November 19, 2010
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Whew! Lining up at midnight isn’t what it used to be. For one thing, midnight movies used to be cheaper. Not any more. Frank Theatres tacked on an extra two bucks for Thursday night’s 12 p.m. showings of “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” Expecting mobs, they put it on four screens. You can do that these days with digital projectors, because you don’t need four “prints.” There are no prints. The show is on a central computer and – providing you’ve made the deal – it can run on any one or every one of the 10 electronic projectors.
Was it worth the wait?
What, for half a Hallows? Fork over a 20 percent bump to see the first act of “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” – then wait until July for the second act – and pay again?
What do they take us for? Uh. Better not ask, since they appear to be right. Lots of the people in the dead-of-night crowd said they’ll be back to give it a second go over the weekend – and pay again – and buy high-dollar popcorn – again.
On its own, “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is just not a very good movie. Sorry, but it isn’t. It’s not even a whole movie. It’s just the introduction to a movie. Making long movies in two parts isn’t a good idea. Remember the “Kill Bill” pictures? By the time you saw the second half, you’d forgotten the first half.
Half-Hallows is disappointing, because it is essentially prologue to the real Potter finale next summer. It’s a preview – probably the longest preview ever made. Ever. Ever.
Long? Two hours and six minutes of anticipation and getting ready and leading up and starting off and plodding ahead. As engaging as these now-familiar actors are, and as enchanting as the world of wizards is for Harry Potter’s legion of devoted fans, this is a drum roll that builds and builds and then just stops.
It’s half a movie, if that. We won’t know until July when the other half of the movie comes along. We’ll have to buy another ticket to see the rest of the picture. Deathly Hallows is like one chapter of those Saturday serials. Its story picks up from where previous chapters left off and works up to a cliff-hanger non-ending: Harry Potter in “The Purple Monster Strikes.”
There is well-crafted material in it, given the amount of enjoyable action (a car chase, even!) director David Yates gives us along the way to nowhere. Otherwise, it’s a gloomy, dread-filled workup to the long-anticipated final confrontation of Potter with his nemesis Voldemort without reaching it.
There is more decline in fun, charm and delight. That has been going downhill, picture after picture, as Harry gets older and closer to The Last Battle. Its story parallels life’s trip from the enchantment of childhood along torturous and winding paths through adolescence to brute reality of adulthood.
Here Potter and his pals, now pretty much grown and into relationships, head off on a camping trip for most of the first half of this first half. It gets pretty slow despite occasional challenges and insignificant skirmishes that never seem to move them very far down the long trail to the fires of Mordor.
Oops. Wrong epic. If you think it took Frodo a long time lose that ring you’d find the penultimate Potter pic really takes its time. Eye candy galore, to be sure, except when scenery is too dark to see. Of course, if you’ve read all the books you will be pleased (I suppose) at how closely the photoplay sticks to the Sacred Text.
That could be why the lengthy Deathly Hallows narrative was split into two adventures, with adventure number two being the really terrific one of the pair. The more cynical will figure producers had their eye on the box office, knowing that when this story finally ends there won’t be another to follow.
True believers who’ve followed Harry from the start – on page and on screen – will probably enjoy it. For people meeting Mr. Potter for the first time it is liable to be incomprehensible at worst and frustrating at best. Sorry, but you guys will have to Netflix the first ones and then see this again to make anything very coherent out of it.
Characters pop up from previous episodes without introduction. Maybe we are supposed to remember and recognize them. Others suddenly disappear from the story. Guess we will see them in Part 2 – if we go to Part 2. Maybe book readers know, but this picture gives only rushed explanations if any as it plunges along determined to give a tap to as many bits from the book as it can — sacrificing clarity and narrative. Parts of the plot begin … then end without satisfactory completion. I could go on. It does, until finally after a couple of hours climbing its story mountain it reaches its park bench and plops. End of Act One. There will be a six month intermission.
Are you a Potter person? Why are you reading this review? You know you are going, if you didn’t go Thursday night. If you did, you know you are going again.
Not among the Potterati? Best advice? Give up and read all the books before you buy your ticket. Maybe there are Cliff Notes you can zip through, get some general idea.