Posts Tagged ‘David Yates’

It’s always an interesting moment when power and success which once seemed limitless suddenly comes up against a non-negotiable limit; when implacable might is firmly and unexpectedly put in its place. This rarely happens in the world of the blockbuster franchise – the major studios rely on these to keep going, so their progression forms part of the business-plan years in advance. Disney’s decision to suspend their yearly production of Star Wars movies sent a shockwave round the world, at least that of those people who take an interest in such things – the whole reason Disney had bought the franchise in the first place was that it seemed like an infallible license to print money.

I rather get the impression that Warner Brothers are having a similar experience when it comes to the whole Harry Potter/Wizarding World franchise. The comparison seems to me to be a valid one, as one of the few figures who must be able to understand what it feels like to be JK Rowling is George Lucas: the popularity of Star Wars amongst the hard-core fanbase has never appreciably wavered, but Lucas – who, and I feel the need to remind people of this occasionally, is the originator of the whole concept – was for a while being mocked and scorned and treated with casual contempt by people who clearly loved much of his work. No-one loves something quite as much as its most dedicated fans, obviously – but what is also true is that no-one has the same capacity for sheer hatred as a fan.

Which brings us back to the odd position of JK Rowling. If anything she is in a tougher bind than Lucas ever was: Lucas was castigated by his erstwhile fans for the understandable reason that they didn’t think the later films were very good. Much of Potter fandom’s beef with Rowling has nothing to do with the quality of her actual work as a writer of fiction, but is ideological in nature. There’s no arguing with ideology, particularly the fierce and uncompromising kind that Rowling has found herself on the wrong side of, hence attempts at what looks very like a coup: an attempt to wrest control of the Potter/Wizarding franchise away from Rowling and place it with the people who supposedly understand it best – the most dedicated fans, of course.

Rowling’s travails are fairly well-known, but some of this is taking place a distance down the rabbit-hole – so why should it have any effect on the current big-screen incarnation of the series, the Fantastic Beasts franchise? Well, it was always fairly obvious that a film series based on the back-story of some of the characters from the novels and their movie adaptations was going to be reliant on the goodwill of the hard-core Potter fanbase to succeed – but here again perhaps we are getting things backward. The Fantastic Beasts series only exists because it looked like there was a huge built-in audience for it. Six or seven years ago it appeared to be the safest of safe bets.

These days, of course, it looks like a distinctly iffy proposition. Quite apart from the controversy surrounding Rowling – whose name has greatly dwindled in prominence on the publicity material as a result – the series has also had to cope with the fact that de facto star Johnny Depp has had troubles of his own and been asked to leave the franchise as a result, while another key member of the cast got themselves arrested (and not for the first time) just the other day. The projected series of five films may be looking at a sooner-than-anticipated termination.

Once you start looking at the new movie – Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, directed (as usual) by David ‘Safe Pair of Hands’ Yates – with the idea in mind that it represents a franchise which is taking on water, you can’t help spotting sign after sign that something is amiss. It’s there in the way that Mads Mikkelsen has been parachuted in to replace Depp without the character’s change of appearance being addressed or referred to (this might have been less of an issue if this wasn’t effectively the third Grindelwald in three movies), it’s there in the strange, arcane, convoluted backstory of some of the characters – it’s vital to the plot, but never properly articulated – it’s there in the structure of the piece, which seems to be built around long, lavish, dialogue-free set-pieces which are stately rather than thrilling. It’s even there in the credits, which open a chink into a peculiar world of fine legal points and seemingly desperate attempts to cling onto as much credit as possible – ‘Screenplay by JK Rowling and Steve Kloves, based on a screenplay by JK Rowling’.

It would be nice to say that Kloves’ involvement has resulted in a movie with a bit more tangible story to it than the previous one. But we’re talking about a marginal improvement. Some time after the last movie, evil wizard Grindelwald is still set on his plan to become undisputed leader of the world’s magical community and bring about a fairly stringent programme of ethnic cleansing, directed at the non-magical population. (Some of this takes place in Germany in the 1930s, presumably because you just can’t be too on-the-nose sometimes.) In the Harry Potter books, the leadership position was apparently known as ‘Supreme Mugwump’ but they keep quiet about the exact title here, presumably because they’re gunning for a more mature tone.

