More Thoughts on ‘Harry Potter 7.1′
Generally speaking, I liked Harry Potter 7.1. It did the job it was supposed to do – basically, get you ramped up for 7.2 next summer, when, y’know, the BIG stuff happens.
And it pretty faithfully adapted the book yet again, which in this case meant I nearly fell asleep during the whole wandering-around-in-the-woods-looking-for-horcruxes-and-kind-of-ripping-off-Lord-of-the-Rings section, but was roused back to consciousness once that was over.
But my problem with the movie series in general starts right there – they adapt the books faithfully, while missing that what makes for a good book doesn’t make for a good movie. The Potter book series is fine going off on tangents and side-plots because, well, they’re books. They have the space and the readers devoted enough to the universe that they can take the time. In book form, taking a 20-page chapter of downtime to enjoy a formal occasion feels a lot like real life – no matter what’s going on in your life, if you’ve got a friend’s wedding coming up, well then, you go attend that wedding. That’s nice…in a book.
But movies have two hours to tell one story, and for that to work properly, every minute captured on film needs to relate to the overall narrative. When I started reading Deathly Hallows, at about 100 pages in, I thought, “Well, they’ll probably have to cut out that whole Bill Weasley’s Wedding part, since Bill’s such a minor character that explaining why everyone’s gathered at a wedding when there’s so much bigger stuff afoot will slow the movie to a halt.”
Turns out I was half-right: Despite slowing the movie to a halt at an exact point where it needed to pile on the excitement (considering the wandering-the-woods middle section was coming up), they went ahead and stuck the wedding scene in, just tightened to within an inch of its life.
But, condensed to the point where there’s no real context – Harry meets Bill for the first time and the dialogue amounts to “Hi Bill, I’m Harry” – it feels like a set-piece that only exists because no screenwriter was told, “Chop up this 800-page book and make it into a workable movie.”
So the opening action sequence – the ill-advised “Let’s all look like Harry” gambit – leads into the wedding scene. And while it’s all accurate to the book, the big dramatic note in those opening 20 minutes is MAD-EYE MOONEY IS DEAD NOW.
Yet what should be a grand emotional moment barely lands, since the movie’s too busy getting ready for the next set-piece. In being faithful to the book, the movies sometimes lose sight of what the most powerful moments are.
But my bigger problem…I don’t know who to blame for this, but it starts with the fact that the lead actors are not all that good. This isn’t to say they don’t have good moments, and those are usually moments of levity and joy. When the three leads get to play with a comedic scene, or – in this movie, for instance, dance goofily with each other – it works. They seem to have a handle on that.
But when it comes to a dramatic moments, they each latch on to one rigid expression – the furrowed brow – and deliver every line as slowly as possible. The dialogue doesn’t help, since all sense of personality is lost in favor of explaining How Important This All Is, so it all sounds like:
Hermione: Harry, I’ve discovered something.
Harry: … … … What’s that?
Hermione: … … … It’s about the horcruxes.
Harry: … The horcruxes? … … … What about them?
Hermione: … … …
Harry: Have you figured out a way … to destroy them?
Hermione: … … … Yes, but … … …
Harry: Please explain basic magic to me because apparently I haven’t paid any attention to my classes in the last six years. (OK, not the point, but still…shit, Harry, crack open a goddamn book.)
It honestly sounds like every one of them forgot their lines and had to check off-stage cue-cards.
Again, I’m not sure who’s really responsible for this. I mean, sure, the actors should have, by now, after starring in several movies, watched a couple of their performances and noted, “Oh shit, why did I wait so long to deliver that line? And why do I look constipated during this whole scene?”
But they’ve been working with the same director, David Yates, for multiple films now, and as the director, shouldn’t he have some idea how to wrangle an effective performance out of these guys? It’s not like he has to worry about the supporting players – it’s like two dozen of the Guild of Greatest British Actors Ever hanging around in robes and neat vests and not needing any coaching at all on that set.
(It’s not even all the child actors – Neville and Luna knock all their scenes out of the park. Neville! C’mon!)
But I get it – it’s a huge movie, big special effects and such, a lot for a director to worry about. Sometimes performances fall by the wayside.
So maybe we need to nudge the film’s editors a little bit. Guys: you have control over the entire pace of the movie. Every time you watch a scene in an editing bay and it seems to drag into infinity? CHOP UP THE DIALOGUE. Just a half-second here or there, and I swear it’ll add up to everyone in the theater getting home 20 minutes earlier.
And that’ll make us that much more excited for the last movie, “Harry Potter and the Slightly Less Interminable Pauses.”
A barely-linked question: Which is your favorite installment of the film series, and why? (Me, I go for Prisoner of Azkaban, because it looks gorgeous, it feels like there’s some legitimate danger, and Sirius Black and Remus Lupin actually resonate emotionally for me – and make me wish I was watching a film franchise about them – which is pretty much the only reason I enjoy Order of the Phoenix.)