Four months. Sue me.
With very nearly the same beat-for-beat literary evolution of the books, the Harry Potter film series has grown from mildly diverting popular entertainment in its earlier entries to thoughtful, sometimes challenging CINEMA as we near the end. The acting improvements alone are worth a full navel-gazing essay, but the changing color palettes, source material revisions, butterbeer references — it’s a series that’s come into its own in all the right ways, and ten years from the starting line is no longer that far from Lord of the Rings in quality. #5, Order of the Phoenix, remains unquestionably (unquestionably means “this is the right answer,” Alfonso Cuaron fans) the best of the bunch but with the release of Deathly Hallows, Part 1…it may have found some competition.
There’s obviously no reason for you to see this movie if you haven’t caught the previous six, but for the sake of a baseline: Dumbledore’s dead. The Ministry of Magic has fallen, or is rapidly falling, to Voldemort and his racist buddies. Harry has told his friends he’s DONE with school, who in turn swear they’re DONE, too. The wizarding world is drawing close to civil war and the only ones who seem ready to confront this reality head-on don’t even have their GED. (As good an argument for dropping out as any kid could ever need!) Shit’s about to get real.
…And that sort of holds true even through the END of this first part, which in many ways is sort of a warm-up lap for the fireworks and wand-measuring contests to come in Part 2. Does that make it anticlimactic? Sometimes, yeah. But anyone who’s read the book — and really, you sort of have to — can appreciate the preparation of both the characters and the director, David Yates, neither of whom is interested in carelessly rushing to the finish line. Some reviewers have complained the movie is a bit boring. That’s not untrue. But it’s also a deliberate choice made in a $200 MILLION movie. Imagine pitching this thing (we have to imagine quite a bit, but just imagine it anyway) outside the Potter brand — just a super-expensive movie about kids lost in the woods, struggling to come to grips with their mission and not sure of their next move. They’re hungry; lonely. POP QUIZ: what kind of movie is this? If you said “FOREIGN INDIE,” you’re correct! To give certain scenes in this movie the breathing room they needed took not only huge British balls but the sure hand of someone who’s been with this series for a while. Yates delivers.
Maybe more important to the success of those scenes, and the movie at large, is the acting of our heroic trio. The fact that it’s still the same kids playing the roles is remarkable enough, but the degree by which they’ve improved over the years is really worth slow-clapping. Remember Emma Watson in the first few movies? Hell, remember Emma Watson in The Goblet of Fire? She was always the weakest link in an already not-that-strong chain, the kind of actress you sort of accept because she’s not going anywhere. Now,
bwitch COMMANDS the screen, to the point where she’s the one we identify most closely with. (It obviously does not hurt things that she’s gorgeous. Imagine if she’d gone more of a Haley Joel Osment route?) Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, too, slouch nothing in a movie that requires we really understand their plight. It sounds silly to say when they’ve been on-screen for, like, 100% of the series, but more than any of the other movies, this one belongs to THEM.
There’s been a really nice human touch to these last few entries in the series. They’re more conversational, funnier*, and that’s stemmed very directly, I think, from the deviations they’ve taken from the original material. This one continues the trend with one scene in particular that exists TOTALLY off the page and, in a way that’s maybe disturbing to some people, reveals a lot about our characters. The scene: Ron has just abandoned the group, leaving Harry and Hermione alone with all their physical and emotional exhaustion and little clue as to how their journey will proceed. Their world is very much upside-down. So Harry, EVER THE INTUITIVE LEADER, turns on the radio and asks Hermione to dance. They dance. They get close. It’s a moment of platonic tenderness, two lost kids in way over their heads embracing one another because they could each really use a hug. F*ck the “shippers” (kill me) — it’s just a fantastic, very sweet scene that speaks to the monumental task these kids are dealing with and does so in a way that only the movies can.
* excluding any scenes with the Weasley twins, who should have been sent to Azkaban a long time ago. This one sees their schtick reach FEVER PITCH.
Did I enjoy Part 1 as a fan – or let’s be honest, devotee – of the book and the series? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it for its sheer cinematic quality? …I’m honestly not sure I’m capable of answering that question. Like with (500) Days of Summer, I feel so close to the material that my opinion of the movie is undoubtedly a biased one. Whatever criticism I’ve offered above is filtered through a WARPED mind that’s read the book three times, exchanged too many post-book e-mails, and unhealthily considered the series “part of growing up” in one too many personal (and public) settings. I’m the WORST jury member at this trial, and you should take me only barely seriously. I can, however, guarantee that you will cry not once…
but a minimum of three times
during the movie. Objective analysis! 4/5 wizard staffs.