Out to stop Grindelwald is his former boyfriend Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) – at least, he is if you’re not watching the film in one of those nations which has insisted on cutting the LGBT plot elements – but they are sort of magical blood brothers which stops them from confronting each other directly. And so Dumbledore is forced to rely on a selection of characters, some of whom we have seen in previous films, and some of whom we haven’t (at least, if we have, they made no impression on your correspondent) – Eddie Redmayne’s gratingly mannered magical naturalist, various magical cops and other experts, and a baker from New York with no actual magical skills.

Dumbledore’s plan is to defeat Grindelwald’s precognesis by doing things which are deliberately confusing and contradictory – I’m sure a smart cookie like you can see the problem with this kind of scheme in a film which is already densely packed with back-story and baggage from the previous two episodes. It all ends up revolving around a trip to Bhutan, Dumbledore’s family history, and something called a ‘chillun’ which looks like a cross between Bambi and a stegosaurus.

Needless to say all of this transpires over a murderously long running-time. Now, I must say again that this is a very good-looking film with some decent performances in it – Mikkelsen in particular makes the best of what’s arguably a bit of a hospital pass – and the very occasional surprising moment (for example, Peter Simonischek, star of Toni Erdmann, gets a brief cameo). But Rowling still seems to be writing long and densely-plotted novels, rather than screenplays, and doesn’t do nearly enough to make the piece accessible to non-fans of this setting.

That’s the thing about this film, and Fantastic Beasts in general – they’re not awful, they’re not stupid, they’re not offensive in any way – although some might argue that doing an allegory for the rise of Hitler in this particular context was possibly inappropriate, to put it mildly. Aesthetically and artistically they are frequently pleasing. But unless you’re really, really committed to Rowling’s world they’re just not that interesting. Nothing commands your attention and drags you in, nothing ever actually surprises you.

Well – as the film finally came to a close, I was actually pleasantly surprised when the plot showed every sign of, if not actually being resolved, certainly being brought to a point where there were no major loose ends. The jury is still out on whether Fantastic Beasts 4 and 5 ever get made, depending on box office for this one, but it looks very much like Warner Brothers are getting ready to quit while these films still make a profit. Part of me would regret that, because in a way these films are certainly weirder and more singular than the typical Hollywood franchise movie, but then again it does look like JK Rowling’s days of having creative carte blanche are over. But I can’t honestly say there is any sign that not having further instalments would in any way impoverish our culture.

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Ah, the nights are drawing in, there is a crispness to the air, and somewhere in the distance I can hear the sound of a safe pair of hands printing money. It must be time for another pre-Christmas brand extension for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, aka The Conjuring Cash-Cow of J.K. Rowling. This time around it’s Fabulous Pests: The Grimy Gimblebonk, directed, almost inevitably, by David Yates [note to self: don’t forget to check movie name is right before posting review]. Oddly enough, when I asked for a ticket for Fabulous Pests 2 at the sweetshop which masquerades as the larger local branch of the Odeon, the minion looked at me blankly and gave me a ticket for Bohemian Rhapsody, and I had a tricky time with some irritated Queen fans for a bit. Cinema staff these days, eh? Tch.


Here is what I was able to make out with regard to the plot, which is (of course) the work of J.K. Rowling, a woman whose vocabulary seems to include many Latin words but apparently not ‘restraint’ or ‘editor’: having been forced to abandon his Colin Farrell disguise at the end of the previous film, evil wizard Gimblebonk (Johnny Depp, who is both unexpectedly restrained and not especially grimy) busts out of magical prison and sets about his dastardly plan. Exactly what this is would constitute a spoiler if I had any idea what it was, but it appears to involve doing something absolutely ghastly in one of the three (yup, three) further films we can expect in this part of the franchise.

