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The UnPopular Opinion: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

04.11.2012

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THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

*** SPOILERS ENSUE ***

As both a fantasy and as a world, Harry Potter is nigh-on unparalleled in my estimation.  I was the sort of kid who would be at Barnes & Noble at midnight, pick up my book, take it home, and not stop reading until I had finished.  I loved nothing more than the act of completely devouring the next chapter of Harry Potter's story.  And of course I eagerly anticipated each film, since seeing them served as an event that bound my friends and I together in a way that is oft-unmatched by other films these days.  We all knew the story, and we were all excited to see it unfold through a new lens (pun intended).

That being said, I think it is no secret that the quality of the films themselves has been rather uneven.  This is mainly due, in my belief, to a constant struggle of how to craft an identity as something at once respectful of the source material but still separate.  All storytelling requires certain elements, be they pacing or character development or affective action, and it is when such qualities as these are sidelined in favor of adhering too closely to the original material for its own sake that the film adaptations suffer.  Narrative writing allows for all sorts of sidenotes and details that the limited time and perspective of a film cannot match, and so any good film adaption should choose instead to work within those constraints and build a complete story in filmic terms.

Which HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 does not.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pic 7

Let me say that I love HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2.  I think that it fixes all of the mistakes that botch the narrative/character flow of PART 1 and thereby works far better as a film, which is what I believe its duty to be.  And herein lies my whole criteria for this critique of PART 1: I believe that it should (but fails to) work as a film and adhere to the storytelling requirements that a self-contained tale would dictate.  And I don't care if it's just the first part of a larger story - it still should work in and of itself, and just so happen to also be the first half of something greater.  Call me crazy, but that's what I think.

Which, again, is something HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 fails in due to sticking far too close to the source material at the expense of working as a film.  There is a reason why HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is often cited as a favorite film in the series - it, perhaps moreso than all the others, chose to forge its own identity.  Alfonso Cuaron had no compunction with shifting character, plot, or world development as needed in service of telling a tighter story that was independant of the book.  He found the story at the heart of PRISONER and told it in his own way.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pic 6

Now this is a beautiful movie, there's no denying.  The production team and David Yate's directorial eye successfully built a wonderful world at once magical and real, full of fantastic little details to be found in each and every frame.  And as per usual for this series, the performances are uniformly excellent no matter how small the part.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 is, simply put, an extraordinarily proficient achievement on a technical level.  Not to mention how the animated renditon of "The Tale of the Three Brothers" was by itself stunning enough to be easily worth the $8.50 I paid to see PART 1 in theaters.

But that all goes out the window when it is overlayed by consistenly sloppy story development, character interaction, and dialogue.  I respect that there is an enormous amount of information to cover, but it seems like every other minute Harry/Ron/Hermione delivers a line that is a question for someone else about what something means or how something works.  If the actors were any less talented this movie might very well have been the chief borefest of 2010, due to the fact that there is so little to say that isn't in some way expository.  It is a testament to the talents of all involved that my interest was (often barely) maintained while watching two or three people just sit around and explain things to each other.

I won't go much into the whole subject of plot holes/jumps/assumptions, because I know that 1) most every film has them to some degree and 2) enough basic details of the Potter universe and plots are widely known that the films don't have to spell (pardon the pun) everything out.  That being said, I'm going to raise a few examples because they make absolutely zero sense in relation to who these characters are and the situation that they are in and are indicative of a greater storytelling shoddiness found throughout the whole of PART 1.  It is details like these that irritate me to no end, because if I take any time to think about them they become so glaring as to be distracting from whatever visual beauty may be on my screen at the moment.  And these examples become that much more glaring in light of the fact that the Harry Potter series is one normally known for its attention to detail.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pic 1

1) After the initial chase scene across London involving the seven Harry Potters, Lupin (sensibly) interrogates Harry so as to make sure he is who he says he is.  And when Kingsley Shacklebolt arrives they interrogate each other, which is all well and good.  Then, despite the fact that quite a few more people show up, Lupin and Shacklebolt immediately abandon something which made complete sense for them to do simply because plot expediency requires it.  We very clearly see them as they chill out, uncaring as to whether any else who appears at The Burrow is in fact the traitor.  I cannot see any reason for them to do this except for the fact that it becomes inconvenient for the pacing of the dramatic moment involving George's injury.

