Sunday, November 21, 2010

Love: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1

With each passing Harry Potter adaptation, the first order of discussion seems to always be: isn't this the most mature HP film yet?  And it's true.  One of the best features of J.K. Rowling's written series was that the books truly grew with their audience.  The writing, the emotional breadth, the complexity of the situations, the narrative slowly snowballed from the chipper friendships and perilous adventures standard to children's literature, and began to push at its boundaries to become an out and out epic.  The series does not remain in arrested development.  Its protagonist is allowed only the briefest moments of wonder at the point of discovering he is, in fact, a wizard.  In the wake of that, the narrative can only escalate.  The fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, allows Harry Potter a few hundred pages worth of adolescent rebellion.  He becomes selfish, irritable, and angsty.  He pushes those who care for him away and bemoans his lot in life, and, honestly, wouldn't you?  In Order of the Phoenix, Harry is forced to deal.  He must accept who he is and what it is his destiny to do.  He is the Boy Who Lived.  If he fights it, if he shirks his responsibility and turns to the 'dark side' of magic, the fragile balance of the world is at stake.  The best he can do is to embrace those around him, prepare for what's to come, and accept (with a touch of good humor), that this is the way it has to be.   So, yes, with each passing film, the narrative becomes increasingly more 'mature'.  We're not dealing in trifles any longer, my friends.  The days of classroom hijinks, magical ceilings, and butter beer have come and gone.  In this first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we cannot return to Hogwarts.  Dumbledore is dead, we're outside those fortress walls, and the real world?  It's a cold, cold place.
What this means, most notably for the film, is that the tried and true format is fractured.  There's no buffer or distraction in Gryffindor commons or on the Hogwarts Express.  The atmosphere has become electrified, and our heroes are on edge, relentlessly pursued by any number of turncoats and shady characters, wandering aimlessly in a literal war zone, listening to broadcast lists of casualties, hoping the loved ones they had to leave are not amongst them.  There's no kid stuff in this Harry Potter world.  Where last year's installment, The Half Blood Prince was a respite allowing the world to soak in melancholy and find beauty in the morose, this film is a cross-genre spectacle of intrigue and action.  It's as much political thriller as war film, has an element of Bourne-style action adventure while at times feeling less like fantasy than stark, magical realism.  There is, too, a truly stunning animated sequence illuminating one of the stories of Beedle the Bard, a first in the franchise.  The penultimate episode is dressed up as a rather serious film, and for those not in love with Rowling's novels, you may not see the payoff of its slow winding until it's paired with the conclusive chapter next July.  As Harry, Ron, and Hermione have lost the assistance found in all those supporting British acting legends, the audience is similarly defenseless.  It's a somber affair.  The beautiful melancholy of Half Blood has given way to decrepit tragedy.  If it feels as though I'm repeating myself, you're right, I am.  Let's face it, those who go in search of a review on a Harry Potter film are those who have not fully succumbed to the series.  For those still harboring that modicum of resentment or doubt, I cannot stress just how vital, how well-helmed, the book/film series is enough.   While this film suffers a fair amount of textual abbreviation and editing, what is most remarkable is how smoothly it is allowed to transition from that world of chocolate frogs and snowy owls to totalitarian allusion, political prisoners, and real, red blood on the hands of its young wards.
  In the roles they have, in essence, lived, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint prove that their time amongst the seasoned performers employed as their professors and parents (Now including Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans) has paid off in full.  This is, perhaps, the first film that belongs truly to them.  Where Radcliffe's performance felt awkward to me in the last go, this time he has stepped up and cast away that doubt.  His shortcomings are acknowledged and used to the advantage of the character.  His odd, sort of dorky gait is mimicked in a way that not only allows the audience to laugh, but which also points out that look, this wizard is human, he's not just bumbling around the set, he moves this way.  Watson, too, can deliver an impressive range of expression in her face even when given the most tepid, expository of lines.  There are some weak spots in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1, a little too much focus on singular characters and the excluding of others, but they're otherwise mostly the result of timing and director David Yates attempting to call upon the crucial plot points forgetful viewers may have already lost.  Ultimately,  in spite of some dragging moments in the wilderness and my own unhappiness that I have to wait another eight months, the film serves as a reminder of just how remarkable the series truly is.  The success it has found across formats is more than warranted.  This, my friends, is an out and out masterpiece of "children's" fare.   

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