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'Kay, so.... like three days ago I wrote up a post about the books, films and TV which I had read or seen in 2010, noted that I had yet to review seven of them, and resolved to spend January writing those reviews up "while doing my utmost to avoid accruing any more". Only then I realised that, actually, I was going to have to break that rule for the new Harry Potter film, because if I didn't get on and see it now, then I would miss my chance to catch it in the cinema. I've managed to see all of them on the big screen so far, and I don't want to break that now when we're so near to the end of the franchise!

So yesterday afternoon I skived off work a little early, popped into Next and Marks & Spencers to spend my Christmas vouchers, and then settled down in the cinema with a lovely big bucket of popcorn and the tinkle, swoop and build of the familiar theme music. I think I was probably only just in time, too, as there were all of about twenty people in there with me.

My expectations weren't that high. I found many of the performances in the last film passionless, although I liked some of them - particularly Jim Broadbent and Tom Felton. But while this film still wasn't a patch on Prisoner of Azkaban, I was pleasantly impressed.

Of the performances, Tom Felton remains strong, and I was also quite taken with Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. For a lot of the time I managed to forget that she was Helena Bonham-Carter, and to believe entirely in her as the character of Bellatrix - something which I find I can almost never do with H B-C, no matter what type of character she is playing. And of course Alan Rickman was as marvellous as we've come to expect. There wasn't all that much of Snape in this film (there never seems to be enough!), but what there was was fantastic. His materialisation at the Malfoy Manor and masterful sweeping stride straight through the wrought-iron gate certainly made me sit up in my seat. :-)

Most impressive of all for me this time, though, was Emma Watson as Hermione. Given that she actively annoyed me in Order of the Phoenix, this is quite a turnaround. She seems to have really grown into herself in the role, to have dropped the rather over-mannered pauses and dramatic intakes of breath, and generally acquired a sense of quiet confidence and control which really captured my attention throughout the entire film. Hermione does a lot to drive this story, of course, while Ron and Harry flounder around rather like wet blankets - and I felt that Emma Watson carried this really well. Suddenly I wonder whether she won't be the one who can boast of the best post-Harry Potter career in a decade or two's time, rather than either of the boys.

I liked the visual design, too. I was struck from the very beginning by how most of the 'good' characters appeared ground-down and glamour-less, with red-rimmed, dark-shadowed eyes to convey what they have already suffered and what they know lies ahead. And I loved the way that this also extended to giving us a nervous, unshaven Lucius Malfoy - so very different now that he has fallen from the Dark Lord's favour to the arrogant, cock-sure figure of the earlier films. And David Yates' muted colour palettes seemed to work much better here than in the previous film, creating a convincingly sombre mood to suit the dark events of the story, and the autumn and winter timescale of the action.

When reading the book I was rather disappointed by JKR's decision to set most of the action outside Hogwarts, and indeed wanted to hear more about what had been going on there while the trio were busy hiding in tents. But watching the film, I found that I didn't miss Hogwarts at all. The settings of desolate forests, mountain tops and beaches worked much better for the sort of story which was being told here - mainly one of Harry, Ron and Hermione working out their personal issues with each other and learning to manage without the guidance of the adults who have so far protected them all their lives. In fact, this felt like the most genuinely emotive and grown up film in the franchise to date - which obviously isn't to say it is suddenly a cinematic masterpiece which transcends its origins in rather pedestrian children's literature, but does help to make it feel as though the franchise itself has grown and matured a little over the past decade of film production.

The pacing did still feel wrong, though, just as it did in the book. There is just no reasonable explanation for why it is that Harry, Ron and Hermione set out to find the horcruxes - but then end up spending months at a time hanging round in tents, not even discussing where the remaining horcruxes might be, let alone looking for them in any likely places. And when I got home, I was surprised to note that this film had covered approximately 2/3 of the book, leaving much less than half for the final instalment. I can see how that might work - there is still quite a lot of backstory about Dumbledore and Snape which can be lingered over, as well as scenes such as the final battle at Hogwarts, the Kings Cross scene and the epilogue which can all be made into epic set-pieces. But I might have preferred the first half to be just a little shorter, all the same.

Finally, glitzfrau was right to say that the visual highlight of the film was the animation that accompanies Xenophilus Lovegood's telling of the Tale of the Three Brothers. And a thought occurred to me which never did when I read the book - how clever of JKR to insert within her own story something which appears at first to be a simple tale from a children's book, but is then proven to be 'true' by the existence of the elder wand and the invisibility cloak. What a lovely way of enhancing the pretence that her own story, too, may be based on real events! And how even cleverer to then follow up by producing a real-life hand-written collectible edition of that very story-book, which is, as Amazon say, "an artifact pulled straight out of a novel". Surely, then, Harry Potter too must really exist, just out of sight down a mysterious alley-way?

