Harry Potter 7.0

I had planned on writing a review for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (PART 1) Thursday night [ed. note: Nov 18, when I originally started writing this] after getting home from the Midnight Premiere Screening, but my body gave all it had to give just to get me there and back again (a Hypit's Journey). Besides which, writing reviews for sequels is a tough proposition - no one is jumping in at Part 7, and anyone who made it this far sure isn't holding her breath waiting for my okay.

Instead then, I thought I would write a few brief thoughts on the series in general, and give my impressions on both the sixth and seventh films. (I never did write a review last year for Half Blood Prince because I didn't know how, but now I do.)

Something I have thought about for several years, but I rarely see discussed: we're so used to long movie titles now after Star Wars and Lord of the Rings that the Harry Potter titles cause little stir. I recognize they follow a rich fantasy literary tradition, but it's worth noting that, out of context, in our modern world - they're pretty strange!

The first book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  Except, that WASN'T the first book title.  

I started reading the books right before the first movie came out (there were four at that point), but it wasn't until I moved up to Canada that I found out that the actual non-dumbed-down-for-stupid-Americans title was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

I remember my thoughts were as follows:

1) All things considered, with the modern usage of the words, Sorcerer actually makes a bit more sense than Philosopher. (She'd never admit it, but one wonders if author J.K. Rowling ever looks back on it and wishes she'd named it that.)

2) Even if #1 is true, I enjoy older usage of words, and feel cheated (and a little insulted) that the book and movie title was dumbed down. (I also am semi-amazed they kept it low-profile in the early years. With the Internet the way it is now you couldn't do that.)

3) Even though I'm insulted, I actually feel worse because I know that the publishers did the right thing. America doesn't even understand the Modern use of Philosophy (we prefer to get our Philosophy from Fortune Cookies and Laffy Taffy wrappers) - forget about some medieval meaning.

4) Remember how there was this tremendous misunderstanding among some in the Christian community about Harry Potter?  Some people thought (and others egged them on) that the books were about Satanic witchcraft, which is silly. I wonder if a side-effect of the name change was added fuel to that fire. After all, Sorcerer sounds much more Black Arts than Philosopher.

The second book was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I don't have nearly as many cool things to say about this other than it's the title most dying for a "porn" treatment. Interestingly, the sixth book (Half Blood Prince) was originally supposed to be second in the series. I sometimes wonder how it would have all played out if things had gone that way.

(From one of my Thanksgiving Movie Previews (you know, back when I was still trying), read Hyperion's very short  review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

Okay, admit it - when you first heard the title of Book 3 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - you had a hard time remembering the word, and you thought it was Azerbaijan, or possibly one of the 43 Asian "-stan" countries. Don't even deny it!  While it wasn't until Book 4 that we saw the huge shift in tone from Rowling, it was hinted at a bit in Book 3. There was a sense of coming danger (as opposed to the first two books, which really seemed more fairy tales). In the movie, though - wow - big time shift in tone. Some people hated it. Some people loved it. I thought it was necessary. As much as I loved the grandeur of the Main hall in the first two films, if we saw seven versions of that we'd have been bored long ago.

(Read Hyperion's  review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

As I mentioned, I read the first four books right before the first movie. I read the first three in one day, while Book 4 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - took me a whole day by itself.  That's because it was bigger than the first three combined! As far as storytelling ability, it was better than the first three combined as well.  It was Goblet of Fire when I first started to think Rowling could be writing something for the ages. I think this was my favorite title, too.

There's no way around it, but in a way it was a little bit sad to see the movies. I love the movies, and am glad for them. And the book world and movie world really are separate (and get more separate with each movie, as more and more has to be cut; more on that in a minute). 

But of course there is some cross-over. How can there not be?  The look and feel of the movies bleed into how you feel about the books. After Goblet, all the other books were slightly different for me. Not good or bad, just subtly different.

For example, especially in the early books, I was in no way attracted to Hermione. She was too rigid and bookish. But the moment I saw Emma Watson I knew that when she became legal - or close enough - that she'd be a sight to behold. I don't just mean beautiful, which Watson obviously is. I mean her personality, her poise, her very presence. Emma Watson's Hermione was much more dynamic than book Hermione, at least early on, and it colored my opinion of the lass on the pages.

(See a grown man gush in Hyperion's  review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

When I heard the title for Book 5 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - I couldn't help but fear that somehow the book involved visiting Harry's grandparents in Arizona. Once you read the book or see the movie the title makes sense, but it's one of the more awkward ones just hearing it. I think a better title would have been Harry Potter and the Phoenix Army.

(Learn about Movie Cereal and the Dumbledorks in Hyperion's  review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

I may have to reverse myself, for there is something sinister, menacing, vaguely racial and dare I say even sexual about the title of Book 6 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  When I heard the title (about a year before the book came out) I was bewitched, bothered and bewildered.   What did it mean? Who was this Prince? What was he going to do? Half what? If Book 4 brought a massive change in how the series was written, added complexity, danger and depth - Half Blood Prince turned that on its head, with such a radical departure in story-telling, characterization, form, format and feel.

