Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Movie review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)

My trend of doing movie reviews appears to continue; this week's review is of the first part of the final chapter of the Harry Potter series.

If you don't already know...

Then you've been living in a cave, or are an alien spy who hasn't done the research.

The last in the series of seven books in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows covers the last battle between the young wizard Harry Potter, and his mortal enemy, the dark wizard Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents when he was a baby and who's been trying to kill him ever since.

At this point in the story, Harry and his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, have abandoned their final year studies at Hogwart's — the school for witchcraft and wizardry — in order to seek out and destroy the Horcruxes, the vessels Voldemort has used to house the pieces of his fragmented soul1, while attempting to avoid capture by their enemies, who've all-but taken over the wizarding world.

1Yeah, it's a very long story. But worth reading if you haven't already.


When the first trailers appeared, the film was advertised as being in 3D; however, as the opening day grew closer, there was no more mention of the extra dimension. Turns out they ran out of time in the conversion process, and when given the choice to delay the opening or go with 2D they (sensibly2) chose the latter.

But there were quite a few scenes that'd been shot with 3D in mind, including the Warner Brothers logo at the beginning.

2While I'm a fan of 3D when used well, I'm a bit dubious of it when tacked on as an afterthought, i.e. if not shot using 3D technology from the start; what I heard happened with Clash of the Titans3 is a testament to how things can go wrong.
3Heard, because I didn't see it; from what I read it wasn't something I believe I'd have liked, not the least because of Sam 'more wooden than my dining table' Worthington.

A change of pace

It's a slower film than the others, which've been far more action focused. This is how the book is written and, thanks to the decision to make it into two films rather than one, they were able to stay true to the original plot.

But that's not to say it's bereft of action – it's not; there are plenty of action scenes, and they work well.

Sticking with the formula

What's made the Harry Potter series work is that, while they've had to drop huge chunks of the stories — especially from book number four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, onwards; that's when they started getting really big – they've retained the key elements such as the humour, the relationships between the characters, and the underlying themes.

This one's no different.

Where it falls down

In staying true to the book, though, it faces the same problems as the book, which is mostly to do with the inconsistent behaviour of characters — for example, at one point the main trio are prepared to stand up to the strongest of the evil wizards; moments later they're running like startled rabbits from a bunch of scruffy-looking goons who look barely able to hold a wand straight.

Then there's how the children manage to outwit the adults, a phenomenon the inimitable TV Tropes refers to — much better than I'm able to — as Adults are Useless.

Then there's the fact that no-one seems to know what Harry Potter's two best friends — without whom he's almost never seen — look like. I mean, c'mon.

The animation

There's a segment, kind of a story within the story; it describes the Deathly Hallows of the title — and it's animated. But it's exceptionally well-done. Not easy to describe, though — it's like a combination of shadow-puppets and something out of the part of Neil Gaiman's brain that even he doesn't like to spend much time in. Dark, creepy and totally mesmerising.

A good build-up to what should (presumably) be a big finish

What doing what they've done with the first part allows them to do with the second is allow it to be far more action focused4. And despite the relatively sluggish pace, the momentum does increase toward the end, and includes a couple of significant scenes to step up the tension.

It's a smart move, and if it goes as I'd like to think it will, it's going to be one kickass finale. Really, the only bad thing about it is that I've now got to wait eight months for it to come out.

4By which I mean a significant part of it being a honking massive battle between two armies of wizards, with the special effects budget bigger than the GDP of far too many countries.

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