Friday, November 19, 2010

Found in Translation: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

 [East Coast]

Spoilers spoilers blah blah blah.

Watching the Lincoln Square IMAX fill up that rapidly at 3:30 in the morning was a little startling, but not as startling as how much I loved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part one!). Anyone who will listen probably knows of my general disdain bordering on loathing for the film adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban, and on paper, it's for many of the same tactics and decision Yates employed for Deathy Hallows. The results, however, are drastically different.

Some personal framework, here: I think Order of the Phoenix was the last good Harry Potter book. I found Half-Blood Prince to be draggy and largely uninteresting, stifling with the teenage love plots and what felt, for the first time, like a really tedious school year at Hogwarts. The Deathly Hallows I found to be an immense disappointment, from the endless camping trip of doom to the MacGuffins upon MacGuffins, a rankling line of artifacts and characters who had never so much as been foreshadowed suddenly becoming integral to the plot and progression of the story. It felt cheap and unwieldy to me, and the epilogue was just insult to injury. I walked away from the franchise feeling very let down.

However, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet and Fire, and Order of the Pheonix would always be there. The trio at their sharpest, the glimpses of a wizarding world past at their most tantalizing. So it was all right. Damned if I didn't loathe the third movie though, and this is because I felt style ran rough-shod over story. Curaon made a decision to completely excise the pieces of that book that a) made pieces of the story as a seven-book-whole make sense and b) created an emotional bridge between the past and both Harry and the audience. I was horrifically angry that at the end of the movie. If you hadn't read the books, you walked away without knowing who Moony, Padfoot and Prongs were. It was not difficult to find a place to divulge that information. There were opportunities aplenty. They were all exchanged for Lupin waxing loquacious about Lily's virtues;  the boys eating candy that caused them to make animal noises; yet another 'this is where we do a sweeping virtual shot of the school grounds using a magical creature's POV' sequence. By shaving seconds off of the plethora of atmosphere/world-building shots devoid of story, they could have easily inserted one to three minutes of Lupin having ANY OF THE CONVERSATIONS FROM THE BOOK with Harry. Hell, ROLL THEM ALL INTO ONE. And then we would know who the Marauders were and why they mattered, and why Harry's patronus is a stag. Harry doesn't even know why his patronus is a stag. This willful dismissal of easily-addressed details drives me crazy because of the far-reaching effects of their exclusion.

Cuaron "stream lined" it into a "coming of age" story. Well, the entire series is a coming of age story, so how much streamlining did we need to do? The worst part is, the things left out of the third movie can never be revisited, because the books get bigger and more complex. There's no room for that information. What a terrible waste.

So Deathly Hallows comes along. The decision to make it into two films was clearly the correct one, not just from the point of view of We'll All Be Rich Forever, but from a storytelling one. Brava. Now even cleaving the story in twain, we are left with an absolutely ridiculous amount of information to put on screen, largely because the books are not only tying up all the loose ends of the cast of thousands Rowling has given us, but because she introduces a whole new thousand-member-strong cast. It's like 42nd Street with magic, it's insane. Then the director is saddled with giving the extent characters their due and screentime, which is difficult enough in, say, Goblet of Fire. Yet Yates manages, despite having to streamline the hell out of what was a sprawling, often tedious and not infrequently convoluted story.

So far, I much prefer Deathly Hallows the movie to Deathly Hallows the book. The feeling of a world on the edge, of a constant rippling danger, unease and melancholy is palpable. The magic is beautiful. The locations are believable. The people are idiosyncratic and interesting and the characters are so full and easy to connect to- and almost no vital details are sacrificed. I can't even think of one off-hand.  What I'm saying is, this movie has atmosphere out the ass and yet still tells the damn story, considerably more expeditiously than the novel. Everything that annoyed me about the book is gone, and everything I enjoyed has been succinctly and stylishly committed to screen. And the scenes he added in serve a purpose! The Harry-Hermione dance sequence shows us how desperate their spirits are, how close they are to each other, that their love is platonic and that at the end, things aren't right without their third. Unlike all the conversations with Lupin in PoA which were filled with banal advice and no real information or foreshadowing and didn't further the story, the totally new content in Deathly Hallows 2.0 does all of these things. Brava, Yates.

The director has stated that he wants the second half of the story to have a very different feel and a return to the fantasy adventure of the earlier ones, which is of course the perfect way for the movies to end. All I can really hope for is a Gellert/Albus makeout scene, since JK dropped that bomb on us. That awesome gaytastic bomb. Don't let me down, Yates. You haven't, yet.


LoquaciousMuse said...

Lovelovelove the dance scene. It might have been Emma Watson who described it as Harry and Hermione wordlessly committing to their platonic status. Or at least Hermione. Harry was lonely and horny and totes wanted to bone.