Sunday, 21 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (dir. David Yates, 2010)


Last Harry Potter post for a few months, I promise! The new film was brilliant, I loved it. There are spoilers for both the film and the other half of the book below, so if you haven't read the book, stop reading now!

Like most of the later stories, direct Classical references are restricted mostly to the Latin spells, and to Xenophilius Lovegood not quite living up to his name (roughly, 'brotherly lover of foreigners/strangers'. Betraying your guests to Lord Voldemort definitely constitutes a breach of xenia, guest-friendship, the often unwritten rules surrounding visits and relationships with other families/rulers/warriors etc).

What is really interesting about Deathly Hallows for me, though, is its use of folktale. 'Folktale' is a really difficult thing to pin down and define. There are whole academic journals devoted to 'folklore', but it is also possible to argue that, at least in the ancient world, 'folklore' as a separate category did not exist. Where does 'myth' stop and 'folklore' begin? Often, the answers suggested have a slight air of snobbishness about them, with 'folklore' being stories told by 'ordinary people'. More satisfactory is the idea that myth is inextricably connected to religion, while folklore is not, but in the ancient world, even this doesn't entirely hold up. Various sections from the Odyssey are often identified as folklore (most convincingly, the instruction to Odysseus to carry his oar inland until he finds a place where no one knows what it is, and settle there - there's an excellent article on this by William Hansen in Lowell Edmunds' Approaches to Greek Myth). But most of us would happily place the Odyssey under 'myth'. And although some ancient myths are closely tied to religious practice, not all of them are, so where do we draw the line? This perhaps becomes easier once we move out of the ancient world and into the Christian era in the West, since the division between official religion and other supernatural stories suddenly becomes much stronger.

The invented folktales in Deathly Hallows, I think, bear the closest resemblence to the Franco-Germanic folktales collected by the Brothers Grimm (many of their stories came from middle to upper class French ladies, so how close they are to the oral tradition among German peasants is hard to say). The three brothers, in particular, is a common theme among European fairy tales. Classical mythology also lacks such a strong Death figure - Hades is the god of the underworld, and would come closest, but Persephone is also frequently referenced in her role as Queen of the underworld while Hercules or Mercury sometimes lead people down to the underworld, so there isn't so much of a single figure to focus on. (By the way, I realise I've been using 'fairy tale' and 'folktale' interchangeably, which is also a bit naughty - see JRR Tolkien's 'On Fairy Stories', which is a brilliant deconstruction of the term 'fairy tale').

I'm never quite sure how I feel about the fact that the folktales here are actually inventions by Rowling. Of course, I realise, they have to be, because there are no real stories about an Elder Wand, Resurrection Stone or Invisibility Cloak of Death. And the existence in the Potterverse of a whole community of wizards the rest of us know nothing about means that the appearance of invented fairy tales does not stand out as much as Joss Whedon's similar use of invented fairy tales in the Buffy episode 'Hush', which is an absolutely fantastic episode but did, on first viewing, leave me thinking 'Is this a fairy tale I don't know about?!' I find it a shame, in a way, that after seeing so many 'real' mythological beasts and tales from all over Europe, we end on 'fake' ones, but they have a very real feel to them which works rather nicely. The shadow puppet representation of the story in the film is really beautiful - it has an incredibly spooky feel to it, the look is perfect for a folkloric tale and the sequence also lifts the film at a point where, judging from the noise the kids behind us in the cinema were making, children might be starting to get restless.

Hermione selects a number of really uncomfortable looking campsites in this film, and this one has to be the worst - the muddy estuary underneath the second Severn Bridge!

