Monday, 3 January 2011

Some Like It Potter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
2010 UK/USA
Directed by David Yates
Screening at UK cinemas

It’s not that I don’t like the Harry Potter movies in general... it’s just that I’m kind of indifferent to them in some ways but I have to admit to usually, on most of the entries in the series, being rather pleasantly surprised at just how competently made and entertainingly diverting they can be for a couple of hours. But I usually forget about this and when I’m dragged along to the cinema to see the next one (always by my parents, who seem to like them), I’ve usually convinced myself that the franchise is nothing more than a bloated, dead carcass of a passable children’s literary adaptation as opposed to what it really is... the films that they will put on TV at Christmas and Easter over and over again for the next 50 or 60 years until the inevitable remakes take over.

And so it goes with the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As usual I find myself at the cinema on New Years Day to see this one (New Years Day or New Years Eve seems to be a favourite choice of day for seeing big budget kids movies) and as usual I’m sitting there waiting for the movie to start, watching endlessly tacky ads and calculating just how many hours I will be stuck in there. And then, as is the norm for the Harry Potter series, the film starts and I am completely sucked into the plot and story. Now you have to understand that I’ve never read any of these books, nor have I ever had any real desire to do so. So any observations I can credibly make about this film preclude any pretensions as to whether or not they are in any way a good adaptation of the novels in question. I’ll have to leave that side of things to more Rowling-friendly reviewers.

Where that actually benefits me, though, is the fact that I can see how the story works in the movie for itself without bringing any prior knowledge of the books with me. And I have to say that, plot wise, these movies seem to do very well. Maybe it’s because the plots are so simplistic but... well, lets put it this way. I only ever see these movies once, when they play at the cinema. I’ve never been tempted to rewatch them on DVD. And every time I go and see the next one I assume I’m going to be really confused on the storyline... but I’m not. It’s mostly very clear to me what’s going on in these movies... at least on a very simplistic level. For example... I know that Harry Potter has to find these host vessels called, apparently, Horcruxes. The destruction of these things will weaken the evil bad guy (who really is quite evil in these stories) and lead to his eventual destruction so Harry Potter will no longer be hounded by the obsession of said evil madman, Voldemort, to hunt down Potter and destroy him (this would apparently have bad consequences).

In this film our heroes Harry, Ron and Hermione find and destroy one of these Horcruxes... and I think that means they have about four more to grab in the next and final installment (coming to our screens later this year). I don’t know if anyone in the context of the story has considered the possibility that one of the Horcruxes might be using a living person as a vessel yet... but from the way the plotting goes I don’t see how that can’t be. Some friend or foe is going to have to die along the way I guess... there seems to be a lot of death and pain in the Harry Potter series. These may be kids books but they are certainly very dark kids books if the movies are anything to go by.

Saying that... I’m still not 100% sure that Dumbledore is dead (as shown in the last movie)... and I’m really never that sure that bad guy Snape is actually really a bad guy. Frankly... if Dumbledore is still alive then it would have been a set up involving Snape anyway. I think Snape must be Dumbledores “double agent” in Voldemort’s dark horde.... but I’ll have to wait until the next installment to find out I guess.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a long, long film and I’m happy to report that, for this scribbler anyway, it doesn’t flag or get dull even once... despite there not being a great deal of physical, kinetic action in this one. I’m happy to report that there are quite a few long, slow sequences with our heroes in hiding where there’s hardly any dialogue and the medium of film is actually used more as a purely visual (and musical) medium... giving itself over to the one thing that producers mostly like to stay clear of these days for some reason, but which cinema can do equally well without relying on voice over narrative to express an internal monologue... the art of depicting characters in reflection and thought without seeming flat or dull. These scenes held my attention rather than distracted me.

The music is pretty good... it would be since it’s one of this generations finest score composers Alexandre Desplat... using Williams original Potter leitmotif very rarely and with just enough of a deft touch to remind you that you are very firmly in the Harry Potter universe. Now I went into this movie knowing that the remarkable Desplat had done the score and so could just about detect some slight, characteristic trademarks in his musical style apparent in the movie... but these are so rarely invoked that I have to say, if I hadn’t had known it was Desplat then there’s no way I would have pegged it was him doing the score. Don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing but it’s certainly a feather in his cap that he can so completely immerse and blend his own stylistic voice and weave it into the score without overstating himself in his music in order to serve the continuity of the movies themselves. Well done geezah!

I haven’t got much more to say about this movie to be honest. It’s a very dark entertainment with some, more than competent, performances by some of our best loved national treasures (David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Walters etc) which has now, unexpectedly, whet my appetite for the next installment. An unexpected treat and one which I’d urge anyone who liked the previous installments to rush out and see at their earliest convenience.


  1. I couldn't stop laughing at the skillful description of the sullen filmgoer. We've all been stuck in those spots. But as usual, you find the beauty within the commercialism. I've also heard it's an entertaining flick, which isn't a bad thing.

  2. Hey there Bucko. Yeah... I've been to see some pretty mind-numbing movies at the cinema. That's always a danger I guess.