dir: David Yates
2010 & 2011
I’m going to review both of them together. I don’t think it really matters either way. They don’t work separately, and together they’re just a big old mess of convenient moments, slavish fan service and muggle muddling.
This will not be a good review. This will provide none of the fulfillment that you're looking for. The only thing worse than reading this review would be sitting down and watching both films back to back.
But they are, in their various parts and pieces, the culmination of a bunch of books and the films they were translated into, and an endpoint in a long-running series, and, at least the second part, is the third highest grossing film of all time, at least for another week or so.
And thus it deserves our special attention. It’s impossible to discuss anything that happens in these films without spoiling the events of the previous ones as well, so there’s virtually no point in issuing a spoiler warning. How else could you talk about the seventh (and eighth) instalments in a series?
There are a bunch of admissions I feel compelled to make before launching into all of this that would inform a reader as to where I’m coming from. I’ve never read the books, though I look forward to doing so when my daughter’s old enough, and we can do so together. I have no snobbish opposition towards the books, their fans, or their popularity. I don’t think their adaptation into film form has resulted in particularly great films (except for Order of the Phoenix), but, having seen all of them now, I’ve come to respect the universe J.K. Rowling created and that so many adore.
That being said, my biggest problem with all of the flicks has always been the terribly haphazard plotting, the incredible overuse of multiple deus ex machinas, and the exposition dumping that never felt organic or anything less than strained. In most cases I think the directors did their best (except with the first two, since Chris Columbus is a terribly mediocre director) adapting source material too copious in quantity and broad in scope to do justice in the time allotted. They did their best. And Yates probably did his best here, though there are a few moments that could have been stronger.
Deathly Hallows probably needed to be two films, because I think if they’d cut any more out of the story, then it’d be even more incomprehensible than it already is. As it stands, anyone who hasn’t seen the other films or read the books couldn’t possibly have the slightest fucking clue as to what’s going on, or why they should care.
The first part opens with the kids, Our Heroes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ginger (Rupert Grint), sorry, Ron, receiving a visit from some Ministry type, bequeathing each of them something from Dumbledore. Specifically, this is all due to Dumbledore’s demise. Yes, the saintly old queen met his end at the hands, or, specifically, wand of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), which constituted the only interesting thing that happened in the last film, being The Half-Blood Prince.
With the evil No-Nose Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) gunning for Harry, all sorts of black wearing creeps with the unpleasant name of Death Eaters are after him. And they’re not just trying to give him a wedgie, or take his lunch money. They’re out to kill him! So all the good guys who like Harry do their best to protect him from all these nefarious no-goodnicks, as Harry himself struggles with deciding on what to do with his life, whether his glasses look a bit dated and what sneakers he should wear the next time he goes rioting.
Nah, nothing so prosaic. Two quests start up, or, at least one quest continues, and another flares however briefly into existence: Defeating No-Nose means Harry and his cohorts have to figure out where these items called horcruxes are located, and destroy them. Each of them contains a portion of No-Nose’s soul, and whilst they exist, he is invulnerable. As all this goes on, the beloved Hogwarts School that our main characters are so fond of despite the sheer quantity of times that someone has tried to kill them within its confines, is a no-go zone, patrolled by creatures called Dementors that steal people’s Christmases or something.
Beyond that, the Death Eaters, and those who might not have declared in favour of No-Nose, but who fear and aren’t going to oppose him, have linked in an unholy, totalitarian alliance. As far as I could tell, whether it’s obvious to the regular humans or not, the baddies pretty much control everything now. It’s a darkly 1984-style totalitarian regime, with the added horror of virtual genocidal persecution against the Jews of this world, who are derogatorily known as mud-bloods. Purity, long the mainstay of supremacists and fuckheads throughout history, has become the priority, which is sickening when there are far worse people worthy of persecution out there.
For what seems like the majority of the flick (though it clearly isn’t), after the triumvirate of teen neatness steal their way into the Ministry of Magic in order to get a horcrux secreted there, in what is a pretty thrilling sequence, the kids go camping.
It seems like a strange time to go on holiday, but who am I to argue with their needs for rest and recreation? They’re so put upon, these poor kids. The weight of the world, their hormones, and the One Ring they carry is such a burden for their youthful, slender shoulders.
Because the One Ring,, sorry, the necklace horcrux is so evil, it starts doing the heads in of the kids as they swan about in landscapes that wouldn’t have been out of place in some other flick where they went on and on about some goddamn ring. Ron especially starts thinking that Harry and Hermione are secretly getting it on behind his back, so he lurches off in a very unattractive snit.
This leads to possibly my absolute favourite moment of Part 1. The ‘kids’ have a radio with them, and Harry and Hermione look sadly at each other as Nick Cave’s O Children plays out over the airwaves. Harry and Hermione slow dance to the song, which is a sweet moment. I remember thinking “It’s sweet, because they’re just two friends who’ve been through hell, slow dancing with each other. And it’s nice that there’s no sexual or romantic undercurrent.”
Of course, the scene (I don’t care how it plays out in the book, if at all), totally only makes sense because of the sexual undercurrent. Harry ends up looking like he’s been totally cockblocked or blue balled at the mournful end of that dance as the song ends, and Hermione naturally starts thinking of Ron again.
It’s enough to make you sigh. Or cackle.
That reminds me: one of the only virtues beyond the telling of the story this sequence of very profitable films has delivered is that, if you like the characters and the actors behind the roles, it’s been an honour and a privilege to watch these kids grow up. I’m not pretending it’s been like having a window into these people’s souls, but in an odd way, these flicks have almost been like the fantasy-world equivalent of the 7 Up documentaries that Michael Apted started back in the 1960s, which revisited a group of people at specific intervals to see where they were with the passage of time.
