Thursday, December 2, 2010

Love: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1


Dear Harry Potter Movie Crew:
There isn’t much for to say about the mechanics of your recent film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1, that my colleague Wilde.Dash hasn’t already covered. Aesthetically, it’s a gorgeous film. Acting wise, it’s absolutely top notch, and story wise, J.K. Rowling’s books couldn’t get more exciting. But as a nearly ten year Harry Potter obsessed fan, there’s something even more important about your film (and the ones that went before it) that goes way beyond all the basics of filmmaking that your entire team displays easy master of.
I don’t have to tell you that Harry's is a complicated story, perhaps one of the most complicated that anyone has ever attempted to translate onto film, but for those skeptics out there, let me explain. Harry Potter is about a boy wizard as he ages in a terrifying and dark world. He becomes the hero, and as in all stories just like his, after trials and tribulations with bad guys….well, I don’t want to spoil it. But unlike those other archetypal stories, J.K. Rowling’s story is different. It’s a magical story, and not because it involves magic, wands, and witches and wizards. Her technique is fascinating. Seamlessly, as Harry ages, year by year each story becomes more and more mature, forcing the reader to grow-up with Harry. Rowling doesn’t pussy foot around Harry’s growing maturity either. She doesn’t abandon his anger, his growing *cough* needs (without focusing too much on them ala books like the Twilight series where sex is the main selling point), or the violence. Harry’s experiences are subtle and captured in a truly sincere way by Rowling that engages young audiences without patronizing them as they grow themselves while keeping the mature ones invested and impressed.

But despite his “chosen one” status, Harry isn’t the most important person. The books aren’t really about him. Instead, Rowling uses Harry as a catalyst to access and fully explore the wealth of people around him. Rowling is able to use these snapshots of each character, even the most fleeting and minor, to fully flesh out everyone, making the books come alive, and again, appealing to adults as adults play just as much of a role in the stories as the kids do. These full characters are placed in a rich and luscious setting that Rowling also takes great pains to make both fully formed and inventive at every turn. It builds a true mythology based on people instead of just the legend, outside of the prophecies and fantasy things you’d expect from a book about a wizard. When the 7th book hits (hell when the 5th book hits), it’s intense. You care about these people. You’ve been a witness to their change, you know them. Add in Rowling’s twisting and fascinating plot and you find yourself unable to detach, unable to put it down, and ready to send an Unforgivable Curse in the direction of that jackass screaming integral plot points at you as you wait in line for the books at Borders.

Encapsulating the emotional connection to Rowling’s world and those that populate it is an impossible translation, if anything just in the very act of transforming a series of 7 abnormally thick books (8 if you count The Tales of Beetle the Bard which you did in that beautifully rendered animated short near the end of the film) into 8 two hour movies. But while you did cut and paste various things from the beloved story, it didn’t matter because you kept the important parts. You were lucky enough to employ three young actors that grew into interesting and talented human beings committed to their job. There was no drama, even when Daniel Radcliffe stripped in Equs or as Emma Watson went through various boyfriends. These three young actors for all intensive purposes grew-up together just as their characters did, and it shows. They, in addition to the staggering talent you employed (Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Fiona Shaw, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Ralph Finnes, Robbie Coltran, do I need to keep going?), ensured that this production could be nothing but top notch by respecting the characters that they inhabited. But this respect didn’t hold you back. You were never a slave to the material in the way that Director Zac Synder was to Watchmen. This gave you the freedom to let that emotion through.
The production quality matches this quality acting. The production values bring the lush world that Rowling had created to life, never boring and typical, but also never overwrought in Tim Burton-esque style which would have played up the fantasy aspects and downplayed the real strengths. Particularly once Harry’s world began to darken in the third book/movie, and Director Alfonso Cuaron replaced the more light-hearted Chris Columbus (whose style works just fine for the first two, less mature books), the entire production began to balance perfectly on the knife’s edge between fantasy and reality without ever moving to heavily into either side, even with the frequent change of directors.

And while the 5th Harry Potter book will always be my favorite, The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 will be my favorite film of the series. You have your problems to be sure. Some might find you a bit slow, others might find your split into two films jarring, and yes, that death at the end is just slightly on the sappy side. But that's why you deserve so much credit, because frankly, those little things don't matter in comparison to your strengths and your heart, a film that will cement this series along with To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the best book to film conversions, a result of the entire crew’s commitment to telling the story. And in July when the film series finally comes to an end, I have every hope and belief that you will succeed in making that end as emotional as the turn of the final page. Nicely done.

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