Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

It seems almost unrealistic and unfair to expect the Harry Potter series to continue with the consistency in quality that it has, yet it continuously does, not just maintaining its standard, but frequently transcending it. No single cinematic series has remained this remarkable over this many films, and at the same time saved the best for last.  But Harry Potter has, and the last has now begun.

  It’s been nearly a decade since The Potter world first graced the screen in the Sorcerer’s Stone, a childish but enjoyable introduction to a franchise that, at the hands of novelist J.K. Rowlings, had already taken our world by storm.  Now, with the first in a two-part translation of the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part1 demonstrates the maturity with which the franchise has established its identity.  No longer is this a matter of film vs. literature, or little children playing with cutesy magic.  This is a film about caricatures growing into characters, charging heroically and frightfully toward the ever-imposing finality of separate but familiar cinematic story.

I’ve never read a page of Rowling’s work, but I’ve seen every film, and watched as it progressed from a cheesy kid’s flick to a textured and terrific filmic accomplishment.  And as such, this particular Potter flick may not be the best of the bunch… but it stands strong as a testament to what this franchise has become, and what it will soon achieve.

At the hands of the franchise’s most successful director David Yates (Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince) and its frequent scribe Steve Kloves (all but Phoenix), Hallows Part 1 is beautifully filmed and narratively adept.  Dark, moody and occasionally slowly paced, it remains an accomplished and thrilling blockbuster, entertaining above all, and in newly proficient ways.
  As their final school year at Hogwarts rolls around, Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his cohorts Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) find themselves nowhere near campus, but on the run from the hordes of hunters and reaper-like creatures looking to bring their young lives to an early end.  It becomes clear very early on that no adults will be here to save their days, the most powerful of elderly figures (headmaster Dumbledore) having fell to his death in the last film.  The kids are on their own, and on their way to becoming the adults themselves.

It is with this notion that Deathly Hallows proceeds, staying true to its foreboding namesake in maintaining a decidedly dark and somber tone.  The cute is out the window, and with it most of the humor.  Hallows is not without its moments – fun body morphing, a few hormone-charged quirks.  But Hallows largely occupies itself with the stuff of innocence lost, as evidenced by the “off the books” scene shared by Potter and Hermione, stealing a moment for a comforting dance, but to the tune of Nick Cave’s haunted voice on the track “O Children” (the first time modern "pop" music has found a place in Potter’s world, I think).  The moment is necessary, and necessarily fleeting – poignant in its adult sensibility, and in their uncertain reaction to it.

Hallows is not without its flaws – the pacing flip-flops from cinematic to novelistic and back, and the leading trio will always be subject to acting critique.  But the troupe of thespians that surround them remain strong, and their journey impactful.  Plot-wise, Hallows may feel incomplete, since it essentially functions as a 2.5 hour setup for the finale to come.  But by now, plot isn’t really the point.  Sure, there’s action, adventure, mystery and magic – all those tricks are still in the bag.  But the mission of this film is an emotional one – a charged and jarring preparation for the climactic war to come.  This is a film about growth, the “why” presupposing the “what”.

To quote another Nick Cave song, “there is a war coming!” -  and by the end of Hallows, our heroes appear to be finally, at long last, brutally and satisfyingly prepared.

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