Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’

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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