There is one important difference between these and genuine, orally transmitted folk tales though. 'Real' folk tales, which are traditional and have no one identified creator, do not tend to carry a moral message. This is not to say we can't draw moral messages from them, often extremely dubious ones ('Beauty and the Beast' has some particularly dodgey implications about male/female relationships). But that's not usually their primary objective, probably because the telling and re-telling of them tends to dilute any such object. There are, on the other hand, related tales which are like folk tales and are sometimes called fairy tales, but which have a specific message to impart to the reader or listener and which tend to be the inventions of specific authors - Aesop's fables, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales or Oscar Wilde's short tales, for example. The Tales of Beedle the Bard are of this type. Ron's reference to his mother saying 'midnight' instead of 'twilight' suggests that these stories have a strong oral tradition, but Hermione's copy has a clear author, Beedle (plus a real life author, Rowling), and the story has a clear message - you cannot cheat Death. (Of course, these are actually about 'real' Potterverse things and are presumably 'true' in the story, which makes them a bit different, but I think going into that would just confuse the issue!).

As for other stuff... well, I loved it. I think the decision to split it into two films was genuinely the right artistic decision, as this film was so much better paced, since it could take its time over everything. I think the split point was well chosen, though I would have added a final scene with Lupin, Tonks and the baby to lighten it up a bit and give the film a slightly stronger sense of closure - as some critics have pointed out, it does stop rather abruptly, but all it needed was an extra conversation with a more rounded-up feeling to it. And who would have thought, when he turned up as an unbelievingly irritating character on a par with Jar-Jar Binks in Chamber of Secrets, that Dobby would end up having a death on roughly the same trauma level as Simba's dad in The Lion King or Bambi's mother?! (What that an animatronic Harry was holding by the way? Whatever it was, it was very good). I bawled like a baby at that bit.

I was rather surprised to see Bill and Fleur's wedding, as I had assumed that this would be altered to Lupin and Tonks' wedding, since we've seen basically nothing of their romance on screen and we're supposed to care about their family in Part Two, whereas Bill and Fleur don't do much of significance in the rest of the story. Still, it was nice to see Fleur and Madame Maxime again (shame there wasn't time for Krum). I loved seeing poor Hermione leave her parents and Harry and Hermione's little dance was very sweet (though my friend pointed out that Harry dances a bit like a Dad at a wedding). It was wonderful to see John Hurt back as well - Chris Columbus should be saluted for casting fabulous actors in tiny cameos in the first film, when we had no idea where they were going to end up (I think we're all particularly looking forward to Mrs Weasley's finest hour in Part Two).

The film has a muted, depressed tone - obviously - and the numerous references to Nazi Germany were blindingly obvious, though no less effective for that (though I did think that the woman under interrogation being dressed as if she was from the 1940s was going a bit far. And why did our heroes' tent look like a bunker - couldn't Hermione have brought some cushions? And a better radio?). The locket, thankfully, did not resemble the One Ring too much, though the one good thing about that particular blatent steal is that at least, unlike certain hobbits, our heroes go for the very sensible option of sharing the wearing of it. I really never, never wanted to see that much of Harry and Hermione in the evil vision though.

It's partly because of the very well presented depressed tone that it might have been nice to see the baby at the end - ending on a tragic death makes dramatic sense, but does result in everyone leaving the cinema feeling kind of downcast, which isn't really what I look for in Harry Potter! These are minor niggles though - this is a brilliant adaptation, one of the best yet, and to be fair there is plenty of (genuinely funny) humour scattered throughout. Not quite as good as Goblet of Fire, but highly recommended.

I love Hermione's dress for the wedding, it's such a beautiful colour. And I want her lovely beaded bag, gigantic magic expansion room or not!

21 comments:

  1. Haven't seen the film yet and was unsure whether I should dive into this post or wait, but I'm glad I went ahead and read it. Now looking forward to the movie more than ever!

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  2. I'm glad! I'm not usually too worried about films I've read the books for, but I try not to go into too much detail about extra stuff, since it's nice to see it fresh!

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  3. Wasn't going to read this, since I haven't seen the film yet. And then I realised, it's not like I can be spoiled for the story... :)

    Although, having watched a bit of the behind the scenes programme that was on tv earlier, I was a bit surprised by the sudden appearance of Bill, and the re-appearance of Fleur, since we've had nothing of that plotline at all previously. And I hadn't considered it, but Lupin and Tonks' wedding would have made a good substitute (although up until now the films have remained pretty faithful to the books, so I'm not sure how such a change would have gone down with the diehard fans...)