It all revolves around a lad named Credence (Ezra Miller), who has an obscure but significant pedigree. He was actually believed dead at the end of the previous outing, but there has been a Credence revival in the mean time [note to self – think of a way to cram the words ‘clear water’ into that last sentence or the joke falls a bit flat]. Now he is searching for his origins and nearly everyone else is searching for him.

As well as the minions of the malevolent Gimblebonk, the lad is being looked for by Newt Scamperer (Eddie Redmayne), who as before is basically a cross between Tristan Farnon, Ged the Archmage, and Rain Man [some of the cultural references perhaps a bit obscure there? Hmmm]. He is doing this not because he is working as the agent of celebrated wizard and teacher Waldo Dimbledink (Jude Law), but because a girl he has a bit of a pash for (Katherine Waterston) is also on the case.

So off they all go to Paris, eventually, and soon the air is zinging with magic spells and extravagant sorcery in the way that only a $200 million budget can enable. Numerous subplots intertwine, supposedly adorable CGI beasties crawl, flutter, and bound about the place, and various secrets are revealed – although what was really going on in the shared past of Gimblebonk and Dimbledink is not much more than alluded to, presumably so real-world bigots won’t complain about the depiction of made-up ones.

It is quite easy to be glib and cynical about this particular franchise, as you can perhaps tell. No doubt the producers would respond to this sort of killjoyism by pointing to the $814 million made by the previous film, which certainly suggests that there is still a demand for stories set in this particular fictional universe, but I wonder – certainly, I know some people have given Grimy Gimblebonk as rapturous a reception as anyone  could hope for (‘absolutely brilliant’ was the considered opinion of one maths professor of my acquaintance), but the two Potterheads I share an office with were much less impressed.

This is probably rather ironic, as you really do need to be one of the faithful to follow all the ins and outs of this film. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books, as well as seeing the movies, and I saw the previous Pests film too (although that was a couple of years ago). But while I was still able to follow the general movement of this particular story without too much difficulty, I think it does demand too much from casual viewers – it makes a certain sort of sense that one character is apparently known as an Obscurial or an Obscurus, because exactly what all of it means is far from completely clear. Someone may or may not be related to someone else, this character may have a secret past with that one, and in the end it turns out that someone is the long-lost relative of somebody else. The irony comes from the fact that some of these revelations, specifically the ones tying the film in to the (chronologically later) Harry Potter stories, have been met with bared fangs by the staunchest Potterheads, as J.K. appears to be rewriting the continuity of her own universe, something they feel she is not allowed to do (and let’s not even get into the fuss arising from her attempt to fill-in the back-story of Lord Voldemort’s pet snake).

The problem is that, if you’re not a Rowling superfan, not much of the story here really feels like it matters – there’s a lot of imagination on display here, both in the tale and its telling, and the film is always visually polished and frequently quite well-played (Jude Law is particularly good). But it does often feel like you’re peering into a private world, without ever being told why you should actually care about it.

There’s also the problem that, for a film concerning itself with (all right, all right) the crimes of Johnny Depp’s character, he doesn’t really do very much in this film beyond lurk about menacingly and occasionally make a speech: this film is clearly largely an exercise in setting up future episodes. It is actually slightly annoying, then, to have to report that those films show potential to be distinctly interesting. J.K. Rowling’s liberal credentials are well known (though she’s clearly not progressive enough for some of her more rabid fans), and there are obvious parallels to be drawn between her villain here – he’s not so much a magical realist as a magical populist, intent on whipping up his followers with an ideology based on fear and division – and certain present-day real-world figures. But more interesting still is a moment in which some of the darkness and horror of the real world breaks through into what often still feels like a quaint and whimsical setting, the children’s-book origins of which remain obvious – the characters get a vision of what awaits the world in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the implication is that future films will deal with this in more detail.

Nevertheless, part of me remains fairly certain that the perceived need to make these films as bland as possible for box-office purposes (rumour has it that J.K. is down to her last £600 million) will triumph, and the future instalments will end up as aesthetically pleasing but dramatically inert as this one. This is not a bad film, in many ways: it has a lot of imagination and is never actually dull to watch. However, it seems calculated to either bemuse or annoy the vast majority of audiences, in part because it spends too much time complicating its story, but not nearly enough explaining why anyone should care about it.

