Monday, November 29, 2010

Slow and boring

This was my column on the date indicated above.

The kids wanted to catch it the moment it hit local screens but I was in the middle of an election. I figured it was going to be such a huge hit it would probably be screening for at least a month so I asked for a rain check. As expected, the kids couldn’t wait so by the time I was available to watch it, they’ve already watched it on their own. But they still wanted to watch it a second time so off we went to the Mall of Asia Friday night to catch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

I expected a packed theater and was surprised to find it half full during the 6:00 pm screening. There was reverential silence as the opening credits rolled up. The kids seated behind me whimpered to her seatmate “Oh my god, this is it… it’s about to end.” Deathly Hallows Part I is the second to the last installment of the popular franchise. A generation of kids grew up reading the books, watching the movies and perhaps even more time waiting for the next book or the next movie to be released so the emotional reaction was to be expected. I personally am grateful to the series for encouraging my own kids, nephews and nieces to pick up reading as a habit again.

I’ve read some reviews which pointed out just how different the three lead characters Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) looked in this movie. The kids seated behind me validated the reviews. The first time Radcliffe’s face appeared on screen in this movie, the kid behind me couldn’t help but exclaim “Ang tanda na nya (how he has aged)!”

In this penultimate serving of the movie franchise, there seemed a deliberate effort to make the three characters look rugged and scruffy. Except for Watson who has a natural luminous presence onscreen, Radcliffe and Grint look perennially tired and overwhelmed throughout the movie – as if people had to be reminded all throughout that this was going to be a “dark” movie and that bad things were supposed to happen.

A general sense of doom and hopelessness pervades the whole movie and it is as if there is a subtitle that runs all throughout the whole running time that says: This movie is dark and brooding, this movie is about despair and desolation.

Not that despair, hopelessness, and desolation are not acceptable themes in a movie. I think these are themes that make for a cinematic movie if only directors don’t allow the storytelling to wallow in it enough that these actually weigh heavily on the movie’s ability to make progress in terms of storytelling. This Harry Potter is so slow I actually looked at my watch several times during the whole length.

Okay, I’m going to say it out now: I didn’t like the movie. I thought it was boring. I thought the people behind the movie shamelessly cashed in on the huge popularity of the franchise and spent two and half hours simply interpreting the first few chapters of J. K. Rowling’s last Potter book instead of condensing the whole book into one big movie deserving of our time and attention. And they didn’t even really do justice to the book. For sure, people who haven’t read the books nor watched the first six movies couldn’t make heads or tails of Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Despite two and half hours of running time, a number of subplots remained inchoate – the story of Albus Dumbledore, for instance, which is really central to the whole series and to this book, in particular.

And except when the three characters descended on the Ministry of Magic to “steal” a horcrux, the movie did not really give glimpses of what I thought was the necessary context that would have made the epic struggle of the three characters worthwhile – the fact that the whole wizarding world had already been taken over by Lord Voldemort and his army of death eaters. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) only appears in the movie near the beginning and at the end. In fact, most of the cast of the movie disappears after the first 30 minutes.

What we see all throughout the whole running time are the three characters in various stages of depression. They argue, fight, tear at each other, make up. There are occasional action scenes but they seem to serve as diversions to a movie about how to survive boredom when you are stranded in a forest.

To be fair, Deathly Hallows Part I does have one of the most exceptional and artistic animation I have ever seen so far. The part that tells the story of the Deathly Hallows in an engaging way was quite inventive – the last time I saw something similarly engaging was in Dreamwork’s Prince of Egypt.

Unfortunately, this part also brought to the fore what were missing in this movie. The story of the Deathly Hallows is supposed to be about the elder wand, the cloak of invisibility, and the resurrection stone. Potter was supposed to have already owned the invisibility cloak and this was supposed to have played important roles in their various capers in this installment. The cloak is missing in action in this movie.

I may strike some people as nitpicking. But really, the Harry Potter series is supposed to be about these magical stuff; it’s supposed to be for children and the children within each one of us.

So much has been said about how this movie is supposed to have served as transition from Harry Potter being a “children’s” fantasy into something that’s supposed to be mature and for grown ups. I have problems with this attempt. For one, I don’t think one movie can do that. Second, what the heck is so wrong with children’s fantasy? I think Alice in Wonderland or Pinocchio offer some of the most profound messages ever to be found in books.

The people behind the movie supposedly saved the best scenes for the second part which hits movie screens July 15, 2011. It’s going to come out in 3D, so it’s bound to be action-filled. I am still going to watch it; hopefully it will be worth the boredom experienced while sitting through Deathly Hallows Part I.

***

On a personal note, I would like to thank members of the People Management Association of the Philippines who flocked to the Intercon Hotel Wednesday last week to cast their votes for the 2010 elections. The turnout of voters was unprecedented and the landslide victory of my team was heartwarming, indeed. Thank you very much for the support and trust.

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