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  4. I was *really* surprised to see Bill there, people who just watch the movies must have wondered who on earth he was! Even Charlie would have been better as at least he's been mentioned a few times. And no offence to the actor, but Bill wasn't as good-looking as he's supposed to be...

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  5. What a coincidence, I just got back from watching the movie! Will write about it tomorrow as am going to enjoy the end of the evening with my friends.

    Was also suprised to see Bill, his absence was one of the things that really annoyed me about the lack of that final battle in Half-Blood Prince, which is when he got bit by the werewolf wizard! And Charlie should have been there!!! Ditto Percy accompanying the Minister... he's been awol since he graduated from Hogwarts.

    I truly expected the movie to end with the snatching episode and facing Bellatrix! But I agree this is a much better point to end... although I expected it to continue just a few minutes more at that little house for a conversation with that goblin and a certain bank vault... ;o) They could have still ended with the Voldemort image.

    I thought of you at the end of the film, did you notice the change in composer? Alexandre Desplat, a great one for soundtracks! I guess someone up high agreed with your complaints about the music in the last two films! ;o)

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  6. They changed composer! I was just thinking, the music must have been better in this one because I didn't notice it on first viewing, which means it blended perfectly with the film - that explains it! Yay!

    It was a shame to leave Bill out of Half Blood Prince, but having done so, it just seems totally random to see him crop up here! The weirdest thing about Percy is the way he appears as a Ministry minion in Order of the Phoenix, so it looks like they're going to do the Percy story, but then he just gets dropped again.

    I had wondered if they'd go right up to the dragon, since that would make a more upbeat ending, but that would be too far through - I think they picked the right spot, it just needed one more conversation to round it off! :)

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  7. I haven't read the book, so I don't know what to expect but I thought the pacing was terrible. There was too much of the teleporting around randomly, camping and moping. Couldn't that have been reduced maybe?

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  8. I saw it last night and I was impressed. Treating parts 1 and 2 as a single film, I'd say it may be the best of the lot. But, yeah, without the backstory, viewers would be utterly clueless. I quite liked Neville's one scene; it's nice foreshadowing for his Crowning Moment of Awesome that had better be in the next film. I also liked the inclusion of Hermione erasing herself from her parent's lives; it was a lot more powerful than the throwaway mention in the book. I also thought Tom Felton did some remarkable acting with almost no lines.

    The folktale/fairy tale dichotomy is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that many fairy tale writers and collectors took extant folktales and polished them to make them more acceptable and "child-friendly". Perrault did and so did the Grimms. The Grimms may have gotten a lot of stories from their French nursemaid, but they also collected a lot of authentic German tales. It's just that the French stories tend to be the better known and were more likely to be included in the less scholarly versions of the collection.

    Anyway, I can't wait for July.

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  9. Hussein - They have reduced it. The camping in the book was that bad! Most of the first half was endless camping with literally no direction because they kept apparating (normally I like the camping parts of quests, but's because normally our heroes are moving in a linear fashion and the landscape etc is changing around them, and there's a real sense of progress, but there's none of that when they just apparate around at random).

    Demetrios - yes, I liked Neville's scene too. I was really pleased to see the Hogwarts Express, just as a reminder that everyone else is still in school and that Hogwarts is still where we're ultimately aiming for. And that everyone else still exists! In a way it's probably a good thing that we got this film to really focus on the main three characters, but it'll be good to see everyone else back in Part 2. And Felton was brilliant - I really got a feeling that Draco was deliberately covering Harry's ass in this one (who else would be hanging around in a wood with Ron and Hermione?!) whereas in the book, he seemed not so much conflicted and scared, as he was here, but just kinda weak.