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 6th, 2011 10:19 am (UTC)
Yes, I guess Emma Watson's character has more genuinely impressive things to do now than just knowing all the answers in class. And to be fair, Tom Felton also probably benefits from the fact that his character is now being asked to do more complex things than Daniel Radcliffe's or Rupert Grint's. Draco is all conflicted now, as he begins to understand the consequences of the dark arts, while Harry and Ron don't really have any such internal struggles to deal with.
Jan. 6th, 2011 05:13 am (UTC)
I agree with almost all of this, except that HBC really annoyed me as much as ever.
Jan. 6th, 2011 10:20 am (UTC)
Ah, well - maybe being a bit annoying is a positive benefit when you're playing Bellatrix Lestrange?
Jan. 6th, 2011 09:04 am (UTC)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading that, despite never having read the HP books and only having seen the first two films.
Jan. 6th, 2011 10:20 am (UTC)
Aw, bless you! We still need that LJ 'like' button, don't we? :-)
Jan. 6th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
I can't say I'm a huge fan of Emma Watson, but now that I think about it, you're right, she did come off better in this latest film. I think what's always bugged me about Movie Hermione is that she's so rarely used for comic relief (unlike the books, where Hermione is more often a comic figure) and instead gets lumped into the more cliched strong, empathic female figure (Ron has the opposite problem). Those few comic moments she does have, Emma Watson just doesn't seem very good at....

Deathly Hallows is a lot less light-hearted, so that's not been much of an issue here. My favourite of the trio is still Daniel Radcliffe though. I doubt if he'll ever eclipse his fame as Harry Potter, but I do believe he'll find himself a very satisfying career in one form or another.

I thought they managed the adaptation all right--I was surprised to find that I was not bothered by the Harry/Hermione dancing scene. I do feel it was needed to spell out in advance that these two are not getting together just because Ron is out of the picture. It prevented any misreading of later events.

But mostly, it is just a rather tedious stretch of the overall story arc... a lot of wandering around aimlessly and getting no closer to resolution, plus some exposition. Which I suppose is the feeling that it's supposed to convey, but... it's what's kept me from re-reading Deathly Hallows. Looking forward to the next part at least!
Jan. 6th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, that tedious stretching does indeed come from the book, rather than being inherently the fault of the film - and what a pity David Yates wasn't brave enough to change it! It's annoying in that book five in particular came across as really rushed in the film version, and now the one book that could actually rather do with some editing down to make a pacier film is the one that gets a double-length feature allocated to it. Gah!
Jan. 9th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid to say I went to sleep for the end of this film - I didn't really like it at all (except for Snape bit). I too was frustrated at the way they didn't formulate their horcrux quest at all.

What sort of annoys me about the Harry Potter films/books is that the last two are definitely NOT for young children whereas the first few are aimed at those in primary schools. So, Holly's friend is forbidden to go and watch the films even though she really wants to - and she doesn't understand why :(
Jan. 10th, 2011 09:25 am (UTC)
Yes, I can see how that would be a problem. I guess it didn't matter so much when the books were originally being written, as children who had been at primary school when the first ones appeared were old enough for the later ones by the time they come out. But now that all are immediately available, it becomes more of an issue. And children are not usually very good at concepts like patience and "You can read it next year"!
Jan. 10th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC)
I did lots of nodding with agreement while reading through your review, and through some of the comments. I really enjoyed the film, although I wasn't really expecting to as much, I think. The highlight for me was also definitely that animation. There was a lot of ambling about in the middle, and I agree about the decision to cut up book 5 instead of this one. I loved that book and the film didn't really do it justice for me, and this one did feel a bit tedious at times.
I did like the scenery though, and some of the small light touches in their relationships with each other that you probably wouldn't have got if it had been condensed.
All in all, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would, and I thought it was (hopefully with the 2nd part) a good coming of age film. Good stuff.
Jan. 10th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
I think that coming-of-age angle is probably the biggest gain from splitting this book. It wasn't something that really came across to me from the book - at least, not as a major theme, anyway. But by splitting up the story for the film, it has become the central theme of the first part, which is really good. I suspect it won't be anything like so prominent in the second part, as the action heats up and the big battle approaches. But it was nice to take time out and focus on it separately in part I.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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