2) The whole f***ing "plan" to sneak into the Ministry of Magic in order to retrieve the Horcrux locket that Umbridge has.  Except there is no plan.  This is infuriating for two reasons - the first is that this departure from the books is actually for the worse.  See, in Chapter 12 (entitled "Magic Is Might"), Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend a total of three months planning.  Or more specifically, they spend two months thinking about what to do and the last month researching the plan they decide upon.  They write reams of notes, use the invisibility cloak to stalk Ministry of Magic employees, and generally come up with a pretty good idea of how they're going to go about this extremely dangerous mission.  But in the film version? Let me copy out here the exact dialogue spoken before the three of them take the Polyjuice potion that changes them into their chosen employees:

Hermione: Just try and act normal. Do what everybody else is doing. If we do that, then with a bit of luck we’ll get inside. And then…
Harry: It gets really tricky.
Hermione: Correct.
Harry: This is completely mental.
Hermione: Completely.
Ron: The world’s mental. C’mon, we’ve got a horcrux to find.

So their plan, despite the fact that they'd be killed if caught and Harry is the Wizarding World's Most Wanted and they're the only ones who can stop Voldemort, is to hope for the best? We now come to the second reason that this entire Ministry Infiltration sequence is infuriating - it makes zero sense for these characters to act this way in this situation.  It goes against their intelligence and their already-spoken understanding of the immense danger they're in.  This all could have been easily explained away with a small montage of scenes, or even just few lines of dialogue, but no.  David Yates and scribe Steve Kloves opted instead for the lazy rendition which makes zero sense.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pic 2

And not only is it lazy, it turns the whole sequence into a humerous sidenote to the greater story.  Not that every moment in PART 1 needs to be doom and gloom, as that would be undesirable in its own way.  But it is much more interesting as an audience member to watch a well-laid plan fall apart when things don't go according to plan than to watch three characters I care about bumble around in a strangely comedic sequence.  If Yates and Kloves felt that a greater break from the prior bouts of doom and gloom was needed, then I would suggest that they could have found a better balance earlier on and kept a small thread of lightness and humor woven through the plot, rather than sidelining the momentum and respect for the characters Yates and Kloves had already established.  They constantly set up rules for the world and then abandon them, they set up character motivations and then change them without explanation, and are really just generally very inconsistent in terms of who these characters are, why they're doing what they're doing, and what tools are available for them to achieve those established objectives.  Characters and the rules of the wizarding world seem to drift in and out of relevance/importance as the plot dictates, with no regard for respecting good storytelling.

There's a difference between giving an audience too much information and not giving any at all, a balance which PART 1 seemingly fails to recognize.  And again, I don't think that it's fair to excuse the exposition dumping and a plot that is paced like a Mexican jumping bean by saying "you can't look at it as its own movie, you have to recognize that it is half of a whole."  No.  I refuse.  I believe that even with being called PART 1, if it is going to be released on its own then it should be released as complete unto itself within the framework of what it needs to accomplish story-wise.  It's like how Joe DiMaggio used to play baseball - he would give 100% at every game, pushing himself to the limit time and time again.  When asked by another player why he did this, he said (and I'm going to paraphrase terribly here): "what if there is a mother and her son in the stands, and this is the only game they'll ever be able to afford to go to? Why shouldn't they get to see me play my very best game?"

Well, David Yates and Steve Kloves? Why shouldn't they?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pic 5

*P.S. And you can call me heartless, but I found Dobby's death to be rather laughable.  This portrayal of his character worked well enough back in HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS when the series was still being sold as movies for children, but in PART 1 he just comes off as a caricature of cute innocence that I find it very difficult to care much about.

Extra Tidbit: I really enjoyed Yate's work on HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. It's easily one of my favorite of the films.
Source: JoBlo.com

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