Monday, October 22, 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 and 2)

David Yates, 2010/2011 -- blu-ray

The tail end of the Harry Potter series (by which I guess I mean the latter half) greatly benefitted by having David Yates as director.  It's not necessarily the man's skill -- though I'm impressed by his eye as well as his panache with shadows, and his rather mature focus -- but instead the consistency of vision.  I guess were it not for his skill, the vision would be for shit, but he truly thrust Harry Potter, his compatriots, and consequently the audience headlong into adulthood. 

The previous Potter film, Half-Blood Prince, was by far the most intriguing of the films to date, if not necessarily the story itself, then most certainly in tone and allusion.  Half-Blood Prince was, in essence, a two and a half hour warm-up for the Deathly Hallows, itself a mammoth four and a half hours in total.  The singular focus of Yates definitely brought the sixth and seven acts together as a unified whole, and for a time it was rather glorious.

The first act of the Deathly Hallows find Harry, Hermoine and Ron on the run as the nefarious forces of Voldemort seek Harry's death.  Equally, they're on a quest to find the Hoarcruxes, the enchanted objects each containing a piece of Voldemort's soul, and perhaps the only path to his ultimate destruction.  The globe-wide journey the trio take leads to the most beautiful moments of the series.  Like Han, Leia and Luke before them, it's really an anti-love triangle, as it's so evident that the hero is so wrapped up in his quest that it's impossible for him to acknowledge romance as an option.  An yet, the tension exists here, far more palpably than in Lucas' trilogy.  In particular the tent sequences, so extremely intimate and were this not a movie still intended for mature children, there would have been some definite knocking of wands going on.  The sexual tension, which circles around all three ways, was shocking but a reminder that the kids have grown up, though not all the way.

The Deathly Hallows part 1 features a remarkable adventure, and with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all grown up both as people and as actors, they're up to the challenge of being the focal point of the picture.  The Potter series has been littered with tremendous supporting actors, a necessity given the inexperience of the young cast in the first picture, and the awkwardness of puberty and teenage years that followed.  Finally they're ready to be the absolute center of the fantasy and it's a palpable difference, having them carry the film on their own.  Part 1 would be a brilliant movie, a fantastic feather in the cap of the series but the fact of the matter is it's incomplete.  It ends awkwardly, mid-story, something every filmgoer was painfully aware of in advance as it was broadcast globally that the seventh book would be divided into two films, starting a dumbass trend for every kids book series to follow I'm sure.

While Part 1 used the extra time to allow the characters and moments to breathe in a manner which none of the other pictures had the luxury, it turned out to be a reward.  But its reward was Part 2's curse, as the "sequel" never stopped feeling overlong and drawn out.  At two hours it's a trudge, especially with the 40-minute sustained action sequence.  While it was exceptionally well handled and orchestrated by Yates, it could have had 20 minutes cut and the brutally padded lead into it could have equally been reduced to half an hour.  There truly was not enough material left in the novel to justify the 2-hour picture that resulted.

My initial reaction to the split of the seventh novel was that it was a complete and utter cash-grab on the studio's part.  After watching Part 1, I actually entertained the idea that there was artistic merit to the division.   Whist viewing Part 2, I actually started to tense, and feel (if only mildly) a sense of rage at the duping of the audience and the bilking of their money.  Part 1 is a two and a half-act production.  Part 2 is barely one act and a coda.

Credit to Yates for trying (as no doubt it wasn't his idea to break the Deathly Hallows up) as he attempts to give both the audience and the studio what they want out of the second part, but he just doesn't have enough to make it work.  The biggest shame is Yates could have made the Deathly Hallows a tight 3.5 hour Return of the King triumph, and yet the series goes out like a deflated balloon.