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I hate to break it to you, but we are currently approximately 16% of the way through the 21st century. All resources must be exploited. All revenue streams must be maximised. The chances of anything still popular and therefore financially viable being allowed to remain a fond memory are, to be perfectly honest, zero. So it should come as no surprise that it has been decreed that the vastly lucrative entity that was the Harry Potter film series has lain fallow long enough, and that a series of prequel movies has duly started to appear. (It took about fifteen years for the original Star Wars trilogy to get prequelated; ten years for The Lord of the Rings; with Harry Potter the delay is down to five. At this rate the prequels will soon start coming out in double bills with the films they are based on.) First out of the blocks to hoover your money is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, directed by David ‘Safe Pair of Hands’ Yates.


(What, too much? You may have a point, especially considering I was rather positive about Yates’ Tarzan movie, which only came out a few months ago: he must have knocked this one out in a couple of weekends. Well, anyway: you must forgive me, it’s my age. Come on, it’s not as if JK Rowling actually needs the money or anything.)

All righty then: the story opens with the arrival in New York, New York of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). He is a traveller who appears to be British, has floppy hair, is terribly eccentric yet clearly meant to be hugely endearing, wears a bow tie, and has a battered old box which is bigger on the inside than the outside (hey, I’m just saying). Newt is, of course, a wizard, for we are in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (TM), although we are also in 1926 on this occasion.

Inside Newt’s magic box are his collection of magic animals, a.k.a. weird little chunks of CGI, which he frequently fishes out and bonds with; so often, in fact, that you begin to fear for Redmayne’s sanity after all that acting to empty air and golf-balls on sticks. His visit to the States runs into trouble when he accidentally mixes up his case with that of aspiring baker and non-magician Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and several of the little buggers inevitably escape. This draws the attention of magical cop Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her kooky sister (Alison Sudol).

The magical authorities of the States are not best pleased as it seems that some kind of supernatural menace is already on the loose in the Empire City, preying on normal people and wizards alike, with top wizard-cop Colin Farrell on the case. Can Newt and his friends recapture all his lumps of CGI and solve the mystery of what’s really going on?

The ardour of the Harry Potter fanbase is still such that a film like Fantastic Beasts is effectively critic-proof; and sure enough this one has made over $270 million in about a week of release. Anyway, it would be remiss of me to say that it is an actual waste of time, money, and talent, for clearly a lot of thought, imagination and skill has gone into creating the world and story of the film.

Even so, one can’t help but notice that this first made-directly-for-the-screen tale has ditched the British setting for something more familiar to that big audience in the USA (i.e, a setting in the USA). It hasn’t become totally Americanised, but something very odd still seems to have happened: this is a film with a main character who resembles an American person’s idea of what the British are like, set in a place which is a British person’s idea of what America is like. Then again, it’s JK Rowling, so you don’t turn up expecting reality, and the two things do kind of balance each other out.

That said, I’m rather less impressed with Rowling the screenwriter than I was with Rowling the novelist: the story is reasonably well-structured, and properly cinematic in scope, but the plotting is considerably less impressive, the tendency towards sentimentality seems rather stronger, and as usual the thing is in dire need of a good no-nonsense editor.

Possibly the most serious problem, which may become more obvious as this series goes on – apparently four (four?!?) more prequels are in the works – is that very sense of self-indulgence, of the film being its own raison d’etre. I still think much of the success of the Harry Potter books was down to their comforting familiarity to parents rather than children: there’s a touch of Agatha Christie to that fiendishly clever plotting, and also of Enid Blyton in the Three Have A Wizard Time vibe which is so often in evidence. Underneath all the intricate world-building they are on some level pastiches of different kinds of story.

