Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows, and the mystery of the suspicious Entertainment Weekly review
Have you seen Liza Schwarzbaum's review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part 1? I don't know the writer, but after having watched the underwhelming movie (and noting how the narrative effectively stops dead once Harry, Hermione, and Ron go camping), I returned to Schwarzbaum's reaction with renewed interest. The writing is so vague, so smitten, and so reverent, it left me wondering if a fix was on:
"We all know the end is near. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1 breaks the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's epic modern literary classic into two movies, and haunting every frame of this assured and beautiful first half is the knowledge that soon, in 2011, the screen journey will be over. I don't know which had the greater effect: my real melancholy at the thought of looming finality, or the elegance of this necessarily dark and serious penultimate film, in which characters/actors we have watched since childhood are now resourceful young adults. But I do know I felt a swell of love and awe wash over me from the very first wickedly creepy scene until the profoundly moving last one. Under the direction of David Yates — in Goldilocks terms, he's Just Right, having gently guided the series to more consistent excellence in pace and tone with the last two installments — Part 1 is the most cinematically rewarding chapter yet.
What a marvel it is, this Harry Potter movie business! What a spell the experience casts, now that every detail is so familiar to us, from the ghostly sound of the signature minor-key musical theme to the sight of Voldemort's hideous noseless face! All the grand British thespians who bring Rowling's convocation of wizardly characters to life, from Alan Rickman and Imelda Staunton to Michael Gambon and Robbie Coltrane, do so with utterly serious gusto. As for Hogwarts besties Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, we've lived side by side for so long with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint that their (re)appearance carries honest emotional weight: We've known them since they were kids! [snarky italics added]"
Well, yes, Deathly Hallows trots out the usual gang of top-notch British actors, and it has its occasional fun scene, but the playfulness of the love potions in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has now been replaced with much concern over wands, specifically which wands will be used to fight that last BIG BATTLE (ZAP!) between Voldemort and Harry in Part 2 due to be released on July 15, 2011. Voldemort wants a super nuclear mega-wand with big black bulges for his side of that special effects extravaganza. Harry gets his broken. Much heavy duty wand activity is going down in this film.
Still, can one respectfully ask if this is a review or further promotional copy? I looked around the Entertainment Weekly editorial page and found that it is owned by Time Inc. Then a bit of internet research led me to this Time Warner webpage, where one learns that the Harry franchise and this magazine are owned by the same company. Hmmm.
Perhaps, there wasn't marketing pressure on Schwarzbaum to love this film. Perhaps she's doing all of the swooning on her own, but I found The Deathly Hallows oddly Twilight-esque once the Emma, Harry, and Ron threesome start hanging out in one blank, beautiful, gloriously-lit landscape after the next. A romantic triangle? Much nature imagery? Emma Watson even appears to adopt the sulky mien of Kristen Stewart. Given that the filmmakers need to find some of the few places on earth free of the omnipresent marketing of recent Harry Potter product, I suppose that scenes of sunset-enhanced nature would do the trick (one can see the same pretty dead tree behind them in various scenes). Anyway, back to EW's review:
"In The Deathly Hallows, of course, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are deep in their struggle toward adulthood, truly on their own and unprotected, except by one another. (Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is nowhere to be seen this time.) The final showdown between the Chosen One (Harry) and the Dark Lord (Voldemort, embodied with chilling, hairless silkiness by Ralph Fiennes) is still to come. Meanwhile, the schoolmates are on a continued mission to find and destroy the Horcruxes, those magical bits of his black soul that Voldemort has hidden in order to hang on to immortality. The world is an anxious, paranoid place, what with the Dark Lord's Death Eaters on the loose. The look of the movie is apocalyptically desolate too — when it's not baroquely sepulchral, as it is in the bowels of the Ministry of Magic. An early scene at Voldemort's dinner table, surrounded by his senior Death Eaters, is terrifying."
The Voldemort dinner scene mostly boils down to some PG-13 torture of a minor Hogwarts teacher and one CGI snake attacking the camera. I actually preferred the Ministry of Magic Brazil-esque paranoid sequence when Harry, Hermione, and Ron assume the disguises of middle-aged bureaucrats to infiltrate the proceedings (although I find it ironic that a movie with such a totalitarian hold over the media threatens its characters with a fascist takeover). Still, Schwarzbaum fails to mention that an excess of "apocalyptically desolate" imagery can be a drag after, say, four or five, or six or seven movies in a row. I always wonder if Rowling feels obliged to include all of this requisite gloomy mise en scene as a way to counterbalance the basic silliness of the magic. As the threesome face down various terrorist-wand attacks, I found myself wondering--as the franchise feeds off of so much nostalgia and teenage brand-identification, does anyone mind how repetitive the franchise has become? Does it bother anyone that J. K. Rowling now has her threesome hunt around for a sword, a locket, a mystical symbol, etc., just like the young characters do in Sucker Punch, The Hobbit, not to mention the innumerable other kiddie-quest flicks already released? At one point, Harry finds a much needed magic sword in a frozen pond, and these lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail came to mind:
"King Arthur: I am your king.
Peasant Woman: Well, I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Peasant Woman: Well, how'd you become king, then?
[Angelic music plays... ]
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.
Dennis the Peasant: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur: Be quiet!
Dennis the Peasant: You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!"
Anyway, back to Schwarzbaum's gushing:
"All this takes a toll on Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Or maybe, as Rowling so astutely weaves into her books, it's the not-so-magically dispelled fears, doubts, and longings of true adulthood that weigh the trio down. Either way, Yates, working with cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Girl With a Pearl Earring), keeps the picture poised between the gaping future (i.e., Harry's scheduled showdown with Voldemort) and the groping present, as the three friends test their adult support of one another. In one of the movie's sweetest wordless moments, Harry comforts Hermione. Ron has stormed off after a fight with Harry, Hermione is sad and troubled, and Harry spontaneously leads his dear friend in a dance. The scene isn't in the book; it's the rare deviation of an addition to the sacred text, rather than an unavoidable cut made for Muggle-driven movie purposes. Yet the gesture is so tender, and such a welcome breath of warmth in such a dark time, that the grace note demonstrates an integrity I feel sure Rowling would applaud. This is who Harry Potter has grown up to be: a young man strong enough to love his friends (including dear, devoted Dobby the house elf; O Dobby!), clever enough to outwit his foes, and brave enough to face his future. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1 also bravely faces the future, slipping with expert ease among the thrilling mass of complications (and complicated set pieces) that Rowling throws fans in the final sprint, then guiding the faithful to the fate that awaits everyone in this world, the moment called The End. A-"
After a review like that, what is the minus for? I imagine Rowling did applaud that sweet "tender" moment because she produced the movie. For this reviewer, Potter's little dance briefly alleviated the tedium of the entire second half of the film, but I wouldn't want to interfere with the nostalgia of the "faithful" as they all "bravely face" the next big Warners Brothers' cash-in this summer. I, for one, will be glad when all of this expertly marketed Horcrux huggermuggery is over.