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  10. Oh yes, I meant to add that, according to my daughter who actually studied this sort of thing, that was an animatronic Dobby that Harry was holding. I wondered myself. I mean if they can digitally remove Ralph Fiennes nose from every frame, then surely they could do some CGI magic in that scene. But you can see Harry's fingers distorting Dobby's skin. An excellent piece of work.

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  11. "though my friend pointed out that Harry dances a bit like a Dad at a wedding"

    He's dancing with his best friends girlfriend. If it was with Ginny, he might have been a bit more intimate.

    "and a better radio?"

    What the movie never clearly states is that the station they are listening to is Potterwatch, which is an underground "Voice of the Resistance" type radio station run by the Order of the Phoenix. Given that is is an unauthorized magical radio station run by people on that are apparently moving from hiding place to hiding place, I though it quite appropriate that it did not sound as clear as your average commercial pop music FM station.

    "I really never, never wanted to see that much of Harry and Hermione in the evil vision though."

    LOL! Well, considering that most of the people that started on the series as little kid are now older teens, I think the director was tossing a bone at the more hormone addled part of their audience. Judging by the comments I've seen on forums, it went over rather well with the teenage males.

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  12. I can see why the radio was crackly - I was a bit surprised it was such an old-fashioned model, but I suppose, since wizards don't seem to have moved much beyond the medieval period, aesthetically, having a radio at all is quite impressive!

    I thought it must be an animatronic, since he was holding it so firmly - I wondered if they'd done some CGI work on the face, but maybe not - it was certainly very impressive!

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  13. Ooh, I just thought of something else I wanted to ask. Do you know where that was where they camped right after Ron left? Somewhere up high on these odd flat rocks separated by deep grooves. Where they danced. It was a very interesting landscape.

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  14. Hunh... I don't remember Percy in Order of the Phoenix! :p

    And I agree, LOVED Hermione's memory spell at the beginning, had me in tears!!!

    Neville had better get his glory moment in part 2, he got robbed (as well as Ginny and the rest of the DA in Half-Blood Prince)! grrrr... still seething over the lack of that fight!

    My post is up, and it's all over the place! lol!

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  15. I don't, but I did spend that entire scene wondering why on earth they were camping on top of a big pile of rocks, which looked very uncomfortable! It was a fascinating rock formation (my Dad's a geologist, so I think these things are really interesting, but I don't know much about them myself!). It didn't look like any part of Wales I'm familiar with and the hills/mountains looked quite high so I wondered if it was Scotland, or maybe the Lake District.

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  16. I did get quite excited when I recognised the Dartford tunnel and Queen Elizabeth bridge, which is near where I used to live in Kent, on second viewing (the bus that said 'Dartford' helped!)

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  17. I thought it looked rather uncomfortable, too. Though they did have the tent on what looked to be a somewhat smoother area. There was this long shot that looked like they were on top of a cliff. At first, I thought it might be Dover, but that certainly wasn't chalk.

    CrazyCris: Actually, Neville should get TWO moments of awesome. His huge moment at the end, but when he first appears and helps them get into Hogwarts is also pretty good.

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  18. "...I did spend that entire scene wondering why on earth they were camping on top of a big pile of rocks, which looked very uncomfortable!"

    Didn't they have bunks inside the tent?

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  19. Yeah, they had bunks to sleep on, but one of them always had to be perched on a rock outside keeping watch - ouch!

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  20. I disagree with you on one point, Juliette--though Goblet will always have the best score (John Williams is returning for DH Pt 2, so...ick), I think that this film was leaps and bounds better. As a film. Although you make the excellent point--what about Teddy Lupin?

    I don't know, but I can't wait for midnight 15 July.

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  21. I'm home for the weekend, so I asked Dad about the exciting rocks - they're a limestone pavement at Malham, in the Pennines, in the Peak District. Apparently it forms when rain erodes weak parts of the limestone and creates crevasses between parts of the rock. I've only been to the Peak Distrcit once or twice, but it is beautiful, and has a few particularly interesting rock formations I think, they often crop up in adaptations of Pride and Prejudice!

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