Fantastic Beasts, on the other hand, is just a fantasy with a couple of right-on subtexts of brick-through-your-window subtlety, coupled to a lot more world-building. Some of this is interestingly unexpected: the magical community in the USA, despite having a female president (told you it was a fantasy), is by no means depicted entirely flatteringly – they are autocratic and alarmingly fond of the death penalty. But much of the rest of it may not be that interesting to you if you’re not already a pretty heavy-duty Harry Potter fan, and many of the references to characters and so on from the previous films and books may likewise go over your head if you’re not one of the faithful. Due to my abnormally retentive mind, I think I got most of the references, but even so I thought much of the climax was rather underwhelming – there didn’t seem to me to be a lot at stake, at least nothing I’d been made to care about. Some concluding revelations in particular are most likely to simply baffle people who maybe saw all the earlier films once each when they came out, and can’t remember all the labyrinthine backstory of every major character.

Still, it looks suitably lavish and there are some nice performances: Redmayne is a bit too mannered for my tastes, but Fogler gives a charming performance, Farrell gives proceedings some heft, and they appear to have finally run out of new ways to smother Ron Perlman in latex rubber: he appears here via mo-capping, as a goblin who seems to be in desperate need of a chiropractor. None of it is actively bad, although Sudol’s performance possibly comes close in terms of sheer capacity to annoy, and I have no doubt the expectant masses will lap it up like butterbeer.

Fantastic Beasts is, though, primarily a film which has been made to service an existing fanbase, and just how much you enjoy it will probably depend on how much of a true believer you are. I was never really one of the faithful, certainly as far the movies go, and so I found this film to be a reasonable diversion, perhaps rather overlong and a bit schmaltzy, but generally inoffensive overall. It will be interesting to see how well this film does over the whole length of its release, and whether subsequent instalments will direct themselves quite so exclusively at the core audience. And if it sounds to you that I’m treating this film more as an exercise in branding and marketing than an actual piece of storytelling – well, I commend you on your perspicacity. But it is 2016, after all.

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Okay, it’s taken me a few days to get my head around this and arrange my thoughts to the point where I can be coherent. But now I am ready to write cogently and clearly, write from the depths of my soul, write about the crushing, draining sense of dismay and horror that consumed me when I saw that David Yates has started work on a movie version of Doctor Who.

Or, to put it less cerebrally: ‘Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo (pause for breath) ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!’

Thanks for bearing with me while I got that off my chest. Now, I imagine there are a number of thoughts impinging upon your consciousness. There may be a few people actually agreeing with me (though not many, I would suspect). More likely you will thinking ‘Oh for God’s sake it’s only a Doctor Who movie, stop making such a fuss,’ or, ‘Awix, David Yates is the multi-award winning director of four of the massively popular Harry Potter films, which have been international smash hits and made over 5 billion dollars at the Box Office – isn’t this exactly the guy we want making a movie of the show?’

Well, to the stop-making-a-fuss contingent I can only apologise and politely suggest you move on, as I fear nothing I have to say will enlighten you in any way. Some things run too deep to be truly articulated. To the isn’t-this-exactly-the-guy crowd my response is a more concise NO!

All right, I shall do my best to wail and shout no more for the rest of this, I promise. I should probably start my explanation by saying that when I initially heard that (yet another attempt at) a new movie was in the works my response was cautious interest and vague goodwill. I’m not sure a big screen Doctor Who movie is a good idea or even really do-able, but I think with the right people in charge it could be rather interesting.

I suppose this is the place to refer briefly to the sixties movies, which if nothing else gives me an excuse to use a nice picture of one of my favourite actors, thus:

I rather like the Aaru movies, although these days I don’t think either of them holds up compared to the small-screen stories they were based on. They are fun and groovy in a kitschy Sixties way, rather disposable, and they have some very likeable people in them. Quite apart from the opportunity to see one of England’s most iconic film actors giving us his take on the Doctor (and – does it even need saying? – Cushing is fantastic in the role), we get folk like Andrew Keir, Roy Castle, Bernard Cribbins (of course), and Philip Madoc, all doing their thing.

