01 August, 2011

Are you mad about Harry?

HP VII 2...sounds more like a printer model than a movie. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) was released, I made no effort to organise to see it. I felt my patience had been exhausted by the franchise, and I had never reconciled my cynicism at them splitting the last of the movies into two parts.

I've wondered many times why I found that decision so insupportable. While I assumed it was done purely for financial gain, I don't know that that's the case. To be fair, though, they were only able to choose to split it due to the outrageous success of the proceeding six movies. And the extra box-office takings couldn't have been entirely absent from their considerations.

Could I give the production team credit for wanting to do justice to a book whose release was more anticipated than perhaps any in history by alloting it five or six hours on screen rather than three? Well...not after seeing part one, which wasn't even a film, but rather a lot of stitched together CGI and (admittedly) effecting camera techniques wrapped around an uncohesive plot. When you look at the fifth and sixth films in isolation, it is galling for the audience - the arrogance of the film house to make something that absolutely doesn't make sense unless you've followed the rest of the franchise closely. That would be OK if we viewed Harry in a cinematic vacuum - if there were dedicated cinemas that just screened each instalment (and it's kind of surprising that there aren't). But all eight of these films have gone into the mainstream, up against other films, whether blockbuster or independent. And as an audience member I feel that something that grosses hundreds of millions of dollars - at the expense of smaller productions - should make sense in its own right.

I have heard the argument that the Harry films perhaps present a paradigm of movie-going for the new generation, who don't need to be fulfilled at the cinema. Anyone who saw Part 2 (which I did, at another's instigation) was bombarded with advertising for merchandise around the film (which almost saw me give up and leave before the film even started). For the game- and tech-savvy audience member, perhaps the film is a taster for what's to come on Nintendo, or their own explorations via social media. It's a fair point. Again, I don't know if it's true, and it certainly doesn't speak to my preferred version of movie-going.

Knowing I was going to see the last of the films, I borrowed Book 7 to read it again. I hadn't yet finished the section of story portrayed in the first film by the time I saw the second. Being more familiar with the story, however, was definitely a help and I did find myself far more taken with the final instalment than with the two preceding it. Despite that, however, I wasn't nearly as taken with the film as I was with the book, which drips with angst, remorse, guilt and longing on every page. While the movies are hard to understand for what they leave out, the book is laden with detail as Rowling winds up the intricacies and complexities of this multi-thousand page story.

And therein arose again some of my angst. Even with the split into two, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the movie, still left out a lot of story, and a lot of explanation. In my opinion, it could have been a great, single film. Viewers have argued that Part 1 allowed the filmmaker to establish the boredom and frustration inherent in the search for Horcruxes. A filmmaker worth those kind of box-office takings shouldn't need an extra two hours to do that. We could have had angst, arguments and action in one memorable three-hour instalment.

What Part 2 did do for me was push buttons. I wept and blubbered my way through all the revelations, which made it a good emotional experience, but one I didn't need to wait an extra year for. When it finished I felt like we'd reached the end of the longest movie ever made, which in some ways we have. An eight-part continuation of a single story is as good as unprecedented in the movie world.

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