Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

I Know It's Part VII, But...

The Harry Potter film franchise has come a long way, with 6 movies already spawned over a period of almost 10 years (my god, has it been that long already!), each building upon the previous in setting the tone that the film is today in its final installment, to be told in 2 parts – Part 1 now, and Part 2 cashing it in on 3D by Summer next year. When the film started with The Philosopher's Stone, I wouldn't have thought how dark everything would have turned out to be. Part 1 had introduced us to the key trio of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), with a whole host of characters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry especially, though the storylines in the first few films seemed to have a repetitive formula built into them, with Chamber of Secrets being my least favourite of the lot.

Until now, where a curveball has been thrown by author J.K. Rowling, and this episode contains a lot more references (at least film wise) that had gone back to the second film that had gained new found respect from me. This is not a run of the mill series, but something which has been intricately planned for from almost the very beginning. With the last few films crafting the level of suspense into a crescendo, where each film augments the impending doom and gloom culminating in the finale seen in The Half Blood Prince, things get a lot worst here from the start, where The Deathly Hallows begins with a grim reminder from the Minister of Magic, before we see Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his ghastly lieutenants plot to take over both realms Muggle or not in quite Fascist terms.

Yes you read that right, and what I thought was quite the brilliant stroke of genius to transmit that level of fear and dread into the Potter world through something quite familiar in our world, where there's a takeover of ministries and the installation of past villains who are puppets of the regime, the continued discrimination and probable extermination of the ordinary, non magical Muggles and even the half-breeds against those who are of pure magical blood, and a curious scene where a disguised Potter head inside the undergrounds of the Ministry only to see propaganda being created by the masses in creepy, clockwork like fashion.

Everything is doom and gloom with copious amounts of shades, shadows, black and grey (save for Hermione's red dress in one scene), where our heroic trio are quite clueless without their guardian headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) always ready to pull some strings from behind the scenes. His absence is largely felt, and they are left mostly to their own devices and smarts to try and figure out a way to get to the remaining Horcruxes and to destroy them. They become the hunted with little allies to rely on, where betrayal seem the norm, almost from within their own circle of trust as well where a major subplot continues to dwell on the suggested romantic/platonic dynamics between Hermione with Harry and Ron, the former sharing a curious dance sequence while on the run, and the latter, well having his worst fear confront his lack of courage to tell Hermione just how he feels for her, well, from how many films ago.

So the verdict is whether The Deathly Hallows warranted two films. My answer is a resounding, definite yes, because there's so much going on in the story, of the relationships and friendships forged over the years, of the closure both good and bad that has to come to the myriad of characters introduced (J.K. Rowling doesn't show a lot of mercy by the way), and not to mention the inherent quest that Harry, Ron and Hermione chose to embark on that has gone beyond just the survival of Harry Potter, and what's more, introduces to us what those Deathly Hallows actually are, which goes just beyond the destruction of the Horcuxes. Danger lurks at every corner and the narrative spins at breakneck speed, harrowing most times with the frequent close shaves the rookies encounter against their enemies who are growing more powerful by the minute.

While the previous films have boasted special effects extravaganzas be it little things to pepper the scene or large battles between wizards and witches, this is kept surprisingly muted in the film since it's swaying on one end of the spectrum with Evil gaining an upper hand, and most of the effects not already something seen before in the earlier Potter films. But what ultimately leads this film into being the more powerful one, is the strength of the story and how it leads you along the way, building anticipation as we root for positive outcomes as much as possible, with slight comedy punctuating appropriate moments to lift the spirits.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all share that perfect camaraderie that's been built over the years, it's no wonder that they add that convincing depth and natural realism to their friendship, with an audience that has largely grew up with them as well. There's no ensemble cast like the one assembled for the Potter franchise, though most of them - Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Tom Felton and a long list more - come and go too frequent and too soon, but one hopes the evil Death Eaters do get their spotlight by the time the second installment rolls over.

Chris Columbus may have begun the film franchise and made it a large welcome for the young (especially) and old to embrace J.K Rowling's magical world, but I am of the opinion that David Yates inherited the franchise at the right point from The Order of the Phoenix where things required a consistent hand rather than a rotating director's chair, and developed the franchise into what it is today in quite unassuming terms. Credit also has to go to Steve Kloves who has adapted from Rowling's books (save for the point where Yates came onboard), knowing what best to adapt into the film, and what to leave behind, steering clear of the more cutesy tales and plunging us headlong into Voldemort's return and ascension to power.

You know that this will end in a cliffhanger, and what a cliffhanger it is, whetting your appetite to devour Part 2 as soon as it's released, just so to witness how the film franchise of our generation will fittingly conclude. I can't wait, and I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of fans around the world cannot wait for the next too.

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