Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Midnight Harry Potter, Two Weeks Late

First thought: "This movie is going to end way past my bedtime."
Second thought: "Ah, what do I care.  When else besides grad school am I going to have the means and opportunity to watch movies at midnight?"
Third thought: "Good Lord, what have I gotten myself into?"

Now, I like Harry Potter.  I've read all seven books.  I've seen the first seven movies, and I'll undoubtedly see the eighth.  I'll even give the series credit for forming and strengthening some friendships.  I would call myself a Harry Potter fan.

There aren't many of us.

Harry Potter tends to attract not just fans, but fanatics.  Every hobby, every form of entertainment has them: people who own special clothing, who can recite lists of minor information, who spend time in the meta-community talking about the activity rather than doing it, who can engage in a half-hour conversation and not be abashed by its utter nerdiness but just be left wanting more.  (Think me with Lost.)  Whether it's gardening or Batman or Ke$ha or the New York Mets, somebody is going to go all out.  But for whatever reason, a lot more people go all out with Harry Potter than with any other hobby or activity or entertainment that I know of.

Combine me being a mere Harry Potter fan with me being Not A Movie Person, and it was strange indeed to find myself in a midnight screening of Deathly Hallows Part 1.  But I'm glad I went--because seriously, why not--because it turned out be one of the better Harry Potter movies so far.  Only a few scenes fell short.

The only truly weak part of the film is the middle-to-late "Ron has left us; what are we to do?" section.  It lasts too long with not enough happening.  I don't remember the "Harry and Hermione dance" scene from the book at all, but man was it boring and inconsequential in the movie.  One of the biggest differences in reading the book and watching the movie is that in the book, you don't know if or when Ron will come back--and it leads to an emotionally devastating few chapters.  After you've read the book, you know that Ron does come back, and that the plot really doesn't advance until he does.  With that in mind, the scenes in between go from powerful to filler pretty quickly.

Quibbles with other parts of the movie are even more minor.  As in the book, I wish that more had been made of Hedwig's death scene.  I'm probably alone among Harry Potter fans in saying this, but forget Dobby--I think Hedwig's death is the real tragedy.  It's more than just a character dying; it's a symbol that Harry really isn't going back to Hogwarts anytime soon, and it's a clear sign that the Bad Guys are Not Messing Around, when they're totally okay with killing defenseless creatures.

And speaking of our friend Dobby, the funeral scene seemed a little odd, with Harry and company carrying around a white-sheeted bundle meant to contain Dobby's corpse.  It's the only time in the movie where my suspension of disbelief utterly failed, and I started thinking in terms of actors and filmography rather than the story being told.

Finally, the intensity could have been turned way up in the Malfoy Manor scene.  Once again, this scene serves some important literary purposes: it's more evidence for Bellatrix's complete insanity and hatred for non-pureblooded wizards, and it's probably the first strong piece of evidence for Lucius Malfoy's wavering loyalty.  Sure, he's a bad guy, but the manor scene demonstrates that maybe he isn't okay with Voldemort using his place as a de facto base camp, and maybe he follows him more out of necessity than fervor.

The more potent the Malfoy Manor scene, the stronger the development of these character traits becomes.  On top of all that, we need to feel like Hermione is really in danger of dying.  This might be yet another function of having read the book and knowing what happens next, but the whole ordeal at the manor seemed started then finished in the matter of a few minutes.  Obviously there are limits to how far you can push a PG-13 rating (and clearly it makes economic sense to avoid the R rating), but it's scenes like this one that I like to point to when Harry Potter skeptics accuse the series of being "children's literature".

As usual, though, when a review comes down to criticizing a few specific scenes, that means the rest of the movie worked reasonably well.  I absolutely love Luna's character--in fact, her character is much better in the movies than in the books--and her humor (where you're never quite sure if she's being flaky or unexpectedly insightful) is one of the few instances of comic relief that is genuinely funny.  The movie is quite faithful to the book--not that it's difficult to be, with two and a half hours to cover less than 400 pages of the novel, there would be no excuse for any drastic departures.  And most importantly of all, the lovely Miss Emma Watson turns in clearly her best performance so far.

Bottom line: if you're out of the Harry Potter loop, there's no way you're going to see this movie, because it simply will not make any sense to you.  And if you're in the Harry Potter loop, even if the movie were truly horrible, it probably wouldn't cross your mind not to see it.  But here's the thing: this movie is good.  It is both a worthy followup to the first six movies and a faithful translation of the seventh book (or at least the first chunk of it).  So even all those fanatics that Harry Potter inexplicably attracts won't be disappointed.

Currently listening: Broken Bells, self-titled album

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