The common argument made against Hollywood that the movies it targets towards young’uns are invariably light, fluffy and unimaginative affairs cannot be fairly levelled at the Harry Potter movies, because they are not light and fluffy at all. At least not anymore.
Wading through the Potter movies post director Chris Columbus’ opening two syrupy instalments is like swimming through a muddy river or a sludge-strewn pool where beautiful phosphorescent creatures lurk on the bottom – thick, gluggy, filthy and far from soul-enriching, but not without some spectacular sights.
One of the first scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 depicts a meeting of sombre darkly dressed men. Led by fuzzy-faced flat-nosed franchise villain Lord Voldemort (a Photoshopped Ralph Fiennes), they mutter dastardly remarks from beneath a dying women suspended in mid air moments before she is lowered to the table via telekinesis or some sort of difficult to spell…spell and fed to a giant python who was too small to star in Anaconda (1997) and too big for Snakes on a Plane (2006).
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Not, in other words, the sort of cordial-n-Cadbury sugar hit parents would necessarily want their kiddies to see. Then again, it may be worth remembering that the 9-year-old pipsqueaks who held hands with mum and dad and frolicked into Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 are now old enough to legally buy booze, ciggies, drive a car and have sex, so perhaps there is some justification to the movies becoming less like magic carpet rides and more like dungeons and dragons.
The Deathly Hallows Part 1 arrives with the most nebulously defined story of them all. We are promptly informed that there is a war a-ragin’ and that the baddies – these are the ones dressed in dark clothes, FYI – are after Harry.
We – being the collective of people, small though it may seem, who haven’t read the books – don’t know how said war will be fought save the occasional wand pointing, what feats of CGI spectacular will be unravelled for our amusement or precisely which parameters of (il)logic will be stretched.
Staging the battle scenes in Harry Potter poses certain challenges; it is not like a Lord of the Rings style epic in which the director can cut from close-up combat shots to long sweeping images of infantry fighting in their thousands. The Potter punks zap each other with wands and there’s rarely more than a bunch of ‘em sharing the frame at any time.
Director David Yates is unable to shrug the sensation that JK Rowling’s storyline was a make-it-up-as-you-go plot presenting a series of spectacles and cryptic puzzles, of the kind the characters are led to rather than challenged on an intellectual level – and, of course, neither are we.
The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a collection of scenes, spectacles and sights gaffer taped together wirh what little there is of an overlapping narrative. This is the most naked story of any of the movies and it doesn’t seem to be “about” anything, let alone the end of the (Potter) universe as we know it. The grey cloud hovering over the experience is the knowledgte that it will end incomplete.
The first hour is right up there with the slowest and the dullest the franchise has to offer. The pace picks up; it had to otherwise David Yates would need to be credited with the cinematic equivalent of defying gravity, which he sort of did anyway: what goes down this low in terms of audience interest must surely come up, right?
The best scene in the movie is an elegantly creepy animated sequence severed from the narrative – a biblical-esque parable about the eponymous hallows and three brothers who are offered anything they wish from Death. Looking like it owes a nod to director Anthony Lucas’ 2005 Australian short The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, it’s a lovely, stylised strip of film, and it goes for literally a couple of minutes in an experience that lasts for 146.
Do the maths.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1’s Australian theatrical release date: November 18, 2010.