)

A strange phenomenon

It was a rather unusual experience at the cinema yesterday, during Potter's immense opening weekend. Not a seat to spare, despite the complex running Potter screenings every half hour. Not a word throughout the film, despite the running time being close to three hours. And when the main credits suddenly appeared on screen, despite the film's plot having reached no particular checkpoint, everyone simply stood up and walked out silently. There were no murmurs of disappointment. There were no beaming faces or desires to applaud either. We'll just all be back in July.

Why the split is not so good

Of course, middle films of long sagas have become commonplace nowadays. We sometimes expect to see the magical words 'To Be Continued' splashed across the screen, to help remind us that not all is lost. But this is the first time I have ever experienced a film viewing with no bend or bump in the story arc whatsoever towards the end. The choice about where to make the much-publicized split seems to have been based on a not-so-major character's demise, and a step in the right direction taken by Voldemort. But otherwise, you'd be forgiven for expecting to pop out for a toilet break and a drink and come back in for more. Recent films with possible similar scenarios that come to mind include The Two Towers and the above-mentioned Kill Bill, but both has such jaw-dropping final acts of their own that the end of the film was a much-needed breather for both the characters and the audience to regroup. I'm not complaining, I'm just stating how strange it all feels. Having such a long piece of cinema that has no discernible beginning or end seems like an anomaly. I very much doubt that when all is said and done, anyone will ever get a burning desire to cuddle up on the sofa and watch 'Book 7 Part 1' as the highlight of their evening.

Why the split is good

Having said that, this was all very much expected. I was one of the many to feel cheated when many moments of detail or pause were chopped mercilessly from the previous three films. Here we get the full deal. Nothing feels rushed, everything unfolds meticulously, and this crucial time for the characters involved is given the exposure it deserves. The trio at the heart of it all have grown up together, and it shows. The many scenes they share, away from the protective walls of Hogwarts, are great character moments, and help strengthen this already tightly-knit team, before the final plunge. Tempers flare, feelings stir, and like most triangles, not everything is smooth. Director David Yates, now with three of these films under his belt, and probably already busy editing the last one, has firmly established his tone and style for the second half of this saga, and here he is allowed to mix his dark and gloomy scenes with spectacular countryside as the pursuit criss-crosses all over the country. With less time restrictions, he is allowed to linger on scenes of sensual fantasy, dark plotting, physical torture and death, making this instalment even darker than the last one. A notable highlight, unlike anything seen in the previous films, is the short segment recounting the 'tale of the three brothers', or the backstory of the titular Deathly Hallows. Directed by Ben Hibon, the segment is a sudden change of both pace and style, and is a poetic mini-film of its own.

In the end

No matter what I or any other viewer makes of it, this is of course essential viewing for those who have read or watched the previous six episodes, and a natural requirement for those who plan to see the final one. This ready-made audience can enjoy a faithful and ambitious adaptation of the novel, which looks consistently spectacular. Those unfamiliar with the franchise need not bother however, because this film doesn't stand on its own in any way. Nor was it intended to.





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