HP7B

Most of the film was this colour

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is officially a cinema sensation, bringing a record-breaking £23.75m worth of people into the cinema during its first three days of UK release. By contrast, The Tree of Life, which some big noises in France recently adjudged the best film of the year, made just over £400,000 in the same time period when it opened last week. The universally praised A Separation has taken more than two weeks to generate half of that.

I thought I’d take my haughty self along, then, to see what all the fuss was about before it finally came to an end. As a literary and cinematic Potter virgin, entirely ignorant of my horcruxes from my griffindors, I was relying purely on cultural osmosis to help me through. Plot-wise, it was surprisingly ok: I don’t think I got everything, but I got the gist. What I hadn’t realised was how derivative JK Rowling’s world is – of JRR Tolkien (the battle bits), Enid Blyton (Englishy/school bits) and even Jim Henson (goblin Griphook channelling Labyrinth’s Hoggle). No bad thing, necessarily; all the best stories are old.

The star of the show, Daniel Radcliffe, has a thankless task as the dull-as-dishwater all-round good egg at the centre of it all. Or perhaps it’s just that he can’t act: something about his face does seem fundamentally vacant, and he carries himself around with shoulders locked, as if searching for gravitas, à la George W Bush. Towards the end, his reaction to learning of his own impending death is not unlike the facial expression one might expect from someone realising they’d left an umbrella on a train.

Then there’s his two sidekicks, Hermione and Ron, who – in this film at least – appear to serve little purpose at all, other than as sounding-boards for our hero Harry’s thoughts. In three separate scenes during the first half-hour, they literally stand in the corner of the room, silent, whilst Radcliffe carries out expository conversation with the person they’ve gone to meet.

I'm still not sure what a 'deathly hallow' is

What’s notable is the way in which this personality vacuum at the centre of the film is so bountifully surrounded by the great and the good of British acting. Helena Bonham-Carter, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon and John Hurt all get their few lines – the camera even whizzed past Jim Broadbent a couple of times – and with all that talent gathered in one place, it’s difficult not to begin to think of what might have been in a parallel universe, in which the kids were killed off in episode one.

Ralph Fiennes is the highlight here. Not unlike Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life, he whispers to children in voiceover – although one quickly suspects that Voldemort is somewhere at the other end of the good/evil spectrum. His anti-nose make-up is brilliantly creepy, and he slithers every line out with gleeful malevolence – although Alan Rickman as Severus Snape wins delivery of the film for his fantastically over-the-top discharge of the phrase ‘equally guilty’ during a particularly ominous headmaster’s announcement.

I suspect I might have enjoyed the more heavily school-based plots of the earlier films over this one. At least in the Hogwarts sections there was the occasional suggestion of some much-needed wit: one of the film’s only throwaway lines (and a welcome tonal respite) sees Maggie Smith tell Julie Walters ‘I’ve always wanted to use that spell’ after summoning some particularly solemn looking rock-based guards. Otherwise, for a kids film about magic and goblins, it does seem to take itself incredibly seriously.

The filmmaking itself is perfectly accomplished, if unremarkable – a reminder that these Potter releases are not so much films as services to the books, whose revered status amongst a loyal and large-scale fanbase was always going to compromise any serious invention on screen. Would I have been more moved had I sat through all eight? Perhaps. As it is, I must confess that my interest continues to lie in the incredible box-office – by definition, getting people into the cinema that never normally go – but little else.

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8 Responses to HP7B

  1. Reg says:

    There was a key opportunity to make the last one more of a tear jerker, I felt that they almost by passed the death of some key characters, and showed little or no emotion of Radcliffe in reaction to the deaths.

    Radcliffe’s acting was bad in the first movie and unfortunately he remained awkward and stiff all the way to the last movie.

    As for the characters of Ron and Hermione, they do play a bigger role throughout the books and are usually the help that Harry needs, it’s just this book is really about Harry and his fight and defeat of Voldemort.

    I would say to watch the other films, but i suspect that will only make you dislike HP more, so just read the books 🙂

  2. Danny says:

    Agreed…Ralph Fiennes steals the show and even Gary Oldman’s 10 second slot towards the end adds more in terms of acting talent than Radcliffe’s entire onscreen presence!

  3. chopper says:

    I suspect J.K.Rowling’s main influence was Dianne Wynne Jones who sadly passed away earlier this year. The books & the films appeal to a lowest common denominator which makes them easy to digest and broadens their appeal. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Films like HP probably indirectly help finance films like The Tree Of Life.

    • JamieR says:

      That’s interesting, I hadn’t heard of her. And to the rest of your comment – agreed! I find HP uninteresting but also harmless enough – at least there’s a plot. It’s a much less objectionable world in which it holds the box-office records over the likes of Transformers

  4. Uncle Kevin says:

    Well done Jamie. 100 years less in Purgatory!

  5. Nince says:

    I think that a little bit of J K Rowling died with the making of every one of these films…as they have not told the stories particularly well. Although I am sure the £££ has been of some comfort.

    I think that there is an undertone of snobbishness in most people criticisms of Harry Potter, although, in reading this article, I was pleasantly surprised by the objectiveness (as you have not always been so in conversation.)

    Well Done Old Boy!

  6. I think they did a good job on the feel, style and ultimately look of the film. I love how it was shot, and the background images. That being said, I wish they hadn’t of focused on Harry so much. He was defiantly the worst actor of the bunch, and sort of makes me think of neo from the matrix ( Keanu reaves) in the idea he shows very little emotion at all.

    For me I found Alan rick man stole the show. Me and my friend who saw it together were moved at one part, his death. Even goldsmith dying was so anticlimactic I just, I didn’t feel happy, or sad or closure really. Movies should make you feel-

    Anyhow, I’d just say read the books, they are very great.

    – alifenotyetunobserved.word press.com

  7. Thomas Mansell says:

    Despite recent research suggesting that plot “spoilers” do nothing of the sort, i feel obliged to issue a SPOILER ALERT.

    I was in a similar position to you when i dutifully watched this film. Holy quidditch-sticks, it was dull! The 3D was probably the best thing about it – and i am not a fan of 3D! Yes there was some good hammy acting but also, as you point out, lots of rubbish acting.

    However, the main problem with this film is that the magic utterly destroys the very possibility of any narrative tension. There are only so many times one can watch our “heroes” pursue some unnecessarily intricate course of action resulting in a seemingly impossible situation, only for a convenient spell to be cast and make everything all right. I am as up for a flight of fancy as the next man: but the rules of the imaginary world need to be clearly understood and conveyed if the audience is to be persuaded to invest in it. The wizardry also renders utterly pointless Harry’s supposedly meaningful solitary walk into the forest. Did he die or didn’t he? If he can just decide to come back to life again, what does it matter? Unless the filmmakers actually altered the original plot, then the books too must suffer from this fundamental flaw.

    The film also featured one of the most gratuitous cleavage-shots in the history of cinema. (Almodóvar, eat your heart out!) It raised a titter – nothing more – but was so utterly cynical that it was arguably more offensive than many more explicit images.

    A massive (and expensive (and lucrative)) waste of time.

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