Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, David Yates, 146 mins (12A)
If you haven't read the books, the latest Potter plot will whizz over your head like a broomstick
Sunday 21 November 2010
The flaw in the last couple of Harry Potter films was that, rather than being discrete stories, each was one-seventh of a much longer story. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is different: it is one-fourteenth.
JK Rowling's final novel has been split into two films, so in two-and-a-half hours all we get is one-half of one-seventh of the series. No wonder it's unsatisfying. A "previously on Harry Potter" caption wouldn't have gone amiss, but HP7 doesn't make the slightest concession to viewers who aren't already conversant with its byzantine mythology, its ever-expanding throng of characters or its bewildering range of spells and totems. If you don't understand the question, "Did R.A.B. destroy the real Horcrux?", then most of the film will fly over your head like an enchanted broomstick. Still, at least HP7 makes some strides towards a finale. The first of the films not to be set in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft And Wizardry, it gets going just as the battle between good and evil is escalating to all-out war.
Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his crowd of followers have decided that the time is right to kill Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), so he and his faithful if grumpy sidekicks, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), go into hiding in the countryside. When they're not bickering with each other or tramping through the woods, they try to find the talismans that hold the key to Voldemort's power. And then, just in case they didn't have enough vitally important trinkets to gather, they hear about three more, known as the Deathly Hallows.
The gang's quest may seem as arbitrary as the token-collecting in a video game, but it does provide a pretext for one outstanding set-piece. Disguising themselves as adults (not too difficult), Harry and co sneak into the Ministry of Magic, a gleaming black labyrinth of offices which, under Voldemort's influence, has become an Orwellian fascist bureaucracy, complete with 1940s-style posters denouncing racial impurity. This fast, farcical heist sequence could easily have been the centrepiece of the film, like the rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star. But unfortunately there are about 23 other plot snippets to fit in, too. As a whole, the movie is a long, exhausting trudge, weighed down by its gloomy mood and its lack of heroics. Harry's most significant achievement is to locate a magical sword, but that happens only because a ghostly stag (a "Patronus", I'm told) pops up and leads him straight to it. Surely that's cheating.
Maybe we shouldn't blame the film's director, David Yates, for all of its shortcomings. By the time he climbed aboard, the Harry Potter gravy train had been trundling along for years. Other directors had already established that the films would be literal, scene-by-scene translations of the books, however unwieldy that made them. And the cast was in place before Yates's tenure, too, so it's not his fault that Radcliffe is so lifeless, or that Watson doesn't appear to be acting so much as responding to someone who's just off-camera, shouting: "Now put on a sad face! Now put on an angry face!"
Joining this pop-cultural juggernaut after a career in television, Yates was never likely to upset the status quo by arguing, for instance, that the story would flow more smoothly if it missed out Rhys Ifans's Xenophilius Lovegood. Or that if you're going to insert John Hurt into a dungeon scene, someone should explain what he's doing there. Or that, in general, none of the excellent character actors – Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, et al – is given enough to do.
But while Yates may not be solely responsible for the way the franchise has turned out, his three films – this one and the previous two – are the only ones which don't make sense unless you've swotted up on your Potter lore in advance, so they do raise the question of how another, bolder director might have reinvigorated the series.
It seems that Yates's only goal was to get all the key scenes down on screen in the correct order, and he does that well enough to keep the fans happy. What he's made isn't really a film at all but a lavish set of book illustrations which are a splendid visual accompaniment to Rowling's text, but which don't mean much without it.
Nicholas Barber sees whether Unstoppable, Ridley Scott's Denzel Washington-vs-runaway-train thriller, lives up to its name
Also Showing: 21/11/2010
Chico & Rita (94 mins, 15)
A delightful hand-drawn cartoon for grown-ups, Chico & Rita boasts gangsters, mojitos, sizzling Cuban jazz, and the most curvaceous animated pin-up since Jessica Rabbit. At its heart is a sweet but fiery romance between a pianist and a chanteuse who meet in 1940s Havana. They belong together, both professionally and personally, but they're driven apart as they try to make it in New York, Hollywood and Paris. The cities are re-created in fabulous period detail, and various jazz legends of the era make guest appearances.
Peeping Tom (101 mins, 15)
Fiftieth-anniversary reissue of Michael Powell's controversial, Freudian slasher movie, featuring a murderous film cameraman who makes Norman Bates seem mildly neurotic.
Adrift (97 mins, 15)
In this Brazilian coming-of-age drama, the crumbling marriage of an irresponsible writer (Vincent Cassel) and his whisky-swigging wife is observed by their 14-year-old daughter over the course of a summer by the beach in the 1980s. Once you get past the sun-bleached look and the casual chemistry between Cassel and his family, the characters aren't very involving, and their story bobs around without going anywhere. The title's all too appropriate.
Dream Home (96 mins, 18)
Brutal horror-comedy in which a young woman commits multiple murder to obtain a flat with a view of Hong Kong harbour. You soon get the satirical gist about rapacious property developers pushing first-time buyers to homicidal extremes, but the film keeps hammering the point home in dull sob-story flashbacks to the killer's past. It's hard to sympathise after two naked girls and one heavily pregnant woman have been treated to lingering death scenes.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Arts & Ents blogs
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 2 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 3 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 4 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
- 5 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
- < Previous
- Next >