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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts I and II

Disclaimer: This is my review for the final installments of the Harry Potter saga. If you haven't yet, go back an read my reviews/background for all the Harry Potter movies. My tale is a bit sad, a bit humorous, a bit hopeful...

Hey friends! Chaos Corner is back and ready to review the last films of the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows. I had already seen Deathly Hallows Part I in 2010, but it is tricky to review without seeing the second part. Indeed, the Deathly Hallows films are very, very dependent upon one another. More so than most sagas. Yes, you need to see all to fully get it, but one could enjoy Return of the King with out seeing Two Towers. You'd get Revenge of the Sith without Attack of the clones. However, Parts I and II of HP:DH cannot exist apart- they must be viewed as a whole.

This became apparent in 2010 when I saw DH1- it was a bit it was a bit all over the place, with threads hanging, end the end having no resolution at all. Suffice to say, it was not my favorite HP movie- Half Blood Prince was vastly superior.  So now, how would DH2 fare? Well, we come to it at last. My wife got an email from her friend that AMC theaters would be playing a double feature Thursday night July 14- at 9 would be DH1, and then at midnight DH2 would be shown. My wife wanted to go, and so we got tickets and went. It was crowded, complete with people dressed as Harry and Dumbledore. People were lining up for other midnight showings... at 7 PM! Whoa!

So, at 9:15, the lights went down, and DH1 began. Here's my Good/Bad analysis for DH1:

The Good: HBP ended on a great cliffhanger- Snape Kills Dumbledore. the Horcruxes can't be found, Harry's whole world is collapsing. DH1 continues that darkness quite well. Harry only has Ron and Herminoe, an impossible mission, and few resources. A few are still trying to protect him, but its not looking good. The despair here is palpable, and that's cool. The 3 kids are good, as usual- they all do well in their roles, they make for good late-teens, angst-filled and frustrated and afraid. I was also thrilled with the parable of the Deathly Hallows as presented here. The animation is cool, and the story is well told. Indeed, the special effects as a whole are great- whether its the battles, the creatures, etc. they all look great. It all builds to Harry beginning to understand how to wreck Voldemort's day, but it won't be easy- and the movie ends on a bit of a downer with the death of a minor character- but the death is well handled. By the end, you can't be sure if the good guys can win this.

"Yippee Ki Yay... mother fucker..."
The Bad: There are a ton of plot elements here, and at times it can get confusing. Even on second viewing, a lot was happening quickly, and its hard to get a handle on it. It's a lot of set-up for part 2, but I think it could have been trimmed a bit, especially the "Harry and gang go camping" section- it really drags. I also have a problem with the "fan service"- characters come and go SO damn quickly, it becomes hard to know them at all. Making matters worse is Rickman, Finnes, and Gambon barley appear. Neither does Jason Isaacs, which is a damn shame- he's another great Brit, but he gets the short shrift here. Smith and Broadbent are missing entirely. The 3 kids are good, but you need the old Brit vets to anchor it. It hurts the show to see Rickman's wily Snape appear in one scene only. Finally, as a middle in the "final arc trilogy", it doesn't quite have enough pull to it. It brings in all the pieces for the final confrontation, but it isn't as powerful as say Two Towers or Empire Strikes Back as middle segments go.

HP:DH Part1 is a decent movie, though the plot can be a bit murky and convoluted, there's a bit too many characters and "fan service", it drags in the middle, and it lacks  dramatic pull, since there are no major revelations or twists here. I did enjoy the feelings of dread, and the growing maturity of the 3 kids. The Deathly Hallows parable is well done, and it's a great symbol for the rest of the Potter saga, and about what death is exactly and how men will do anything to "cheat" it. It's a mixed bag, no doubt, and not as good as HBP. Therefore, I'd give it 2 1/2 out of 4 Marks of Chaos

At this point, it was like 11:30 or so. We had to wait till midnight for them to show the next, so it was off for snacks and bathrooms. Once midnight struck, the began DH2. The crowd went wild with the opening logo, and for each character. But forget emotion- how was the movie?

The Good: Wow! There's a ton of action in this one. Explosions, magical bolts, warring wizards- this one had it all. Voldemort and the Death Eaters lay siege to the school, while the kids, their teachers, and Potter try to hold out. It's great stuff, filled with both special effects and emotional moments. It all ends with the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. Now, first of all, the acting is first rate all around. At last, Finnes gets to show off in his role as the arch-fiend. Finnes portrays Voldemort both as omnipotent and vulnerable. Finnes knows how to do this, like he does in his incredible role as Amon Gothe in Schindler's List. He's a great menace and foil for Harry. And then there's Alan Rickman. Finally, Snape gets his due here- a great showing by the actor- portraying someone who IS arrogant, selfish, superior, but also in love- which redeems him and pushes him to acts of bravery and self-sacrifice, and Rickman handles it with great skill. The supporting players get time too, like Coltraine, Broadbent and Smith. More than anything, though, the movie's greatest success is how it capitalizes on the theme developed for the entire series, but really emphasized since HBP- namely, how does a person face death. Something that all have to go through- the great equalizer. That's what Harry Potter has truly been all about- he grows up, going on life's journey- having friends, learning, achieving, finding love, seeing that your heroes are flawed, and ultimately, knowing that, one day, your life will end. For Voldemort, he is afraid. He is afraid of death, because he really hasn't lived. He will do anything to avoid death- killing any in his path to do so. And if he can cheat death, what does he need to be afraid of? Why can't he conquer all? No threat, no judgement- he can do anything. But it is not natural. Not the way of things. And that's where Potter comes in. He can see what happens with this kind of power- his parents died because of it. And he also learns that there is something worth dying for- love. In the Deathly Hallows parable, the one "modest" warrior gives the cloak to his son, then he accepts death. That is natural- the right way. Harry embodies that. That's what is truly at stake in the final battle. And this is the strength of the movie- forget special effects and "fan service"- this is the soul of the movie. And it works so well.

The Bad: There are some negatives here, despite my effusive praise above. You NEED to have seen the others (why wouldn't you have at this point?)- but I think you need to be familiar with the books to get it all- the references, the back stories of all the characters and students, etc. See, LOTR's movies weren't like that. You could watch the movies without any knowledge of the books, and you'd be fine. But with HP, it seems as if so much has been cut from the books, that movie side-characters are truncated, and yet given important stuff to do. The case in point here is Neville Longbottom. My wife describes him as the "fourth wheel" in the books, being close to HP and company. But, by my reckoning, he isn't in the movies all that much, a minor role at best. But, in the books he's more important than he is in the movies. That is, until HP DH2. Here, he gets a ton of screen time, AND he delivers the deathblow to the last Horcrux, which neither Hermione or Ron can do. It's a dramatic moment, but I turned to my wife and said "who is that guy again"?

"You may not know me, but I saved the world"!

It was distracting and frankly, bad for the movie. It should have been Ron or Hermione. Instead, a vital moment at the climax is handled by a second or third stringer (movie-wise). Indeed, the movies are littered with cameos from people who are more important in the books, but reduced to little here. Cirian Hinds plays Dumbledore's brother- a good actor in a brief role. Again, my wife said there's more to him in the book, but they cut it short. That's a problem- either do the character justice, or don't use him/her at all. As a viewer who hadn't read the books, it just confused me. Ugh.

DH2 makes up for the shortcomings of the first part, concludes the "trilogy" and the entire series very, very well. The themes of life and death have reached full circle with Harry and his friends having made their peace with those "adult" notions. This is driven home by the brief epilogue, which I thought was a great way to end the series.  I'd give this one 3 1/2 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

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