Twenty or thirty years ago it felt the films were deeply hated by fandom, while these days they seem to have slipped into the outer reaches of Who-world, more ignored than anything else. I suspect the general distaste for them was largely born of the fact that they are cheerfully and resolutely outside the (apologies for the C-word) canon of the TV show. A certain kind of fan goes a bundle on canonicity – in fact they care rather more about canonicity than they do about quality. Thus Warriors of the Deep gets a relatively easy ride from some people, despite being almost wholly wretched and cocked-up, while Daleks – Invasion 2150 AD is dismissed out of hand despite being pacy and fun to look at and having the brilliant food machine sequence. Sigh.

So I don’t have a problem with a new movie being outside the canon: I really care very little about the whole concept of canon, as you can probably tell. (Although the new movie will almost certainly cleave closer to Who-world as we now know it, simply because Who-world as we now know it didn’t really exist to be cloven to back in the mid Sixties.) But I do have a problem with a movie doing violence to the style and texture of the show, and that’s why I’m so alarmed by the prospect of Yates getting his hands on it.

Writing about HP7b, I said that I thought the Harry Potter books were essentially unfilmable and that the movies are just companion pieces to them. The movies are inoffensive and generally quite entertaining to watch, and of course they’re made to a very high technical standard. But if you think of the Harry Potter books, you think of the richness of Rowling’s prose, the intricacy of the plotting, the depth of characterisation and the sheer detail of the mythology. And – if you ask me, other opinions are of course available – the movies are a gutted vestige in which most of this stuff has been jettisoned, leaving not much more than a trot through the main points of the plot with some nice visuals and fruity cameo acting but not much in the way of atmosphere (Alfonso Cuaron’s entry I partly exempt from the foregoing).

Yates has already made it pretty clear that whatever he makes is going to be an original story, and so it won’t even have the plot-trot option to fall back on. In other words, Yates and his writers are going to have to come up with an original story which works on the big screen in addition to working as a Doctor Who story and capturing what makes the TV programme so very special. As I said, I don’t think a big-screen Doctor Who story is particularly do-able at all – the format of the show is so brilliant because, at its best, it’s a weekly series of unconnected episodic stories in wildly different genres and settings, and how can you communicate that brilliance in a single movie? Achieving that, and bestowing the result with the authentically strange and knowingly absurd atmosphere of many of the best stories, is not something that anything Yates has done in the past suggests he is capable of.

I think he’s just been hired on the strength of the $5bn take and the fantasy hero connection. I don’t really have a problem with the BBC trying to monetise the series, as seems increasingly to be the case, as long as it doesn’t impact on the actual stories. But, if the Yates movie does get made, can you imagine there not being some kind of backwash from it affecting the TV show in some way? I can’t imagine it.

Still… thinking back to the travails of Guber and Peters and their attempt to get a movie made, I can take solace in the fact that, well, it never actually happened. Fingers crossed that history repeats itself. David Yates, do yourself a favour, and accept a suggestion: I believe the movie rights to Merlin are still available.

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I have gradually come to the conclusion that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are essentially unfilmable. I know this is a bold statement, and one with which some circumstantial evidence (not to mention $6 billion worth of box office receipts) may seem to conflict. Nevertheless, I honestly feel that as entities in their own right, the films just don’t stand up, and they exist only as companion pieces to the novels. The only film I’ve seen which approaches the quality of the source book is Prisoner of Azkaban, while most of the recent installments have fallen horribly short.

I think this is because Rowling’s world is so rich and textured, and her plots and characters so detailed and intricate, that they simply don’t lend themselves to any other medium. Lord knows I’m not the biggest fan of the books, but I’m bright enough to recognise that their success isn’t wholly a fluke, and I did enjoy them all (even if Order of the Phoenix dragged on to a ridiculous degree) – so I have been able to keep track of the films, pretty much. My parents, on the other hand, haven’t read the series and have emerged from each successive adaptation in a deeper state of bemusement.

I always wondered if this was just them, but as luck would have it there I was at the Putney Odeon tonight as the final credits rolled on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (the safe pair of hands responsible belong, as before, to David Yates) when I found myself sitting next to a woman who hadn’t read any of the books either. I should point out that it was she who kicked off our discussion of what we thought of it, as I am not in the habit of initiating conversations with strange women at the cinema (or indeed anywhere else).

