Saturday, November 20, 2010
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One
Oh Harry...where oh were do I begin? I'm not really sure how to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One. I can't recall the last time I've ever looked forward to film with more excitement, balanced with equal amounts of trepidation. It's not that I was concerned about how J.K. Rowling's fantastic series finale would be brought to life on-screen, it's more that I just don't even want to contemplate the end of the journey. When the seventh book came out I wasn't as crushed by "The End" of the series as much as I could have been, because I knew we still had films in the pipeline to look forward to. And now, the nearly decade-long film journey anchored by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint is drawing to a close - and I loved every second of it.
Going into the film, I hadn't re-read the book. I haven't re-read any of the books in ages, actually, now that I stop and think about it. Chronic case of too many books and way too little time. I've never been one who has been bothered by any omissions or changes from book to film. I typically do a pretty good job of "filling in the blanks" when it comes to any changes or omissions the filmmakers made in order to bring the stories to life on-screen. I'm actually quite glad I didn't re-read Deathly Hallows prior to seeing the movie - there was a lot that I'd forgotten, so I feel like I was able to approach the story with somewhat fresh eyes. It was rather like reading the book for the first time - a revelation in every scene instead of on every page.
I've read a couple of reviews that made statements to the effect that this is a complete tonal shift from all previous movies in the series. Yes, there's no Hogwarts in Part One, and yes, with different directors bringing their own vision to Rowling's world, none of the films have ever been cookie cutter copies of the others in the series. But like the novels, Deathly Hallows felt like a natural progression of everything that's come before. The characters we've come to know and love and watch grow up before our very eyes are in more danger than ever - quite frankly at the end of their rope. When all seems hopeless and overwhelming, this is where the rubber meets the road, relationships are tested and fears are faced. This is where everything that's come before has led - all pointing towards a final showdown with overwhelming darkness. You must pardon me if I sound more melodramatic or over-the-top (than usual), but I love these characters and stories so much that I can't help but feel emotionally invested in watching this story play out on the big screen.
I can remember joking when Return of the King came out that the last hour of the movie was rather like Peter Jackson's long, endless goodbye to the characters and their adventures in Middle Earth. That's rather how I feel about Deathly Hallows - and if the "goodbye nods" in Part One have gotten to me, after Part Two you're going to need to scrape me off the floor, I'm sure to be a sobbing puddle. *wink* The filmmakers are doing their level best to be thorough and I so appreciate all the little touches this film contains, bringing the whole series to a glorious close. We get to briefly revisit Harry's Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) as Harry sees them off as they go into hiding - characters we hadn't gotten to see since Order of the Phoenix. (Side note: When Harry took one last look inside the cupboard under the stairs before being picked up by the Order, I nearly started bawling.) It was also great to see Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour) return for Bill and Fleur's interrupted wedding - watching Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) make eyes at her once again was a fun moment. And speaking of Fleur and Bill, it was great to finally, finally meet Bill Weasley on-screen (played by Domhall Gleeson). And words cannot describe how happy I was to see the role of Rufus Scrimgeour played by Bill Nighy. That was pitch-perfect casting.
Of course it was wonderful to see the rest of the Weasley clan and members of the Order make return appearances. We only get to see Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) briefly at the beginning of the film, but it served to remind one of just how perfectly Gleeson was cast in the role. Lupin (David Thewlis) and Tonks (Natalia Tena) are of course married now, and let me tell you with as much as I adore Lupin there's a part of me that is not looking forward to seeing him again in Part Two. *sigh* I simply adore Molly (Julie Walters) and Arthur (Mark Williams) Weasley, though their on-screen time was all too short. Can't wait for Molly to utter "the line" during her final fight. *wink* And the twins, Fred (James Phelps) and George (Oliver Phelps), they just about broke my heart. I loved seeing their humor and bravery - I know they're gonna break my heart in Part Two. And isn't Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) just too adorable for words?! (Interesting fact: According to the IMDB, Wright is engaged to Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Gellert Grindelwald - interesting connection, no?) Oh, and I've just got to tell you while I loved catching glimpses of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), I can't wait to see him again in Part Two! Gambon is one of my favorite bits of casting for the entire film series - he's pretty much exactly as I'd imagine Dumbeldore when reading the novels.
My absolute favorite returning character belongs to Dobby the house elf, voiced by Toby Jones. I love Dobby, and honestly I've quite missed the fact that he hasn't been seen on-screen since Chamber of Secrets. But returning for this film means Dobby returns in style - he gets his finest moment here, sacrificing himself heroically for his friends - and I loved that. It was a wrenching note on which to end this installment, but it was not without hope. For as sad as Dobby's burial scene was, I loved the way the scene was staged - Dobby was a character that, thanks to Harry's actions at the end of Chamber, got to finally live life on his own terms.