I remember being uncomfortable reading the book - and that's a good thing, as all great writing makes you a little bit nervous, not knowing what's next. While the skeleton structure of "year at Hogwarts" was the same, Rowling toyed with it in ever-more inventive ways.

The only sad part for me was that some jackass posted a fairly large secret on my Fantasy Football Message Board just a couple of days after it came out. I will never ever get the chance to read the book and not know what was coming. I have no choice but to know (to an extent) what's coming in the films, yet to have the book experience taken away was not fun. Because I knew I couldn't help looking for signs, which changed how I saw everything.

This seems like a good point for a quick review of the film.


The first two films I saw with Koz. Then I moved to Canada, and saw the next three with my youngest sister. For the sixth I went with.....my mother.

(I know, I know)

The thing about my mom is - she doesn't know movies aren't real. This allows her to experience a movie way way way more deeply than you or I would. In some ways that's impressive.  Unfortunately, she also is under the strong impression that the characters on screen are not only real, but can hear her, and I was partly dreading having to shush her severely.

As it happened Mom barely whispered at all, with the exception of practically losing it over her displeasure of Ron.  If you've seen the film, you know that Ron is a first-class dick much of the time, and the truth is I've never liked Ron in book or movie as much as others. Nonetheless I felt I had to defend Ron, only to have my mother expand her diatribe to include all redheads.

My mother has said some peculiar things in her life, but I have never ever ever heard her say anything about redheads. But there it was, a vicious rage perhaps brought forth from deeply repressed childhood. I had to stop her from going on and on about how no redhead was fit to live by pointing out the glaring hole in her argument. "But Mom, DAD is a redhead."

My mother was silent for a moment and then whispered, "Well he was an exception." A minute later I heard her mumble, "Serves me right not liking Redheads that God would make me fall for one of 'em." I swear she glared up at the ceiling, in what I can only presume was in the Lord's general direction. You cannot make this up.

Okay, back to the movie. When it ended I remember thinking - strongly thinking - that it would be the most hated of the films. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people ended up loving it. I did too. In fact, while I thought most people wouldn't like it, my initial impression was that Half Blood was the best film so far.

I've mentioned this many times before, but the longer the book the harder it is to get stuff in the movie.  There's simply no helping it - the worlds begin to diverge.  Think about how much of the Quidditch Cup stuff got left out of Goblet, or the entire House Elf Revolt.

For Half Blood, I think director David Yates gave up trying. I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean that in almost a Revolutionary way. You simply cannot film the length, breadth and most importantly the Sturm und Drang of Half Blood Prince.

Before you argue with me, fans of the book, just think about it. Think about the plot of the book, how it starts and where, what's going on and how the material is presented.  You can't film it, and Yates doesn't try.

Instead of translating from book to film Yates translates from book to Dream and then to Screen. The result is magic - no pun intended. Cinematically Half Blood is lyrical, haunting, elegiac. It feels at once both as though under water yet soaring through the clouds. It feels like looking through a glass darkly, or a snow globe - from the inside.

I watched the film feeling like I was riding on a bubble - afraid to move or even breathe for fear it might pop. I was astonished at the light touch Yates showed, his confidence in his material and actors, somehow knowing that giving us less of each scene would somehow give more.

Half Blood Prince didn't feel so much like a narrative as it did a painting, the kind you can stare at for hours, and never know exactly what you're looking at yet feeling like you see the artist's soul.  The film drips...with tension, music, laughter and life, and I felt privileged at having seen it.


I've said it before, but one of the best things about a Midnight Premiere of a super-hot new movie is that you get the very best Trailers. To the best of my Memory, this is what we saw the other night at the Midnight Harry Potter: 



I've long been in hetero-love with Ryan Reynolds, but I fear it's starting to wane. On top of that, I never was a big fan of the GL comic, I don't foresee it playing well on the big screen, and I really question whether Ryan Reynolds is the right guy. The smarmy Frat-boy routine that was so fresh in Van Wilder now seems a bit old when there seems to be nothing else there. I would absolutely cast RR in the Fletch remake, but this feels like a looming disaster to me. 


Cute teaser-Trailer. The joke reminded me of the Family Guy "way too long" trick.  Very clever. 


This seems so fresh and original.....before Moulin Rouge, before Chicago, before Glee.  Now?  Hey, way to jump on the bandwagon, Cher. 


Other than the execrable Last Battle, Dawn Treader was my least favorite of the books, almost 100% because of Eustace. That said, the preview looks pretty bad-ass, so I'm open-minded. 


If there's no nudity I'm going to be pissed We must not be held hostage to the teenage girl audience!


