Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

I've read all seven books and now I've seen seven out of the eight films. This is the best film, made from what was in my opinion the best book. For six books and six movies, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has gone to school and basked in the glow of Hogwarts, protected by his teachers and surrounded by friends. For six books and movies, he has solved a mystery, beaten a villain and saved the day in time to enjoy the last day of school. That's not to say it's always been easy or completely free of loss or pain, but the training wheels were on.

This time the training wheels are gone. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is dead, the Ministry has fallen and nowhere is safe. Harry faces attacks at all of his prior hiding spots, from the Dursley home to the Burrow and even at the Ministry itself. Hogwarts is so dangerous he doesn't even dare venture there. Meanwhile friends are dying all around him while others who before were harmless annoyances are now dangerous enemies. It's been said that the world has an Orwellian / Nazi-ish feel and I agree with that. With Voldemort in power, Harry is number one on the most wanted list. The Ministry is turning itself inside out looking for "mudbloods," people born with muggle ancestry. The Ministry's guards even look like SS agents.

The whole thing is astonishingly bleak. There's something refreshing and intense about this movie. Watching with my buddy Leo, we recoiled in shock during the opening motorcycle chase as cars flipped and exploded, killing innocent bystanders. There's a body count here. They're not f**king around. The old Harry Potter structure, with mystery interspersed with classes and teenage drama, is gone. Harry spends the entire movie on the run, camping out in the woods with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson, ever the fox). Instead of seeing the same old Hogwarts hallways and classrooms, we're now treated to expansive vistas of the English countryside.

A lot of people have groused about "Harry Potter and the Great Camping Adventure," but I'm really happy the film took its time and played up the hopelessness of the situation. No adults. No family. No help. Just Harry, Hermione and Ron in the woods, running for their lives. The world has gone cold and dark and the kids have only each other. There's a scene in the middle of this section with no dialogue. Listening to the radio with its endless stream of death notices and bad news, Harry and Hermione happen upon a piece of music ("O'Children" by Nick Cave, look it up). Seizing the moment, they dance. They keep dancing as long as they can hear the song. When the song ends, their mood drops and the scene ends. Message received.

A word about performances. The kids (now adults) are great here. Radcliffe isn't the whiny little bitch we were afraid he'd be. He is smart and resourceful yet emotional and believable. We can actually see him working things out behind his eyes. Radcliffe has grown into a great actor and I'm excited to see what he'll do beyond the Potterverse. Rupert Grint remains servicable as ever, even if his performance doesn't rise to the level that the others' do. Emma Watson, however, is fantastic. She is able to portray Hermione not as a little girl but as a full adult, a woman gifted and cursed with a brilliant mind, struggling to both comprehend and control her emotions. She seems to be playing Hermione's feelings for Harry and Ron close to the vest, but maybe that's just my perspective. There is a love triangle here that wasn't really touched upon in the book.

Someone at work asked me what I thought of the movie. I started to explain what I've written above, but she cut me off. "Isn't this a children's movie?" she asked, flabbergasted. I gave my opinion that in fact it was not, that it was instead an epic intended for everyone. "That's ridiculous," she laughed. "I stopped reading after the second book." It was then that I realized that we were not really having a discussion. Point is, you may laugh at my analysis above. You may dismiss Harry Potter and everything attached to it as "for kids." But if you make that mistake, it's you who's missing out. The books are great, the movies are great, and this is the best of both. Enjoy.

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