Well, I made various non-committal noises and averred that I didn’t imagine anyone who hadn’t read the books would ‘get’ the films. ‘I haven’t read any of the books,’ she said. ‘But if you just go in assuming there’s going to be a big spectacular battle and that Harry’s going to win in the end, it’s enjoyable enough.’

I can’t argue with that, and indeed, on those terms this film passes muster. But if you’ve never read the book and haven’t seen the previous episode recently, you can forget about keeping track of what’s going on. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his chums are in search of Plot Coupons which will help them get shot of the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, barring his nose). Having wandered all over the country last time out, this time (after a brief spot of bank robbery) they return to the wizard school at Hogwarts where they believe one of said coupons may be located. Voldemort and his followers are soon on the scene and a battle of truly epic proportions is clearly in the offing…

Hallows Two‘s origins as the second half of a very long book are really very obvious. Just as Hallows One didn’t have a proper ending, this one doesn’t have a proper beginning, and most of the rest is comprised of material that would really be the climax of a less grandiose project (it’s sort of shapeless and perhaps a little repetitive). If you view the films as a single entity, then I suppose this makes sense, and as I said before it doesn’t even attempt to stand up as a film in its own right – there’s no recap, and it’s assumed that the audience is entirely familiar with events from the first couple of films even though they’re nearly a decade old now.

Even on these terms, though, is it any good? I don’t know. The visuals are as spectacular as one could hope for – though given the budget these guys have to work with, that’s hardly a surprise – and the Potter rep company are all present and doing sterling work, even if most of them have hugely diminished roles this time around (special commendation to Matthew Lewis for actually making an impression in such high-powered company). And, every now and then, and often when you least expect it, there are fleeting moments of genuine magic to be found.

As you might expect, not all of the book’s plot makes it to the screen. Grimly predictable though it was following the excision of most of Voldemort’s backstory from Half-Blood Prince, most of Dumbledore’s history has got the chop from this one, and one suspects the revelations about Snape only stayed in because the plot demanded it. The decision to include the epilogue sequence from the book is, for once, questionable – it’s unintentionally funny and the young leads just look like they’re dressing up as adults. ‘That was naff’ piped up one young voice as the final credits rolled, although – who knows? – he may have been passing comment on the whole enterprise.

(That this film, and the series as a whole, concludes with a section celebrating the fact that nothing has really changed, and life goes on exactly as it did in the good old days, tells you everything you need to know about the underlying sensibility of the Harry Potter series, I think.)

On the whole it really is just business as usual, albeit on a grander scale. The thing is, though, that there were sections of this film that – unsurprisingly – put me in mind of the final chapters of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Now, when both of those final films concluded I found myself genuinely struggling to maintain a properly stalwart manly demeanour – but in this case, I found myself completely unmoved. I never invested in the cinematic version of these characters, never really cared about the story.

Wiser heads than mine have applauded this series for having things like proper characterisation and plotting and themes and atmosphere, and given the woeful standard of many FX-driven blockbusters this is not something to overlook. And, like all the other Harry Potter adaptations this one is polished and efficient. But that’s really all it is.

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Between August and November 2007 I read Cervantes’ epic masterpiece Don Quixote, not a quick read or a particularly easy one – but at the end of the 750 pages I was convinced this novel deserves its longevity and reputation, because it is quite simply brilliant on so many levels. Also in August 2007 – well, actually in the space of 24 hours in August 2007 – I read J.K. Rowling’s epic Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Deathly Hallows also weighed in at a hefty 750 pages, and while its popularity seems assured for the short term, only the passage of time will reveal whether the appeal of the Potter series will endure for future generations. (Part of me suspects it will – part of the books’ success now is surely due to the fact they seem almost intentionally old-fashioned.)

