We’re off to see the wizard

I am so glad that the Curzon shows blockbusters, as well as the more esoteric foreign and indie stuff. We all need a sugar hit every now and then. (Also, an arthouse chain like the Curzon must survive in a hostile market, and that means placing a few extra bums on its seats by running the latest Harry Potter, or Sex & The City, or Toy Story 3, or – judging from the trailers we saw last night – Tron Legacy and the latest Narnia – so be it. This also means I can see my blockbusters in greater comfort, with more leg-room, less people and, frankly, a better, if smaller, picture.) The latest Harry Potter, the penultimate, is Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt 1. Because, having come this far with the saga, I think the filmmakers feel they need to remain as faithful as possible to the bloated, self-indulgent last seventh and last book, so they have divided it into two parts, both around two and a half hours long. It’s surely just a happy accident that they can make TWICE AS MUCH MONEY by doing it this way.

Part 2 is released, in 3D, to disguise the fact that it’s just more of the same, in July 2011. But since pretty much everybody who’s going to see it will have read the book, they’re not actually going to the cinema to be surprised, merely to be reassured. I have never read any of the books because, frankly, fantasy literature never really grabbed me, I would never willingly pick up a book with twee names like Dumbledore, or Weasley, or Grubbly-Plank, or Peasegood in it, and I really don’t have the hours in the day to read fiction aimed at children when there are so many non-fiction books aimed at adults beckoning me. That said, I’ve been more than happy to watch the films. In fact, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, I think I enjoy the films more than anybody else in the cinema, as I actually don’t know what’s going to happen.

So, I didn’t know what was going to happen in The Deathly Hallows Pt 1, and in case there are one or two of you who have never read the books either, DO NOT READ THIS BIT EVEN THOUGH I’M NOT GOING TO REVEAL WHO, OR WHAT, IF ANYTHING OR ANYBODY, DIES, JUST SOME VAGUE BITS. This is basically what happens: Harry and Ron and Hermione go off on a quest to find three things, which have to be destroyed. They have an argument, and Ron goes off. They find one of the things but can’t destroy it without another thing which is not one of the original three things, so they have to find that thing. Along the way, Harry almost gets off with Hermione, but doesn’t really. I won’t tell you if Ron comes back or not, as that provides some of the intrigue not provided by the finding of the things. Meanwhile, Voldemort tries to find Harry to kill him, but can’t, or at least not until Part 2, I’m guessing. Because the saga is drawing to a close, JK Rowling has started killing off characters, but clearly I won’t tell you which ones. All of the Potter films have been adapted by Steve Kloves. It seems he is doing a fairly faithful job of this. I can only imagine that the final book is a bit of a trudge, unless you have a great deal invested in the three main characters. I find this difficult because the three actors who play them are not especially good actors.

I wish all three of them well in whatever their future careers may be, and I hope they spend their fortunes well, and that it makes up for the potential disappointment of adult life after such a whizz-bang childhood since the age of 10 or 11. But I didn’t like them as child actors, and I don’t really like them very much more as young adult actors. This is a pity, as we don’t get much else from Deathly Hallows Pt 1. The adults actors – literally, the cream of British acting talent – are mostly cameos. When the likes of Robbie Coltrane and Jason Isaacs and David Thewlis and Fiona Shaw and Helen McCrory are in a film that lasts two and a half hours but only get to deliver a couple of lines each, at most, you know you’re in a parallel universe. (I don’t think Helen McCrory spoke.) I’m sure I noticed Ralph Ineson – Finchy from The Office – sitting at a long table in the opening scene. I mean, you just see him out of the corner of your eye. Is that it for Ralph Ineson? Or does his character get a big scene in Part 2, which, by the way, was filmed back to back with this one, almost as if they only split it into two in order to MAXIMISE PROFITS. (He had a tiny part in Another Year as well – although it’s well known that you have no idea how important your character is in a Mike Leigh film until you watch it at the cinema, so he’ll have known what he was getting into and was presumably delighted to get the chance to be in a Mike Leigh film; who can blame him?)

Anyway, it’s fine. A perfectly serviceable vehicle for a book. David Yates and cinematographer Eduardo Serra have used a very effective desaturated palette, to reflect the gloomy mood, and some of the landscapes (they hop about a lot) are stunning. Don’t expect laughs, as there are none – and the only funny lines are delivered by bad ex-child actors. But it’s too long, isn’t it? I mean, they all have been, but at least the other six films came to a conclusion and ended. This one doesn’t, by definition. And it’s way too slow. I enjoyed the Ministry of Magic sequence, which is superbly designed and realised, but I think I enjoyed it more because the three leads aren’t in it (they have disguised themselves as three much better actors, including the bloke who plays Dave on Gavin & Stacey). But by far the most intriguing and gripping sequence was an animated one. It was exquisitely done. It’s a story Rhys Ifans is telling from the Beedle The Bard book.

Sorry if you think I am being ungrateful. But of the seven films so far it’s the only one I found myself willing to end in the last half hour. Could they perhaps remake the films with just the adult actors? Something like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It would be brilliant. The best actors in Britain in one place. Maybe an option as a DVD extra?

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9 thoughts on “We’re off to see the wizard

  1. OK, I’m not going to say anything about the actual review since I haven’t seen it yet but your comments don’t surprise me. Although given that you say you haven’t read the books, I’m not sure how you can judge the last one as being “bloated [and] self-indulgent”.

    However, I am uncertain as to whether you are dismissing all fantasy literature as being aimed at children, which is what your second paragraph seems to imply. And making fun of a genre because it contains characters with silly names seems childish to me – most fantasy literature takes a helluva lot more care over naming characters than you might think – although I will concede that most kidlit is more extreme when it comes to this because children may not have learned the subtleties of historical baggage that most names come with.

    If you are indeed dismissing all fantasy, I think you are missing out on some great books (Gormenghast is right up there with Brideshead Revisited as a forensic dissection of class and tradition, for instance.) But hey, it’s your loss.

    • Don’t take my preference so personally, David. I only said I wouldn’t be interested in a book with character names like that; I do not dismiss those that do. (Millions do, after all.) I enjoyed Tolkein as a kid, and enjoyed the film adaptations. I picked up from other reviews that the final book in the Potter series was bloated and self-indulgent. I do not dismiss fantasy, either. I love the first three Star Wars movies. Although I prefer George Lucas’s silly names to JK Rowling’s. It’s a personal choice.

      I don’t have a problem with adults who read and enjoy the Potter books. A lot of people I know do so. But it’s not for me. I have, as I think I said, so many non-fiction books that I need to read first. Sorry if I failed to get that across. I thought I made it fairly clear. It’s not an ideological battle! We all like different stuff. If you didn’t like The Fall I wouldn’t take it personally.

      • Andrew, please don’t get me wrong; I simply didn’t understand your second paragraph which I read as conflating two entirely separate arguments – that fantasy was only for children and that you wouldn’t read it because it had silly names – both of which seemed like rather weak arguments for not reading a genre (and it appears you may not have meant the first.) Whereas “too many books, too little time” is an argument that I imagine we all fall back on and it’s still as good today as it has ever been. I don’t think you need spurious justifications!

        (As it happens, I too thought that the last Potter book was bloated. self-indulgent and a massive disappointment, but how could it have been anything else in the circumstances?! I admire Rowling’s imagination, but – as with George Lucas – she had reached a point where no-one dared tell her when she needed to change something.)

  2. I just saw it today and I liked it a ton, but I have partially grown up with the books, so I’m a little biased. I think this might be one occasion when it’s fine to be unable to divorce an adaptation from its source material — as long as you’re a fan of the books. It’s nice to see an unbiased opinion, Mr. Collins.

    Best part of this review: that you talk about Finchy for a paragraph.

    Greetings from Memphis.

  3. Personal taste as always of course, but if they’d made the last book into one 2.5 hour film I’d have felt cheated, rather than feeling cheated out of more money paying for 2 films. I suspect a lot of others would feel the same way. It is of course great for the film makers that they get to rake in twice as much cash, but I think it does happen to coincide with the best way to deal with the material. I think a lot of us have been disappointed with how much has had to be cut out of the previous films. They’ve always felt too fast to me, wheras I found the pace in this new one to be just right. To me, this film was giving the final chapter the care and attention it actually deserves. As a fan (though not an obsessive) it felt right to me.

  4. * Though I will add that I absolutely agree regarding the quality of the child acting. And feeling sad that we don’t get more out of the amazing adult cast.

  5. Was it ‘Finchy’ one of the three Minstry workers that our heroes transformed into or am I double confusing even myself. Have to agree about the acting of the three being poor. You would have though with all that time and money on there hands they could have got some acting lessons. In conclusion though any film that brings a tear to my eye cant be a to bad an experience. Made me excited for the final part.

  6. I saw it last weekend and rather enjoyed it. I also haven’t read any of the books but have seen all of the films. I thought the current movie was much better than the last two, which to me just felt rushed and confusing. I have to say that I haven’t 100% understood the plot of the whole saga but I’ve managed to grasp enough of it to keep me interested. At least by now the story has come down to one final “quest” and things are more focused. I’m looking forward to the final part. At the very least a Harry Potter film is an opportunity for me to sit and watch some fine British actors on the big screen for a couple of hours and annoy my American wife by leaning over and whispering “ohh it’s the bloke/woman from…..” in her ear every 10 minutes. A rare treat here in the US. I spotted Finchy too (he’s a bloody good rep!).

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