Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter 7.1

This morning, I went to the big umpty-plex and took in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, the seventh of eight movies based on the popular seven-book series on the adventures of a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Then, to make sure I had it down right for your review, I came back after lunch and watched it again. And Robbie saw that it was good.

The film's pacing is a bit more leisurely than one might expect, but after the makers of the first six films sheared off as many details as they could while still leaving enough for the story to make sense--and, in one or two cases, arguably more so--it's nice to see the story opened up a bit more. Frankly, though, I can't see how they could have fit enough information to make sense of Book 7's plot in just one 2.5-hour movie. It could only have been done on a surrealist aesthetic.

Now, instead of doing a full-on review, I'm going to zoom in on three filmically-connected details of this film that I have been turning over in my mind. You see, in Harry Potter's magical world, there is a form of transportation called Apparition. One apparates by wishing to go from Point A to Point Z without passing Points B through Y in between. If one has the magical juice to pull it off, one can then disappear from Point A with a loud "pop" (known as "disapparating") and appear, moments later, at Point Z with a significant "crack" (known as "apparating").

They show a lot of this Apparition business in Harry Potter 7.1. From an external observer's point of view, Apparition is often depicted using an effect like smoke, or ink curling through water, zooming through the air and suddenly, at the last moment, taking human form. This effect originated in the fourth Potter film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell and the last film of the series not to be directed by David Yates. While Yates continues to use the visual concept innovated by Newell and his team, he has added the wrinkle of showing what Apparition looks like from the apparator's point of view. Now that looks like a surreal experience! It looks a bit like being squished down into a two-dimensional form and then pulled out of shape, stretched into a long skinny string, and threaded through a very tight self-healing hole in the folded fabric of space. The accompanying sound effect makes the experience sound like stretching a latex glove to cover someone's entire head--only where you're the glove! It's no wonder inexperienced apparators, like Harry for instance, often look queasy after going through it.

Among the many times this impressive feat is depicted in the movie, I noticed at least three times when, instead of using special effects to show the travelers' dramatic arrival, the scene cuts to an empty patch of ground while the apparating sound-effect informs us that our heroes have materialized off-camera. Then there's a camera-panning "slow reveal" of the condition in which the characters have arrived.

In two of these cases, I understood the dramatic reason for this "slow reveal." The first time it happens, a leafy forest canopy comes slowly into focus. The camera looks down and finds Harry sprawled in a pile of leaves; then Harry gets up and finds Hermione and Ron in distress. The third of three "slow reveals" begins with a shot of wet send, pans upward to find Harry sprawled on the seashore, and then follows him as he finds, first, Ron and Hermione who are OK, and then somebody else who isn't. In both cases, the drama of these discoveries is heightened by the "slow reveal." But the middle case puzzles me.

"Crack" - the camera is suddenly pointed at a stretch of road dusted with snow, which actually seems to shift from the impact of Harry and Hermione's arrival. The camera pans upward and finds the two friends standing, in perfectly good order, in the street of a charming upcountry village where the pub in the background is just closing and the church in the foreground is celebrating Christmas Evensong. What's with the slow reveal? Why the dramatic buildup to a fairly quaint, but really not very remarkable, English village? Could it be as simple as that David Yates wanted to set it up as an important location, and not just any old quaint English village?

Well, I don't have the answer to that one, dear reader. If you have a theory, by all means share it in the Comments. For the time being, let's just say that HP7.1 is a thoughtfully-paced, suspenseful, at times downright terrifying film about three young adults trying to fight a whole corrupt, subverted world. And when Part 1 ends, the emotions you may feel include grief and foreboding...

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