Of course plenty of villains (I can't bring myself to include the Dursleys in the out and out villains category) and familiar settings get revisited in this film - it's nothing if not thorough. I was so, so happy to see Jason Isaacs back as Draco's father, Lucius Malfoy. My oh my that man can rock the long blonde hair. Loved seeing the normally smooth and suave Lucius borderline unhinged from the pressure of trying to deal with Voldemort. I also really like Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy. I don't think she had a single line in this movie, but oh goodness does she have the look and attitude I'd imagine for Narcissa. I also love me some crazy Helena Bonham Carter - she was pitch-perfect casting as Bellatrix Lestrange. Her face-off with Hermione at Malfoy Manor was chilling and so well-played! And of course there's my beloved Draco (Tom Felton). I am so, so glad he stuck with the film series - I can't imagine anyone else playing Draco half so well. It's nice, too, that the other "kids" have caught up with Felton - it seems like he hit his growth spurt/maturity a bit before Harry, Hermione, and Ron. It was also great to see Dolores Umbridge again (Imelda Staunton) when Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into the Ministry of Magic to steal the Horcrux locket. She is so over-the-top and prissy it always cracks me up, and I enjoyed experiencing her cat obsession when they all started meowing from the plates in her office - hilarious! Of course we get to see Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) - I'm really, really looking forward to seeing how Rickman plays Snape's pivotal scenes in Part Two.
I've always been a bit iffy on the casting of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. I fully acknowledge that's more due to my bias against him as an actor than his actual acting abilities. But this time around I felt like Voldemort was finally unleashed if you will, and Fiennes took the creep factor to a whole new level. From the opening scene at the Death Eaters "convention" (haha) were Voldemort terrifies Lucius by asking for his wand, and then murders Charity Burbage, to the scene at the very end where he breaks into Dumbledore's crypt to steal the wand, I finally felt like I really was satisfied with Fiennes' casting. He was creepy and disturbing and insane, everything Voldemort needs to be.
But of course the heart of the movie is the relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They are the heart and soul of the movie, and the chemistry between Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are one of the main reasons I love the movies so much. The studio hit the casting jackpot when they bestowed the roles of Harry, Ron, and Hermione on these three - it's been a joy to watch them grow up on-screen, hasn't it? This movie was, as is fitting, almost painful to watch at times because of the severe testing Harry, Ron, and Hermione undergo throughout their journey to outwit Voldemort and the Death Eaters and find the remaining Horcruxes. There are so many great moments between these three. From Ron and Hermione's budding relationship (loved Watson's delivery of the line about always being mad at Ron) to Ron's jealousy of Harry nearly costing him his two closest friends (wasn't expecting nearly naked Harry and Hermione though, LOL), to Harry's close, protective relationship towards Hermione - these "kids" have grown into some really great actors. Wasn't the moment where Harry and Hermione dance just to die for? LOVED the expressions on their faces. It was a nice way of acknowledging that there *could've* been something between Hermione and Harry, but they choose not to go there. Didn't expect it but very well played by Watson and Radcliffe. Each successive film has stretched and tested the abilities of the main three, and Deathly Hallows feels like a culmination of that process. I really look forward to seeing what projects come from Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson's post-Harry careers.
I want to touch on two of my favorite scenes in the entire film. The first is where Harry and Hermione visit Godric's Hollow, and Harry sees the destroyed home where he became "The Boy Who Lived." They also visit James and Lily's graves, and oh the look on Radcliffe's face as he stood over their tombstone ripped my heart out. And when I saw the inscription, "The last enemy to be conquered is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26), I nearly lost it right then and there. That hope, that type of worldview, is just one of the many reasons I adore the Potter stories. Rowling crafted characters whose faith and resilience are a ray of hope and light in the face of overwhelming evil and darkness. It's their choices that make these characters so beloved and unforgettable, and examples of the best mankind has to offer. I also loved the way the film brought "The Tale of the Three Brothers" and the fabled Deathly Hallows to life when the three visit Luna's father, Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans). The animation was just fantastic and just seemed to fit so well in the Potter universe. I never expected an animated interlude in a Potter film like that, much less one that worked so well. And seeing things "click" for Harry, Ron, and Hermione as the Hallows are described was a great moment. (Side note: I loved seeing Evanna Lynch's take on Luna Lovegood again, she was just perfectly cast. But I'm not sold on Ifans as her father. Physically he was a good match, just not quite as I imagined.)
Deathly Hallows marks director David Yates third outing at the helm of a Potter film. I've got to say I've been quite pleased with his vision for bringing the stories to life, and I think it's served the series well, as it builds towards its epic finale, that the same director has been overseeing the last few installments of the series. The camerawork and pacing of this movie is superb - never a dull moment, for a film with only a few action sequences and a lot of "down" time for our leads, I was riveted throughout the movies two and a half hour runtime. I loved the look of the movie - often bleak and empty, the settings place our characters in an eerie physical and spiritual, if you will, isolation that intensifies their struggles to cope with the dangers before them. I also thought that Alexandre Desplat's score was terrific. This is the prolific composer's first score for a Potter film, and I thought he did a fantastic job marrying the music to the action. We've come a long way from the childlike wonderment evident in John Williams' score for the first two Potter films, but no matter the composer subsequently, the magic has never been lost and the emotion still remains.
Oh how I can't wait for Part Two in July. The wait seems interminable, but I know all too well that the time will fly by. I'm sure I'll greet the premiere with even stronger mixed emotions, but it is a moment I anticipate even more now that I've seen Part One of Deathly Hallows brought to life.
So, Harry Potter fans, if you've seen Deathly Hallows, please chime in with some comments, I'd love to know what you think! There's so, so much more I could say about this film - in a way I feel rather like I'm still "digesting" it if you will. It will take another few viewings to really take everything in, don't you know. I could go on and on, but I've got to stop this post sometime. :) After all, I've been working on this post for over a day as it is...