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— Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow

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Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

More chuckles than belly laughs, more episodic than Big Score, but still worth watching —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Futurama is Back a Billion

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My rubber-stamp complaint about the Harry Potter movies is that they are beholden to the books. If you see the movies without having read them, you’re at a disadvantage over the rest of the audience.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 occasionally overcomes this limitation, but there are a lot of places that only work if you already know and love the scenes.

Plot Point Barrage

Works best when it's more intimate
Works best when it’s more intimate

Briefly, we left Harry needing to find and destroy seven Horcruxes in order to defeat the noseless Voldemort, or something. The film opens on a shot of Bill Nighy, who steals every scene he’s in, sporting Einsteinian hair and a deadly serious scowl that somehow dares you to laugh. Then a dozen friends help Harry escape from the death eaters in the film’s excuse for a car chase. Some companions die, but you won’t have time to say “how sad” before it’s on to the next scene.

Luckily the film soon gets more intimate, with Harry, Hermione, and Ron heading off by themselves to find the next Horcrux. They find it during a tense and funny infiltration scene. Then it’s off to find another MacGuffin — this one a sword — to destroy the Horcrux.

Meanwhile, the forces of evil take over the Ministry of Magic and seek yet another MacGuffin, the Deathly Hallows, which are three powerful magic items that grant control over death itself.

Two Speeds

There are two speeds in this movie: whirlwind, and “camping.” At the beginning and at the end, plot points from the book are worked in right and left with nary a smooth segue in-between. At the eye of the storm is the calm in which Harry, Hermione, and Ron try to figure out what to do next while camping in the highlands.

Ironically, it’s the camping scenes that make the time fly, and it’s the whirlwind segments that make the film seem overlong. That’s because in the camping scenes, the developments are all between the characters, which any of us can relate to. The three friends are caught in something of a love triangle. They’re too unsure of themselves to hash out their cares and jealousies out in the open, but the sad, frustrating tension is there, and it’s probably the best thing about the later Potter movies.

The trouble with the whirlwind sections is that, hard as they try, the filmmakers can’t possibly include every detail from the book; filmmakers have been trying to do it for a century without much luck. The result is a jarring mental and emotional whip crack that is only lessened if you’re intimately familiar with the books and can fill in the gaps from your own memory.

My least favorite example of relying on the audience’s familiarity with the books is the several-minute tragic death of a CGI character I only vaguely remember from a much earlier film. This character has a sudden personality change just before dying. I imagine that in the book, the character growth was gradual, fond, and justified. But in this movie, it’s more manipulative than moving (unless, of course, you read the book).

What’re You Gonna Do?

Director David Yates (returning from installments 5 and 6) occasionally tries to make Deathly Hallows Part 1 cinematic. His best success is when Hermione narrates the children’s tale explaining the Deathly Hallows. The film becomes a shadow play, almost two-dimensional and almost black-and-white at first. As the fable progresses, the shapes reveal more and more depth. It’s a (literally) fantastic scene that’s allowed to exist outside the well-establish fantasy of Scottish countrysides and CGI magic.

Some of Yates’ other attempts work less well, like the foot chase in the forest using a fast shutter speed to make a disjointed stuttering effect that’s impossible to follow.

Deathly Hallows Part 1 is probably the least-anticipated installment in the series. We know that we won’t get closure until next year, yet here we are buying another ticket to mark the time. Part of me wishes they’d just charge twice as much for the final installment and save everyone the trouble of this penultimate film.

But what are you gonna do? If you’ve invested your time in the first six, you have to see this one before next year’s finale. As much as I wanted to dismiss it, I was entertained enough to enjoy the ride. I’m just glad there’s only one more to go. I’m about ready to move on.

  • candle-ends: what are you, some kind of muggy? November 18, 2010 reply
    • (anonymous): Dobby the house elf if one of the most beloved characters in the harry potter francise. So to say you can't remember him shows you didn't pay much attention to the films. Sure, he was only in the second film, but played such a crucial role in it. November 19, 2010 reply
      • Maggie: you rock i agree. Screw jacob and edward, GO TEAM DOBBY!!! November 19, 2010 reply
  • Maggie: If you're too illiterate to read the books, then don't expect the movies to impress you. The movies are baseD on a book and is meant to give image to those who love Harry Potter and the world he lives in. Book lovers everywhere have continued to be disappointed but still faithful. As a lover of J.K. Rowlings masterpiece that justifiably succeeds other mystical parallel worlds since Narnia and Middle Earth, I'd like to point out that this is the BEST movie to come out in representation of my beloved books. Yes, some things were sped through, but like you said, it's unrealistic to expect a filmmaker to include everything. And by the seventh book/movie you are expected to have an understanding of wizarding laws and powers.I feel bad to all those who haven't read all the books, but i'm sorry the movie probably isn't going to mean as much to you.

    P.S. DO NOT disrespect dobby's death. Just because the movies suck in portraying the house elf movement and Dobby's huge role in peace and love. My advise, read the books. All of them. Until then it's silly to judge what you haven't experienced. November 19, 2010 reply
    • Andrew Zucker: Spoken like a true HP fangirl.

      I agree with the original author--the 5 minute death scene at the end was absurd.

      I haven't read the books--however that should not be a prerequisite to seeing the movies. Further, you're saying "oh, read the book" to rationalize the fact that the series has been devoid of character development.

      Compare the HP series to another fantasy series, Lord of the Rings. I hadn't read the books before seeing the movies and it didn't matter. The moves stood on their own. They were brilliant and compelling in their own right.

      The same cannot be said for HP.
      November 19, 2010 reply
      • marge: the death scene was not absurd. even without reading the books, one can understand that dobby is helpful to the trio and obviously as an innocent creature, his death affects them.

        the five minute death scene is not just about dobby but is so obviously about all the deaths that have occured throughout the movie that were not dealt with at the time - mad eye, hedwig...

        the series has been devoid of character development but the love harry has for dobby is evident from his (dobby's) first scene in the movie -in number 12 grimmauld place

        the movie was amazing. it was very true to the books but i also felt that fans that have not read the books would be able to follow it easily. :D November 19, 2010 reply
  • Mitchell: read the books and stop complaining. This may be a film but this film is made for fans of the book not people like you. The films shouldn't be taken as 'films' but as extensions of the books
    November 20, 2010 reply
    • Marty Mapes: Exactly November 20, 2010 reply
  • Marty Mapes: I've been pondering this a little bit. There are some great movies adapted from books. Gone with the Wind. Meet Me in St. Louis. The Godfather. Apocalypse Now. The English Patient. The Princess Bride. These films deviated from the source material to differing degrees. They all work whether or not you've read the books. I don't think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 belongs in that list. November 20, 2010 reply