“Why would I want to read a children’s book?” Him Indoors remarked, smugly, quoting some comedian who also hasn’t read the books.
How many copies now? 450 million? That’s more than … well, almost anything. The Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies; A Tale of Two Cities over 200 million.
Harry Potter is, quite neatly, Dickens meets Tolkein, and not a lot else. Sure, it borrows heavily from ancient myths and has quite unsubtle anti-Nazi allegory running through it. It takes a bit here and there from Narnia and has the sly, off-beat humour of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Mostly, though, it’s just Dickens’ David Copperfield with 20% more Sauron.
Sometimes – like David Bowie – the reason something’s popular is just because it’s good.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the first part of the seventh adaptation of Rowling’s books. It’s directed by David Yates (who did the superior fifth and sixth films) and – to fans – it’s brilliant, so you can relax now.
As with Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, it’s a slick and fast-paced adventure in the same vein as the X-Men films or the Star Trek reboot. It cuts the muddling waffle from the books and delivers a lean and likeable adventure. It’s one that probably would be enjoyed and understood by those who haven’t read the books, since it’s essentially a chase movie, but there are probably plenty of plot elements that have been glossed over that fans wouldn’t notice are missing.
Steve Kloves has been careful to cut away the dross and leave what arguably works much better as a film than the tangled mess of the book, though the dialogue is clunky at times. Emma Watson still can’t act, though Daniel Radcliffe and the rest of the cast have been at least passable for three films or more. The only jarringly silly performance is from Helena Bonham Carter, though that’s more the script’s fault than hers.
That’s not to say that there’s not a great deal to like. The cinematography is beautiful – epic on a Lord of the Rings scale – and the soundtrack is striking and elegant. The action is skillfully handled, with an early car/air chase that is as tense and gripping as anything else that Hollywood has thrown at us recently.
In the book, I found the Bathilda Bagshot scene quite confusing, where it is beautifully rendered in this film. Parts in the book that seemed to drag, such as the endless camping scenes and the story of the Three Brothers are expertly and concisely portrayed. The overall flow and pacing of the film is much better than it was in the book, which makes me think that this is the first Potter film that actually supercedes its source material.
Mostly the biggest weakness was Dobby, who plays a pivotal role in the book. The advances in CGI technology mean he and Kreacher are photorealistically rendered, but he’s still the Jar-Jar Binks of the piece. More power to everyone involved that they tried their damnedest to make him a sympathetic character, but he still couldn’t shuffle off his mortal coil a moment too soon.
It’s a flawed classic, but a great adventure movie for fans of the franchise.