Not that this will stop me from holding forth on the movie adaptation of the first half of the book, directed by David Yates. For lo, the plot has been declared to be too complicated to be cut back in the manner of the last few Potter pics, and it’s been hacked in two to ensure the story is properly satisfying. Or, if you’re cynical, to milk the golden goose completely dry. (There’s something amiss with that metaphor but I can’t quite put my finger on it.)

I have to say that my idea of what form the movie-making process takes varies from film to film. Sometimes I envisage a precision-tooled high-performance machine being slotted together. On other occasions the image is of an intricate piece of jewellry being crafted, or a stunning garden being tended. But with the most of the Potter movies I just get the impression of a safe pair of hands turning a crank on the side of a machine and vast quantities of money spewing out.

That’s probably a bit unfair to Yates, but I defy anyone to name another film he’s made outside this franchise. He does a very solid job here, I have to say, and seems particularly comfortable with the effects-laced large-scale sequences. Some of these have been pepped up for the screen, which is fine. He’s also strong when it comes to establishing the bleak and rather desperate atmosphere which exists in Potterworld by the time this story kicks off.

Is there any point to me even attempting a synopsis? Form demands I try. Sigh. As the forces of darkness grow ever stronger, youthful wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends are in a tough spot. Harry has undertaken to find and destroy all the pieces of the sundered soul of his nemesis and the foe of all that is wholesome, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes sans nose). Unfortunately he has very little idea how to actually go about this…

By this point you’re either on board the Potter wagon or you’re not. The hordes of young adults at the screening I attended can’t even have been in their teens when the first movie came out back in 2001 – given how irritating they all were, laughing in the wrong places, and talking through the trailer for Green Lantern, for instance, I certainly found myself slipping into grumpy old man mode. Over the last nine years, I suppose some of them will have left home and discovered the pleasures of the flesh (maybe I do have something in common with them after all), so perhaps this is an epochal moment for them.

The fact remains that as a movie in its own right, Deathly Hallows Part One – like all the recent Potters – has some serious issues. My parents always troop off to see each one as it comes out (they got the habit when for a couple of years running there was a Potter and a Lord of the Rings every Christmas) and emerge entertained but also deeply baffled by what was actually going on. I, on the other hand, come out rather exasperated but for different reasons.

For me, much of the pleasure of reading the Potter books – and a very real pleasure it is – comes from the intricacy of Rowling’s plotting and the richness of the detail of the world. The movies provide the latter in a slapdash sort of way, but they fall down badly when it comes to the former. This one isn’t as bad an offender as the previous installment, but lots of backstory gets cut, and it’ll be interesting to see if the film-makers feel obliged to stick a recap on the front of the concluding part.

This one breaks new ground in a couple of ways, though, completely dispensing with the school setting in favour of sending the leads off on a long and (tautology ahoy) miserable camping trip. This is welcome, but on the other hand not a huge amount happens, given the running time, apart from the Hogwarts Three discussing the plot and squabbling with each other. I don’t know about you, but one of the pleasures of the movie series is going to see people like Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane and Jim Broadbent and so on, and so on, doing their thing – and for most of the film none of them are in it!

Turning up near the beginning and end though, there are some good guest spots: Helena Bonham Carter’s role seems to have been beefed up, while Peter Mullan is actually really scary (not something you can say about most Potter bad guys). Mullan’s big scenes take place inside an impressively realised Ministry of Magic. There’s a definite homage to Brazil going on here, which I am less inclined to coo about than most – it seems slightly disingenuous given that Terry Gilliam (Rowling’s first choice and someone who would surely have been brilliant) was vetoed by Warner Brothers.

But it does look fantastic throughout, and I suppose we must thank J.K. for the fact it doesn’t simply devolve into a quest for plot coupons as could have happened all too easily. Probably the best bit is an animated sequence near the end which begins to explain the significance of the title. Having said all that, lack of any proper climax or sense of suspense at the end, coupled to some moments with a high level of potential bathos, meant that I came out feeling rather indifferent. Together with the second part, this movie may eventually end up doing justice to the book (which I should probably say that I really enjoyed). On its own it just seems to be going through the motions, efficiently but mechanically.

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