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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1
By David Fuchs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is watchable. For most films, this can be considered enough. I can turn my brain off and go watch some action film, and it's watchable. I don't expect anything from it.
For the next-to-last film adaptation of one of the greatest fantasy series in recent years, watchable doesn't cut it. Or, at least, it shouldn't.
It's hard to figure out where to start with this film, but I guess I'll begin with the fact that my good family friends have, for some reason, never read the Harry Potter books. Their only knowledge comes from the films, which they have seen recently. And guess what, readers? They had no clue what was going on.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 fails as an adaptation, because it is utterly dependent on the books to prop it up. Names, spells, and characters whiz by, but they've been either given short shrift by previous movies or went unmentioned until now. This is the downside of ignoring much of the latent Harry Potter lore for the last two films: there's the crushing weight of backstory that needed to be explained, but director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves barreled on ahead. I foresaw that this film would be plot-heavy when I reviewed the Half-Blood Prince, so imagine my surprise that they didn't deal with any of the plot here either. Oh sure, they go through the motions, from the wedding to the forests to the mansion to the cottage, but stripped of contextual detail, it just doesn't mean much on its own. How many horcruxes are there? Save for a stray bit of dialogue that I know several people in my theater missed, it's never explained. Does Voldemort know they are hunting them? That was explained in the book, but infuriatingly brought up here and ignored as soon as the line was uttered. Because the whole dialogue with Dumbledore explaining what he thought the horcruxes were was cut out of the last movie, there was really no other place to put it organically except for this one. But... they didn't.
In the seventh book, a lot of time is spent camping. That was okay, since J.K. Rowling made it enjoyable to read and we got to see the slow dissolution of character bonds as Harry, Hermione and Ron realize they are alone, cut off from the wizarding world, hungry and aimless. In the movie, we just got a lot of staring, some awkward dancing and no further plot info save for nuggets scattered so aimlessly it felt that they could be edited into whatever order the director wished. For a movie so slavish to the book, the fact that they missed so many touches is mind-boggling.The change in color from the Green Lantern and Green Hornet trailers attached to Harry Potter, and the feature itself, is astounding—digital color correction was clearly used to drain the life and saturation out of every. single. frame. I miss the old days of filmmaking, when creating a foreboding and desolate mood required putting thought into expression, lighting, music and narrative; these days it's just a tacked-on Photoshop filter. This desaturated look even becomes damaging to the narrative because (unless you've read the book) the dream sequences, flashbacks, and peeks into Voldemort's mind are all tinted roughly the same color and bleed together in an awful mess. Don't get me started on the abrupt cuts to pans, documentary-style shaky cam mixed with smooth dolly shots, and incomprehensible chase sequences. While the film's Sword of Gryffindor might imbibe only that which strengthens it, Deathly Hallows - Part 1 apparently assimilated every bad filmmaking technique of the past decade.
Let's move away from the negativity to praise what good is in the film, try though Yates might to strangle it. The acting of the three principal characters has only grown over the course of the film, and although Bill Nighy does a close William Shatner-esqe delivery for his lines as Ministry of Magic he still livens up his scenes. The rest of the characters do their best, but Alan Rickman can't make me enjoy a film when he's in it for all of four minutes (yes, I know he'll be prominent in the sequel, thanks.) Some comedic elements were delivered perfectly, though other parts had the theater chuckling when I don't believe it was planned (for a moment, the film veered dangerously close into "my precious!" Lord of the Rings territory.) And though the color was bled out of most scenes, the locales still managed to impress and excite.
It's unfortunate that after attempts to make the film series stand on their own as solid adaptations, the last two films are clearly being made only for fans. I can't help but feel that with the excessively heavy-handed portrayals (Voldemort's followers as Nazis? Really?) and cinematic techniques, Yates has succeeded in killing much of the inner magic of the series. Now all that's left is a lot more deaths and a lot more spells, but I don't suspect it will mean much to my relatives. As for the fans: they've eaten this one up, what's one more?