Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: Review

Harry Potter Review

This, the seven-and-a-halfth in the leviathan-like franchise that the Harry Potter series has become, begins with a scene of rare poignancy. We’ve come a long way from butterbeer, Nearly Headless Nick and eleven year olds grinning open-mouthed at ‘Diagon Alley.’ Hermione Granger, as played by Emma Watson, is in the salubrious surroundings of her parents’ house. She hears them talking downstairs; goes down, and pulls out her wand. ‘Obliviate’, she says – and every single picture of herself in the house begins to fade away. She will have been as nothing to her mother and father. It works so well because all teenagers grapple with their desire to be away from their family – and yet we all know that it is only they who can ever truly love us. So Hermione departs, about to enter upon a quest that threatens the very existence of that safe, leafy street. ‘Obliviate’ echoes throughout the film: the teenage trio take on (briefly) other identities through polyjuice; they transfer affections; at one point near the beginning practically all the adolescent members of the Order of the Phoenix turn into clones of Harry: what could better express the desire for conformity and the need to forget oneself? The action of the rest of the film, too, is a remarkably good expression, too, of the boredom of teenagerdom: the characters don't do much apart from mope around fields and lie around on sofas. I certainly spent most of my adolescence doing either one or the other.

As a film, it worked remarkably well, given that the book itself is so busy. It was clean, and beautifully shot: the fragile tent of the three adventurers, with one light burning, set against enormous landscapes; the children (although not quite so childlike now) walking along a shoreline underneath a bridge; the swooping drive up to the Malfoys’ house. The characters in fact were often dominated by scenery, suggesting perhaps the titantic efforts they would have to make to achieve anything.

Things could be a little confusing at times, even for someone who’s read the book (like me – I read it the day it came out, but have forgotten most of its details.) Hence I did not know why Bellatrix Lestrange thought that Godric’s sword had been in her vault; nor could I at first distinguish what Jamie Campbell Bower’s character was doing – he was Grindelwald, as it turned out. And things could be a little embarrassing too (I won’t mention the hallucinatory silver-body-suit sex scene between an imaginary Harry and Hermione, as witnessed by a Horcruxed Ron Weasley). Also, the sign for the deathly hallows reminded me of the tube advert for a sperm bank, where a d and b are placed back to back to indicate - well, you can guess. But the tone of the film as a whole was remarkably consistent. A scene in the Ministry of Magic was particularly effective, as pamphlets calling for the elimination and control of Muggles swept magically off desks, and Dolores Umbridge and the new, Fascist Minister for Magic surveyed everything with grim glee. The highlight, though, was the shadow-puppet play which told the story of ‘The Deathly Hallows’. The fable itself comes off as rather dry in the book, without the power or depth of folklore. But on screen it appeared as an eerie, haunting tale about morality and our acceptance of death. Even wizards have no power over death. A Socratesian message, in the end: learn to accept, and greet death like an old friend. Except we know that we won’t be obliviated – we’ll stay in memories, photos, films, for as long as is humanly possible. This was a fine, thoughtful and challenging work, which sets us up fittingly for the epic possibilities of the next and final part.

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