This got a huge reaction in the theater. Fantastic Trailer, seeing Harrison Ford skulking and scowling is always a treat, Spielberg is Executive Producer, which can only help, and the big reveal was the title. Superb, although in this day of Politically Correctness I'm half-surprised they didn't have the Cowboys battling Nazis or Al Qaeda. (Sequels?)

and for impressionistic thoughts on Part 7......

Movie Hype (#765) - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

It's been almost a month now since I've seen the film and I'm still not sure what to think about it. I wish I could see it again before being more definitive. I repeat something I've written earlier: there is no reason not to (and every reason to) add a brief thee-minutes introduction at the beginning of these movies. You know, "Previously, on Harry Potter."  I'm sure they could do it in a creative way, and get people up to speed. 

I was struck by how the filmmakers just assumed I had seen the other six films like an hour ago and knew everything that was going on. Normally in epic films there is sort of a re-explanation of the plot every twenty minutes or so, in case you got lost.  Heck, even Shakespeare did this. Next time you watch or read Hamlet, pay attention to how every few scenes someone points out what's going on. 

David Yates doesn't roll that way, and to his credit, there is a tightness and energy that develops with his refusal to coax or coddle the audience. This is not your Christopher Columbus's Harry Potter. 

Another sign of his supreme confidence is how spare Yates is willing to leave his scenes. They say when you are presenting a scene to begin it at the latest possible time or end it at the earliest possible time. In other words, Don't bring the audience in until tensions are mounted, and leave before the energy can dissipate. 

Yates is a genius at this. Over and over and over again we get a fraction of the scene length that Goblet of Fire would have had or (especially) the first two films. (Azkaban had some of this.) This approach treats each scene less as part of the overall mosaic in the continuum of the story than as performance art, thatched in with the whole film, but also there of its own accord, with its own presence, purpose and power. 

Yates let many of his scenes fade to black, a theater-style pause originally designed to allow the crew to change sets (actors to chance costumes, etc.), but in this case lets us the audience catch our breath for just a moment and reflect on what we've just seen. This is a rare feat to pull off on a movie packed with so much stuff.  

Other things I loved were haunting. The story of the Three Brothers will go down in history as one of the greatest uses-of-art scenes in movie history.  It reminded me in a way of Kill Bill, where the radical shift in cinematography (for the origin or O-Ren Ishii) allowed for a much greater dramatic punch. When Hermione narrates the story and we watch these simple drawings etch out on the screen I was spellbound. 

The first half of the Deathly Hallows book is a mostly joyless affair, and I should use a better term for I don't mean that as a criticism. It's just.....sad, tremendously so, and you barely ever have time to get your bearings before more death and destruction and heartache await. 

(Rowling doesn't get enough credit for how much of an arc her writing underwent during the series. Think of the fairy-tale simplicity of the first book and the Titus Andronicus savagery of the last.) 

I mention the book because this helps explain the tone of the movie. There is so much heartbreak here, so much pain. If you haven't seen it I won't give away the ending - other than to say I had tears in my eyes. Beyond that, though, the two scenes set in houses in the middle of nowhere...

Almost more than the overt sadness is the strained fractured relationship between Harry, Hermione and Ron. These three are leads like never before, and their journey together bears full fruit, as we see what stress can do to even the best of friends. I was initially worried that non-book readers would be confused why certain people were acting certain ways (the Horcrux influence), but then I realized it didn't matter so much. In the end the plot had become secondary to the emotion, which was nakedly painful and true.  

Even when angst wasn't the overriding emotion there was a tinge of bittersweet.  Watch when Harry dances with Hermione.  You can't write a scene much better than that. Wordless, bringing up more questions than answers, yet telling you everything about esprit de corps, desperation, and peace in the storm. 

(I twittered this when I first came home from the film but it's worth repeating - Harry and Hermione are naked in one scene. I do not lie!)

After all this hand-wringing by me it would be remiss not to bring up the true levity - the many Harrys scene.  A little bit of levity in a grim time, but fantastically done and well deserved by us. 

Look, it is what it is - you simply can't make a five hour movie in today's day and age, but at the same time, splitting the book into two films means inevitably the first film feels like set-up. I'd go a step further. I see books 6 and 7 as basically one work, so in many ways Deathly Hallows Part 1 feels like the middle of a Trilogy. There's so much that can't be answered, that necessarily is "set up" for the end, yet there is the need to give the movie experience closure and climax and resolution. 

Under the circumstances I think Yates does about as expert a job as possible.  Part of me wished for more expositional story-telling, but I'm also glad none of the impact was lost from what was (reading) a very emotional experience. 

The movie was as well.  

Unless you're too scared, Go to the 31 Days of RAWR!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVED the 7th movie. Much much better than any of the others, and I think that was just because it wasn't so cramped together!

I'm so excited to see the second part....I hope that it doesn't let me down.