Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

RECENT WATCHES: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 (2010)

J.K. Rowling’s books are too goddamn long. The girth of her novels is something the makers of the “Harry Potter” movies have struggled with before. For a while, the idea of splitting the fourth novel into two was kicked around, before the screenwriters manned up and just started cutting shit. The final novel in the series was similarly lengthy. The decision was made to adapt it as two separate films. Ostensibly, this was done to give Rowling’s material proper room to breath. I suspect, however, this was also done so W.B. could squeeze one more movie, and maximum profits, out of their cash cow. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” set a precedence, followed both successfully and unsuccessfully by other Y.A. franchises.

You’d think J.K. would use the epic conclusion to her series as an excuse to abandon the Y.A. cliches that has characterized her work up until now. And she does, sort of. With war inevitable, Harry, Ron, and Hermione opt out of spending a seventh year at Hogwarts. Instead, they go on the run, seeking out the Horcruxes that hold the secret to defeating Voldemort. Despite shaking things up, “Deathly Hallows – Part 1” still maintains some of the annoying quirks of the genre. A newly introduced character is obviously the traitor. A plot resolving magical sword pops up out of nowhere, late in the film. Dumbledore’s plan for everyone extends even from beyond the grave, as he bequests the heroes with objects that help smooth out their journey. There’s a helpful exposition dump near the end of the film. It’s frustrating to see the film struggling to escape these boundaries but still be trapped by them.

Not-so-subtle hints have been dropped before that the way evil wizards like Voldemort persecute Mudbloods is meant to invoke antisemitism. “Deathly Hallows – Part 1” makes this connection explicit. Voldemort and his forces take over the Ministry of Magic, immediately using their newfound power to persecute minorities. They distribute propaganda to Hogwarts, spreading their racist agenda. They push hate, intolerance, and violence under a guise of protection and freedom. In other words, this seventh “Harry Potter” flick is about the rise of fascism. How it only takes a few genuinely evil people sneaking into a place of power to fuck all of us. Which is, you might have noticed, eerily relevant at this moment.

Tossing the three protagonists on a country-wide MacGuffin chase has its up and downsides. Focusing the story on the central trio cuts out a lot of the narrative chaff. Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend most of the movie hanging out in the forest, hiding and talking among themselves. So there’s plenty of opportunities for banter. We learn a little about Hermione’s history, seeing her parents and getting insight into her childhood. An especially sweet moment – possibly the highlight of the film – has Harry and Hermione performing an impromptu dance number

Yet the constantly moving plot forces the story in some annoying directions. Too often, the characters return to their camp in the woods, the plot becoming repetitive. In order to fill out that two hours and twenty minutes run time, there’s some goofy drama in the middle section. Ron wears one of the Horcruxes around his neck, the evil object influencing his personalities. Instead of, you know, plotting against the heroes for the dark lord, he just becomes a jealous asshole. When the world is at stake, petty melodrama is not what the audience wants to see.

In addition to the rather obvious antisemitism fable, “The Deathly Hallow – Part 1”  also presents a clear thematic idea. The film is about how war makes it difficult to trust anyone. Ron and Harry’s friendship is tested, by the evil powers of the Horcrux. Repeatedly, Harry questions how much he knew about Dumbledore, whether he can trusts his mentor’s plan for him. More then once, the trio discover they shouldn’t have trust someone, being betrayed at least once. Loyalties are tested throughout the journey, unexpected allies coming to the rescue and old friendships being reaffirmed.

After the more character oriented “Half-Blood Prince,” the seventh “Harry Potter” film doubles down on the action. There’s an eye-popping action sequence early on, an aerial battle in the sky between the two wizarding factions. The wedding party Harry is attending early on is invaded by attackers, forcing a hasty retreat. Harry and friends similarly have to make a quick escape from the Ministry of Magic, a horde of Dementors sneaking into their elevator. The ending features a major scuffle in the villain’s lair. Which doesn’t compare to the film’s emotional peak, the mournful death of Dobby. Which is far more affecting then Dumbledore’s death at the end of the last movie. Yet my favorite action beat in the film is smaller scale. It’s a close quarter magic battle in a coffee shop, bolts of supernatural energy blasting around tables and counters.

Throughout “The Deathly Hallows – Part 1,” I wondered if Yates wasn’t auditioning to make a big budget horror movie. Yates’ third “Harry Potter” movie features its share of spooky imagery. After being lured into a house, a friendly old lady turns into a giant snake, leading to a suitably intense fight. The proper climax of the film involves a black smoke monster emerging from the Horcrux, a convincingly moody special effect. (It’s also another moment when the series acknowledges that two of its main characters are horny teenage boys.) The story of the Deathly Hallows – three more magical plot devices, as if this series needed anymore – is presented as a macabre cartoon. Instead of just turning up the doom and gloom, Yates actually steps up and creates a foreboding atmosphere.

“The Deathly Hallows” is a long book, so splitting it in two probably wasn’t a bad idea. It certainly makes more sense then other, purely mercenary efforts to wring two movies out of other Y.A. series conclusions. Yet I kind of wonder why David Yates and his team picked that particular moment to cut this one off. Seems to me Ron conquering the smoke monster was a better point to end part one on. As in all the “Potter” films, there’s some neat stuff inside this one. There’s also some goofy Y.A. bullshit and some melodrama that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s still not my favorite of the series and ranks pretty low for me. [6/10]

No comments: