Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 plunges into a very dark, foreboding, disorienting vision.
It furiously teleports us to various bleak and alienating mise-en-scenes, to prepare us for the big finale of Part 2 next summer.
Dorothy, you're not at Hogwarts anymore.
It's hard to get a grasp on Part 1, because it seems like an opening act for a superstar to come. Part 2 -- to be released in 3-D in 2011 -- has the promise of fulfillment. Part 1 is not fulfilling.
It's inchoate magic. Harry Potter has been cleaved. J.K. Rowling's 759-page book has been cut in two. Screenwriter Steve Kloves helped provide the hacking.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the tone has completed its change. The initial innocence, playfulness, and fresh discovery of magic is long gone. The pain and terror of the death of Harry's parents is now the tone. Horror now prevails.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the spastic story of Harry under endless assault. He is desperately trying to escape, with the aid of his peers and protectors, from the vicious minions of evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
But it appears to be a dismal, hopeless struggle. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are under severe duress. They have lost trust in one another. They become embittered. Teenage angst hyperventilates into devastating alienation.
What is missing from Part 1 is the human dimension. It gets shoved off the screen by the incessant barrage of attacks and wild flights of CGI.
There are a few moments of humanity, but they are rare. There is one scene in which Harry and Hermione dance that has warmth and charm. But most of the trio's encounters have cold vulnerability.
The most sympathetic scene is not between human beings; it is with the elf Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones). I realized how much I was being manipulated by the scene, but I succumbed anyway. It was a welcome emotional respite.
The movie has little time for humanity. The main characters spend most of the movie running and ducking.
The cast of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is still a list of first-rate actors: Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, et al. But it is the voice of Toby Jones that perhaps is most memorable. Jones has portrayed Karl Rove, Truman Capote, and Swifty Lazar -- not paragons of sympathy. Loyal Dobby is virtue in the movie.
Director David Yates reunites with Bill Nighy, the masterly actor whom he directed in the tv movie The Girl in the Cafe (2006) and also in the memorable BBC-tv series State of Play (2003). In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, -- as the ill-fated Minister of Magic -- Nighy speaks one of the movie's significant lines, "These are dark times, there is no denying."
Humanity is as important as magic. It's more important than 3-D, CGI, and OMG.
The letters of literature are more enduring than the fallible letters of movie technique.
Part 2 is in 3-D. Let's hope humanity survives style.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron deserve no less.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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