Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Roger Ebert impression

I am not a licensed movie critic. In fact, I don’t even know if movie critics get licensed or they just spout off long enough that people being to listen to their opinions.

I don’t watch many movies in the theaters. I still have not seen Avatar. (I know!) I do enjoy movies, but only certain ones, movies that I have a vested interest in. I can’t wait to see The Avengers movie and The Hobbit but those are not released until 2012. I know the plots and already know I enjoy the characters. Thus, those movies will be fun for me whether they are actually “good” or not. Rarely will I want to see a movie just from the trailer. Inception was one of those times. It looked freaking awesome, and it was, plot holes be damned.

The most recent movie I saw in theaters, a movie I had to see, was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One. I am invested in this series. I’ve read every book; I have seen the previous six movies, multiple times. (They have tremendous cable re-watchability.) I am no Roger Ebert, but I’ll give it my best shot. Here is my review of HP 7.1:

The first six movies in the Harry Potter series were solid and entertaining. The casting was tremendous. Even with the passing of the actor who played Dumbledore in the early films and a recast, it still remained great. The children seemed to grow up perfectly, although, for movie purposes, Hermione Granger seemed prettier than I think was intended in the books. The first film hit it on the head. She had wild, unkempt hair and looked kind of frazzled/nerdy. However, as the movies progressed, Hermione looked better and better. I never got that impression in the novels. The real problem occurs when Harry starts to have feelings for Ginny. The book describes Ginny as the most beautiful girl, who all the boys want to be with. However, Hermione in the films is just as pretty, if not more so. It was really the only casting problem in any of the films.

As for the movies themselves, the first two were fun and a bit campy. The main three actors were all children and the movies were children’s movies. Starting with The Prisoner of Azkaban, the movies got better, more adult. There were dark scenes. The actors began to seem like they were playing the characters in the scenes rather than just being in the scenes as the characters, if that makes sense.

The common thread from movies one through six was that they were probably better for people who had never read the books. I cannot possibly know for sure as it is impossible to view a film both ways, but that is the impression I came away with. They moved smoothly through the plot and each ended well as compared to the books. However, readers of the books were always very aware of how much storyline was omitted. There was just too much to cover for it to be any other way, but disappointment was unavoidable. After every movie, I was more concerned with what was left out than what was put in, whereas a viewer who had no novel experience would just enjoy the film for what was shown. And each movie worked well that way.

I cannot say the same for the seventh film. It actually seemed like the exact opposite occurred. The movie was more enjoyable only if you had already read the book. Now this seems counterintuitive. The plot would be known and nothing would come as a surprise having already read The Deathly Hallows. However, because of the way the movie was delivered, the alternative is much worse.

I personally felt like the movie moved too quickly. They jumped from scene to scene, trying to cover as much as they could. There was really no way around this. Even splitting The Deathly Hallows into two films doesn’t solve the problem. It is impossible to translate the feeling of hopelessness and dread into a two hour film. The book was so powerful because, along with all the action, there were the months and months elapsing in between, where the characters were questioning their motives, giving up hope, etc. The movie didn’t have time for that.

As soon as Harry, Ron, and Hermione ended up in London, they broke into the Ministry of Magic. It didn’t take eight weeks to scope out the scene, make plans, steal identities, etc. like in the book. The movie didn’t have time for that.

As soon as Ron left, angry, he came back, sorry. It didn’t take months and months, moving from place to place, knowing it would be impossible for Ron to ever find them again like in the book. The movie didn’t have time for that.

They tried to give us an impression of the time passing, drop dates, and moving the tents each and every scene, but it felt rushed to me. But imagine if you hadn’t read the books. It didn’t feel rushed. It felt worse. It felt like nothing happened.

My dad saw the film and came out of it voicing that exact opinion. He felt like nothing happened. He wasn’t aware of the time frames that were elapsing. He couldn’t have known the beginning scene was taking place in July because all they told us was it was Harry’s birthday. They mentioned it was Christmas time when they arrived in Godric’s Hollow and that was it. The rest would be guess work for someone who had never read the book.

Through the eyes of a newbie to the series, the characters went from place to place, searching for horcruxes, only destroying one, and then the movie came to an end. That was all. They wouldn’t know any of the back-story, the detail you could read in between the actions. The movie went from scene to scene with no explanation.

To a story veteran, the scene in Xenophilius Lovegood’s home was of vital importance. Harry found out what the deathly hallows were and what that meant. He discovered what Voldemort had been searching for and found at the end. Harry discovered why Voldemort had kidnapped an old wand maker and visited an old dark wizard in prison. It was all to obtain the most powerful wand in existence. To someone watching the film, learning for the first time, it was inconsequential. They would not have understood what all the flashes of Harry’s dreams even meant. It was never described who Voldemort went to visit, who he kidnapped for information, what he was searching for. The scene in the Lovegood’s home was simply the telling of a fairy tale and nothing more.

I could go on. The scene in Godric’s Hollow was equally as bare to a person who hadn’t read the book. As was the scene in the Malfoy’s manor. How could any moviegoer know what summoned Dobby the house elf or what Bellatrix was referring to in her bank vault if they hadn’t read the book? It was all nonsensical gibberish. Or even worse, it was all ignored as pointless.

I had been critical of previous movies for leaving too much out. But they were clearly stand alone movies. I am critical of The Deathly Hallows Part One for rushing through too much story but for also making a movie that cannot truly be appreciated just by watching it on its own. Perhaps this is the unavoidable fault of making a part one of a two part tale, but I had no problem with the ending. The problems lie during the body of the movie where too much happens too quickly to please the veterans and not enough is explained to appease the rookies.

I am still eagerly awaiting Part Two. I am excited to see how certain scenes turn out, namely the break-in to Gringotts Bank and the final battle at Hogwarts. However, I wish Part One had done a better job of either following the flow of the first six films or deciding to go in the other direction. By toeing the line they seemed to have left both groups slightly disappointed.

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