April 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 slice

There are certain benefits to turning a novel into two films. A chance to spend more time with the characters, a chance to let things breathe. The problem with splitting a book into two is that – at least in the case of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – you feel like you’re watching half a thing. And though it was decided before filming commenced, the journey of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasly (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson) doesn’t conclude so much as stop. Not since Kill Bill has a film felt so lopsided, though Tarantino’s film at least felt like a reasonable break. Our review of the Blu-ray of David Yates’s latest Potter film, The Deathly Hallows Part 1, follows after the jump.

In the film Potter and crew start the film by saying their good-byes to their families. For Harry that means finally leaving his Aunt and Uncle’s place, and for Hermoine it involves erasing her parent’s memory of her. The history and the weight of what’s to come is felt in all of the characters. Then Potter is to traverse to safe haven – now that he’s of legal age, he has no spells the protect him from other wizards – and it’s an involved affair, which leads to the death of an old friend. Then Potter gets ready for a wedding, as one of the Weasleys is going to settle down, and this lets the film slow down for a bit as everyone catches their breath. But there’s little peace for the three, and eventually they end up in the forest trying to figure out what to do with the tools left them by Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to destroy the horcruxes that help give the evil lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) his power. War is going on, and sides have been drawn with an oppressive rule taking over the ministry of magic. But the film is mostly about chasing these symbols of Voldemort’s power.

There is much to like about this entry in that much of it does take its time. The characters are shown in rest and tension while the wizarding world enters chaos. There’s also a couple of good set pieces where the three have to break into the Ministry of Magic as people they don’t know, and come across old foe Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).

For fans of the series they do a good job of recreating much of the book, and the locations chosen for the film, and the sheer scale is excellent. But if the film has any problems it’s that there are so many performers, that if you like any of them they mostly recede into the background. The tapestry at this point is so dense that actors like David Thewlis and Brendan Gleeson show up for a couple of shots, and maybe a line or two of dialogue. For better or worse, you’re with the three leads for the majority of the film.

And in this one that involves a lot of camping and feelings. They argue, and the main drama of the film is created when the characters have to lug a necklace that behaves exactly like The One Ring in LotR. So the main drama is that Ron Weasley gets jealous, leaves, and comes back in the nick of time. There’s also good house elf stuff here.

As a film it’s not really a film, and I wonder if that will adversely effect the second half. Perhaps fans will watch this first before going, but it would be terrible if the second film plays more like a three act story than this. If it does then this wasn’t fan service, but a chance to bilk fans.

Warner Brother’s Blu-ray version is a two disc Blu-ray set which also comes with a digital copy and a DVD version. We’re so close to the end that the megabox is coming, but for those who can’t wait, this is a rather smart package. The film is presented in a putch perfect widescreen edition (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. The film doesn’t come with a commentary,b ut it does come in maximum movie mode, which is hosted by co-star Jason Isaacs, he along with people like Tom Felton provide commentary on the movie, and show stills. This also comes with focus points (20 min.) which offer footage from behind the scenes. I’ve never been that fond of these sorts of things, but this is probably the best iteration of it yet, and there aren’t that many gaps.

Disc two is much shorter. It features a number of featurettes. “The Seven Harrys” (5 min.) covers the complications of green screening and performance that comes with the opening sequence, while “On the Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver, and James” (13 min.) has the Weasley brothers bonding and golfing. “Dan, Rupert, and Emma’s Running Competition” (3 min.) is a goof on their running scenes, while “Godric’s Hollow/The Harry and Nagini Battle” (6 min.) focuses on the snakefight scene and “The Frozen Lake (4 min.) focuses on that scene. Best of the second disc are the eight additional scenes (11 min.) that add additional character beats to the film. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Behind the Soundtrack” (4 min.) gives the soundtrack some pimping, while “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” (6 min.) sells the Universal theme park in Orlando ride/spectacle. I could not find the first scene of the new film, which was advertised as being attached to this, but didn’t seem to be on either disc or in the online content.

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