Of course, the main difference here is that we’ve been watching them in close increments, with a couple of gaps, of every year or so. So we’ve literally watched them grow up in public. Lucky us.
It’s impossible to not have developed some feeling for these crazy kids over the years. Whatever problems I might have had with them, with their actions, acting, dialogue or whatever, you come to depend on them. The vast number of support crew (acting-wise, not the plethora of people behind the scenes) around them, both heroic and villainous, also have matured, even if their characters haven’t, which I’m also grateful to have watched.
Our kids search aimlessly for a sword that will appear when it’s ready and not a moment before, and will then get diverted by some strange search for info on Dumbledore and his biographer. All the while, we see scenes, through Harry’s eyes, of No-Nose searching for a particular wand with which he can kill Harry, because, apparently, the other ones just won’t do.
There’s a return of sorts to Godric’s Hollow, the scene of the original crime, so to speak, at Christmas time, which is a nice enough scene, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what the fuck happened. There’s a snake pretending to be a person, and it just made no goddamn sense at all.
If the search for horcruxes, or magical maguffins as I like to call them, wasn’t obscure and pointless enough, they eventually explain what the Deathly Hallows of the title are: more magical objects upon which everything hinges. Because someone kindly stopped for Death, Death gave some three idiots three magical things: the Elder Wand, an Invisibility Cloak and a Resurrection Stone. Can you guess if at least two of these will pop up in the rest of the story, at the most unbelievably convenient time?
More inconsequential people die, a bunch more stuff happens, someone literally appears out of nowhere to save our heroes, and then the first part ends with No-Nose defiling the corpse of Dumbledore, stealing away the wand held between his hands.
Is there nothing this evil fucker won’t do? Just to make sure, part 1 makes no sense and delivers practically nothing worthwhile on its own as a standalone film. But, honestly, no-one expected otherwise.
The second flick has lots and lots of action-y sequences, the biggest of which involves breaking in to the bank vault populated by ugly little gnomes. I can’t help feeling this is an anti-Semitic or anti-Swiss dig on someone’s part. It’s a great sequence, which involves a dragon, and a bit of incoherent action, but which has the spectacular image of a Gemini Curse in action, which causes thousands of cups to duplicate themselves, threatening to drown Our Heroes in metal.
I really liked that scene. For some reason.
There are still more goddamn horcruxes. It never ends, does it? Our heroes have to track down and destroy the last of them, which they’ve been doing for a long time now. Even then, Harry discovers, through playing someone’s tears like a DVD, that there’s even an extra horcrux on top of all the other one’s he’s had to get rid of.
Thank the gods there’s also a tremendously wizardy war going on at the same time, because otherwise the tedium could be fatal. The forces of No-Nose converge upon Hogwarts, and they’re determined to kill virtually everyone in their pursuit of Harry. So a lot of good people die along the way. A lot of good, decent people who are discarded like the cigarette butts that they truly are. It didn’t bug me that much, though I couldn’t help but think that the faithful fans might have felt somewhat hard done by.
Harry is shown what has to happen, and after a brief conversation with some beloved dead people, he does half of what needs to be done (or it happens to him, whatever), with a few more things that have to happen, before the flick can call it quits.
Big mistakes, all big mistakes along the way. I don’t need to go into it, but there are scenes here which just looked and felt, what’s the word I like using at these times? Oh, yes, retarded. There’s a scene where Harry and No-Nose are flying through the air above Hogwarts, which looked terrible and made no sense. And, in case I didn’t make my case strongly enough, looked terrible.
And the climactic battle between Bellatrix L’Estrange and the Weasley mother couldn’t have been handled worse. It amounted to looking like a lazy tennis match between paraplegics that was over in ten seconds. Thrilling stuff.
Yes, I was satisfied with the climax to some extent, because it ultimately couldn’t have gone any other way, but the coda really didn’t hit the right notes for me. We’re subjected to a final scene set 19 years after the battle at Hogwarts, where we’re supposed to be gratified by the sight of Our Heroes sending their kids off on the 9th and 3/4 platform of the station, as they go to Hogwarts for their first day of school.
That’s not what I wanted to know about their lives. I could care less if they were sending their kids back to the place that gave them the worst experiences of their lives, although it does strike me as deeply unhealthy. I wanted to know if Harry, who looks somewhat sad during this scene, was happy with his life. It’s one thing to save the world, but was he able to find meaning in his life beyond that?
Ah, it’s all quibbles. The frustrations I face, the problems I’ve had with the way stuff happens in these books/flicks has not faded with this last instalment. If anything, I find it even more frustrating that so, so much happens and is then explained away and justified almost like technicalities as explanations for why things happen the way they do. No better example of this could be than the absolutely shameful/shameless bullshit to do with the Elder Wand and its ‘true’ owner that dates back to the ending of Half-Blood Prince. The more convoluted and less convincing it is, the less I care.
It’s somewhat insulting, but, hell, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s done. It’s all over. Rowling’s as rich as the Queen and doesn’t need to write any more. Please, gods, don’t let her write any more of these. I have had moments of enjoyment spread over the eight films, some more than others, some significantly less. Order of the Phoenix is still the peak for me, for a whole host of reasons, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of great moments spread out over the 20 or so hours of movie magic. Overall, like this flick, it’s a net positive to humanity that these books and flicks exist.
7 times it’s hard not to feel a bit sad that many of these actors will never get paid this well as long as they live out of 10
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living and above all, those who live without love.” – pity the living instead, for they have to write and read reviews like this – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.