Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One has a part one … which is to say, even this half-film is so long that the “For Your Consideration” screeners need to be on two discs. A couple of minutes before the first of these ends, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has tentatively indicated to Hermione (Emma Watson) that she ought to stand up and join him in doing something. The something they edge into is dancing. They’re awkward at it. That’s intended: this brief time out of deathly-hallows tsuris on some remote burren is meant to be sweet and charming, and the dance to become exuberant as much as their inveterately English, wizard-type kid sensibilities will allow. I wish the moment were valid and magical; instead, it’s excruciating. I’ve had the feeling all through the series that these are nice kids – the performers even more than the characters – and I wish them the best. Scenes like this shouldn’t happen to them; nor should they happen to audiences. The spontaneity is freeze-dried and the filming inept. Ineptness on top of calculated awkwardness approaches the sin of hubris.
It’s immaterial how much money they’ve taken in: the Potter movies are wretched (except for the third, the only one with a real director, Alfonso Cuarón). No, I’m not ranting against children’s lit or fantasy. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is swell family entertainment, and exciting and enchanting filmmaking because Jackson can make films!!! I haven’t read a word of Tolkien or of J.K. Rowlings, but I’m happy to believe that both are wonderful. The movies Jackson made from Tolkien tell a fine, evolving epic story. The Harry Potter movies don’t know from storytelling; they’re just (I wish I were the first to say so) one thing after another, with most of said things seeming to be made up on the spot rather than emerging from a coherent, organic fictional world. I suspect that children – people – who love the books love looking at the films as extensions or illustrations of what they’ve read: picturebooks that move. I don’t begrudge them their pleasure, but I hope they eventually … well, grow up, and learn to differentiate between movies and just-stuff-on-a-screen. The fusion of story and what’s-on-screen – so that what we’re told is inseparable from how we’re told it – can be, should be, glorious. Jackson’s Ring movies mostly achieve that. The Harry Potter movies, just about never. They’re just there. -RTJ