Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter: The Beginning of the End

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 [****]

I admit it, I'm a blasphemer. I never read the Harry Potter books so my impressions may lack the necessary gravity. I like not being burdened with fan baggage and expectation. I like being surprised. I'm sure you Potters get surprised in different ways. When the results are like this I'm pretty sure we all win.

The more oppressive the atmosphere is the better I like the series. The movie drops us deep into the proverbial shit as Harry is spirited away by an army of friends-cum-impostors looking to protect him from an attack by Voldemort. The plan is to break off into groups disguised as Harry (with the exception of Mad-Eye Moody and Hagrid who go as themselves) in the hopes of splitting up and fooling Voldemort's search party of assassins, but of course they already know what's going on and Voldemort makes an unsuccessful attempt on the real Harry's life.

Harry soon decides that the risks being taken by his protectors is too much. He tries to go it alone, but Ron and Hermione aren't hearing that bullshit and decides to accompany him on wherever his journey takes him. He goes undercover in the Ministry, they destroy a horcrux, escape from a prison and other shit. It's pretty exciting and dark, slightly funny, too. The comedy is mostly just nervous titters to lift the mood a little.

I think it's really important to address the film in terms of performance. My choice might not be the most popular one in a large crowd of Pottery aficianados, but I saw it by myself so my choice was one hundred percent unanimous. Rupert Grint.

As the character with the big destiny weighing on his shoulders, Harry still comes across less developed than the others because in this film he's still young (16) and still being tracked. Everyone that he loves and cherishes has to protect him willingly and get him to safety. He's at the mercy of his destiny and if we never got the sense before that Harry has been powerlessly waiting for that defining moment in his life, we feel that pressure now as the film opens. We also feel it in the fleeting moments when he dances with Hermione. Is the dance to relieve the stress of the mission, say thanks, just to do something? It's all three but when Harry isn't making forward progress in his mission I can see how he might come across as inert.

Hermione is the unquestionably loyal friend, who gets the film's most loaded moments. She casts herself out of her family with a memory erasing spell and devotes herself to Harry's mission. She suffers having the words "mudblood" etched into her skin and suffers all manner of persecution. Hermione's always been a really lovable character who has suffered far too much for the inauspiciousness of her birth and I credit Watson with that, but here she suffers in silence. The moments are loaded, yes, but I wanted her to convey outwardly how she felt instead of being the logical Spock-type. She's not bad, but not exactly doing enough with her anguish for me.

Ron Weaselly has taken all the pent-up frustration of being the lovable goofball and in one nice moment he rails against feeling like a third-wheel in the Harry-Hermione crusade against Voldemort and gives it to Harry with both barrels. He doesn't believe that Harry understands what it is that those who love him are giving up. Ron is caught up in someone else's destiny-- he has a family to lose and he wonders, as anybody would, whether or not it's worth getting caught up in. Ron, of course, is loyal but he does the human thing and assesses the risk. He stares into the darkness and asks if the light that comes when the darkness passes will be enough. Stoicism is overrated. But Ron proves loyalty never will be.

Speaking of loyalty, my favorite most heroic house elf is back. Dobby. Or Harry Potter's Yoda. From the first moment I saw Dobby in Chamber of Secrets I was smitten. Dobby came into my life when I really needed him. It was November 2002 and just a few months earlier Yoda had become a green ball of fury in Star Wars Episode II and it was ridiculous and unbecoming. Dobby had similar giant ears and a propensity for fending off the bad guys with magical arts, but he was subtle and powerful. His English, better. What happens to him is the most wrenching moment of cinema this year. Sorry Kick Ass.

So far, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is shaping up to be everything you want the encroaching darkness and the fight of your life to be. Makes me wish I'd read the books, but allows me to appreciate the baited breath a little more. And a little differently.

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