angelophile: (Miss Marple - Hmmm)
[personal profile] angelophile


I was very late coming to Harry Potter and only read the books and saw the movies last year, after much resistance. Nonetheless, I enjoyed them well enough, although I've never clicked with them in the same way as pretty much everyone else I seem to come across. Perhaps because I didn't grow up with the books in the same way as younger readers did. But anyway, I did sneak out and watch the movie this afternoon. I did a mass watch of all the movies last year and reviewed them at the time, so I thought I'd better include this one in the list. Although, I admit, I was curious to see it anyway. The Harry Potter movies attract dream casts, if nothing else.

So, thoughts under the cut, including some spoilers.

My initial reaction was very positive. The action packed opening sequences got the ball rolling nicely. However, after that, I have to say my enthusiasm took a knock. My thoughts on the last book pretty much translate into my criticisms of the movie. It's all or nothing. After a powerful opening sequence, everything rather drops off and it's all or nothing for the rest of the movie. Action interspersed with lots of standing around doing nothing and looking vague until some plot device gets dropped into Harry's lap to move the action along, before everyone goes back to lurking in a forest again. In that, the adaptation is a little too straight and the director and screenwriters haven't taken any risks. As an adaptation it's right on the money - true to the source material to the slightest detail. As a movie it's unsatisfying, poorly paced, and not even following it's own logic (for example, the opening sequence has the Order of the Phoenix going to lengths to get Harry to safety in secret, losing some members in the process and mention of the Ministry of Magic being kept out of the loop and it being utterly secret. Apparently not so much, when everyone's invited to a party at the Weasley's and the Minister of Magic turns up on the doorstep, apparently knowing full well Harry's there). And stuffed with plot widgets and exposition in place of actual plot and logical steps from one point to another.

However, most the of the criticisms that can be levelled at the movie aren't the movie's failings - they're the book's. The main issue is that the movie has faithfully recreated those failings to the letter. There's also a certain awkwardness when characters who have hitherto not appeared, or barely appeared, in the movies suddenly appear. The wedding, for example, was built up in the books. Dobby and Kreacher appear more and so on. I wonder how those watching the movie without knowing half of the background from the novels feel when characters and concepts are suddenly slipped in. However, that's more unfortunate than a real failing of the movie - of course things were junked for time when adapting the previous novels and it just creates that sense of awkwardness when they're pivotal to the plot of the last novel and they have to be shoehorned in.

So, the main problem, if you see it as one, is that the movie sticks to the novel like glue and doesn't take enough risks to streamline the plot and jettison some of the junk. Your milage may vary - I actually think some of the movies were better than the books for slimming down the plot. (But not all. Halfblood Prince ditched some necessary plot in favor of the teen soap opera, which could have easily been more harshly trimmed.) I know others were disappointed with such omissions. In which case, they should be happy with this movie.

There's actually at least one scene addition - a rather nice scene where Harry dances with Hermione. A number of people have suggested this was pushing the oft touted Hermione/Harry romance angle. I thought the opposite. I liked the scene just because it demonstrated how little romantic chemistry the two have - it was lovely and touching because the unspoken way in which Harry was trying to distract Hermione and the chemistry between them being that of close friends who love each other rather than lovers. The fact that the actors grew up together like their characters made it even more true - that scene would have been near impossible to fake and it just felt beautifully real instead.

And that's where the movie really triumphs - it's the performances, the strongest of the series so far, which ae, frankly, far better than the material deserves and drags it to a higher level. The central threesome are all on top form. Then you have a cast of supporting actors who may only have a minute or so on screen, but are all equally fantastic. Just little touches here and there, like Robbie Coltrane's non-reaction when Hagrid brings the bike down after the ambush. Bill Nighy's layered cameo. Rhys Ifans's sympathetic take on a character who, in the books, is barely a caricature. Too many names to mention and you're left wishing you could see more of most of them (I was particularly disappointed that Harry's goodbye to the Dursleys was so severely trimmed as to almost be non-existent.)

So, when anyone else appears on screen, things really pick up, but it's unfortunate that the central trio of actors are forced to carry the central hour of the movie pretty much single-handedly. They're up to the task and the film demonstrates just how far all of them have come as actors, but the unfortunate thing is that they're required to mostly sit around looking gloomy or having a minor dose of teen angst until the next plot bunny hops along. And few actors could carry material so unfortunately dry, even with great scenes like the aforementioned dance between Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson to the strains of Nick Cave. It's all more gloomy and mature than previous outings, but by shifting the action out of Hogwarts and stripping away the supporting characters for much of the movie, there's no doubt that some of the magic is lost. It's not so much Harry Potter as three hormonal teenagers on a camping trip.

But the action sequences are nicely handled and, as said, when the cast get something to get their teeth into they're able to really go to town. It's a lot more thrilling in parts than the rather dry descriptions in the novels, in particular the initial action sequence and the demise of a certain feathered character is much improved. It also looks great - the CGI is vastly improved on previous efforts, the costuming and detailing is impeccable.

An enjoyable experience, then, but perhaps one that suffers from "too faithful-itis" for those of us who found the final book in J. K. Rowling's series to be a weak finale.

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