The Calm Before the Storm
Earlier this week I finally got to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1... perhaps the last movie I'll watch in a theater this year. Perhaps that's a good thing, to end 2010's movie-watching memories with a good, perhaps even great, film.
This penultimate chapter in the Potter movie series is, of course, only the first half of one whole movie that adapts the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's worldwide hit series of children's books. Unlike most every other film in the franchise, this chapter has none of the trappings that one would think part and parcel of the Potter saga- a jolly train trip to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the expected magical pranks and sight gags along with the requisite wide-eyed expression of wonder from Harry and the gang (which happened so many times even after several years of being around magic and sorcery on a daily basis). There's little to no laugh-out loud comedy, no silliness or mirth in the current state of things in the Wizarding World. Though refreshingly still bursting with familiar faces as most of the Potter cast return, the reunions are somber and guarded.
The movie opens with heartbreaking scenes of silent farewell- from Hermione Granger literally erasing herself from her muggle (non-wizard) parents' memories to Harry watching the Dursleys depart forever from Privet Place, to the Weasleys' hiding out in a remote camp, away from their usually warm and cozy homestead. The situation truly is dire, and the enemy is very real and very, very serious. Voldemort and his Death Eaters are in control, and they seem to be taking out anyone in their way in very quick and easy fashion. All that's standing in his way is Harry- a clueless youth being protected desperately by a small band of loyal friends and associates in the Order of the Phoenix- an organization that is losing members daily, that has already lost it's leader one movie ago.
Before even the first thirty minutes is up, no less than three characters- all recognized and beloved, two of whom have been in the films since the beginning- are maimed or killed. As the opening monologue from Bill Nighy's Minister Rufus Scrimgeour intones, "These are dark times."
What follows is a short respite of forced normalcy, before the core trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are forced on the run on the cold streets of London, complete with a chases and a magical firefight that seems more at home in the Jason Bourne films, albeit with spells and curses rather than bullets. It doesn't take long though for the trio to vanish off into the wilderness, far away from the cities and hunters, and into a time of seclusion.
It's this part of Hallows Part 1, the extended time spent in the middle of the forest by themselves, that this film is, depending on the viewer, at it's best or worst. For some it may be something like Harry VS Wild. Or the Potter Witch Project. But for those who let the mood of the scene take you, it's pretty atmospheric and powerful, showcasing some of the best acting from the young actors yet in these movies. The forest scenes are deathly quiet, with minimal music, if any. The young wizards are left alone with no clues on how to progress, the fates of their friends and family unsure. Their only trump card is that in their possession is a Horcrux- one of the pieces of Voldemort's soul that are the keys to his destruction. Unfortunately, like some ring from another fantasy series, the object seems indestructible, and worse, corrupting. Before the lengthy forest sequence ends, friendships are tested to their limits and the trio won't be leaving their refuge intact.
As this is only half of one book, an incomplete chapter, it's still a good testament to the script that there's still quite a few action scenes as well as a good finale with a fair bit of climax, ending with an event that is heart-piercingly sad and personal. It's a quiet moment of profound sadness and loss for Harry which does wonders into making sure that any viewer who has loved these films and characters will not be able to wait to get to the next and final chapter of this series for some well-deserved comeuppance.
While previous Potter films have consistently shown differences in directorial and visual style, this Potter's striking difference is in the tone and dark mood, an oppressive aura and feeling of defeat that you see or feel rarely at this caliber in any film franchise. Really, did you think that the Fellowship of the Ring or The Rebel Alliance had it bad? Harry Potter has it worse, in his own right! As usual though, the uniform and consistent excellence of production quality, characters and performances and the sheer brilliance of the execution in bringing Rowling's continually-evolving world to the big screen are things that I continue to enjoy with this series.
One more film to go, and it's all over. Man, July 2011 should be so profoundly glorious and, as well, profoundly sad.