Lost in the Dark

Magic mismanaged in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

There are teenagers today who have lived their entire lives in the Age of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling’s first book in the Potter series was published in Britain in 1997, and made it to the movies in 2001. The books have sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide; the pictures have grossed more than $5 billion, and spun off all manner of shelf-clogging merch. (I myself am in possession of a Harry Potter clock, a number of adorable Potter figurines, and of course a replica of the young wizard’s mighty wand—all freebies, I hasten to add.)

But the literary Potter saga came to an end in 2007, with the publication of the very dark Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So with the conclusion of the tale no longer in doubt, the movies have been reduced to playing catch-up, going through the familiar motions on their way to a culmination that’s already well-known. I thought last year’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with its destabilizing fixation on teen hormonal stirrings, was the least interesting of the films to that point. However, the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, with its clotted talkiness and abundant longueurs, now takes pride of place in that department.

The decision to split Rowling’s book into two movies (Part 2 will arrive next July—in 3D, inevitably) was perhaps understandable: There are an awful lot of plot strands to be wrapped up. But the longest of the Potter books, Order of the Phoenix, somehow fit into a single film. And since whole sequences of this new movie cry out for trimming, or even elimination, one wonders if Deathly Hallows couldn’t have been condensed in some similar fashion. No doubt Warner Bros. is reluctant to hurry the end of this fabulously profitable franchise; but the result is that Part 1, after two and a half lackluster hours, comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying semi-denouement. 

The original enchantments of the Potter series—the kids in their spruce black boarding-school robes; the wonderfully eccentric teachers; the grand premises of Hogwarts, with its shifting staircases and multitudes of hovering candles—have pretty much fallen away here. Hogwarts itself doesn’t even put in an appearance; and while we do get a herd of iconic characters from the past—among them Hagrid (Robby Coltrane); Snape (Alan Rickman); Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson); even the now-dead Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)—most of them are doing cameo duty, and are quickly ushered back offstage. The focus now is unsparingly on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his loyal mates Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) as they flee the resurgent Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in search of the Horcruxes that can bring about his downfall.

This is not an entirely good thing. Apart from seeming just a little old for their roles at this point (especially Grint, a burly 21 at the time of filming), the three leads don’t really have the expressive heft (or the dialogue that would facilitate it) to hold this long movie together; and so some of the many meandering conversational scenes are sadly awkward. Worse yet, they take place in some exceedingly dull locales—there’s a lot of mooning about in forests and tents—and you can almost feel the young actors itching to move on to the final installment of the series and to bring their decade-long labors to an end.

There are some moving interludes (like Harry’s visit to Godric’s Hollow, and the cemetery where his parents are buried) and some funny ones, too (the transformation, via Polyjuice Potion, of a group of characters into identical Harry doppelgängers is wittily staged); and there’s a delicate animated sequence that is the movie’s most charming adornment. Naturally there’s some impressive CGI, too—particularly a mad chase through the night sky with Harry and Hagrid swooping down on their flying motorcycle into a London tunnel teeming with traffic. But the movie is generally slow and morose, and, in the end, beyond the redemption of even the snazziest technology.

Which is to say that the magic seems to have flown, at least temporarily, from this once-captivating series. David Yates, who also directed the underwhelming Half-Blood Prince, may bring things to a stirring conclusion with the final picture, who knows. On the basis of this one, though, longtime fans (I’m one) have some cause to worry.

Kurt Loder is a writer, among other things, embedded in New York.

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  • ||

    Can't wait for the Soccer Dog review!

  • Woodrow Hyacinth-Smith||

    if there's a better movie than Air Bud IV, I haven't seen it.

  • ||

    :)

    Soccer Dog: European Cup - a rare sequel that's better than the original. See it, Live it, Love it bro.

  • Suki||

    Iron Man, either one.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Rowling's books are thinly-veiled stories about Satan worship, and that simply will not stand. Every child who gets hooked on her literary heresy just makes the Thetans madder.

  • zoltan||

    While this used to be my favorite conspiracy, I have truly fallen in love with the Google-as-secret-Islam-supporter-on-Veteran's-Day-of-all-days conspiracy.

  • ||

    +1 That must have been mischief-making that caught on with the 'tards.

  • ||

    What did I miss?

  • Kolohe||

  • Suki||

    My favorite is still chemtrails.

  • ||

    I remember a "Focus on the Family" magazine at my mom's with the cover story of "Scary Harry".

  • MrGuy||

    Focus on the Family = you lose.

  • ||

    Rowling's books are thinly-veiled stories about Satan worship

    That and CS Lewis books.

    Screwtape Letters is nothing more then the writings of a Demon from hell!!!

  • ||

    haha! +1

  • robc||

    Dont know if you were referencing it or not, but its mentioned in the intro to my edition of Screwtape Letters that that actually happened:

    a country clergyman wrote to the editor canceling his subscription on the grounds that "much of the advice given in these letters seemed to him not only erroneous but positively diabolical." Lewis is reported to have roared with delight

  • spur||

    Harry Potter analysis? Really? I mean really?

    Are you still feeling guilty for giving U2's 'Joshua Tree' three stars in Rolling Stone back in the day Mr. Loder?

  • Nancy||

    It's just a movie review, dipshit. Take your meds and relax a little.

  • Realist||

    "It's just a movie review, dipshit."
    That is the point what the fuck does a movir review have to do with "Reason"?

  • Suki||

    Good point.

    "Fountain Head" and "Atlas Shrugged" count, so does anything involving milk squirting. This is none of that.

  • ||

    lighten up francis

  • Psycho||

    You call me Francis, and I'll Kill You

  • Suki||

    This is that Kurt Loder? The one who abandoned the tower at Air Force Base Stock when the crowd threw empty water bottles at him? ROFLMAO!

  • fancylad||

    Don't be concerned about Suki, Kurt. He is just a dude pretending to be a hot Asian chick. The giveaway? No asian chick on the planet gives a rat's ass about Israel-Palestinian matters one way or another and the Suke sounds like a Irgun militia member when the subject rolls around.

  • ||

    I give the quantitative easing cartoon 4 stars.

  • Old Mexican||

    Uh, I'll wait for it to be availabe on Netflix . . .

    I'm looking forward to seeing Tron:Legacy . . .

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I highly recommend watching the Rifftrax (formerly MST3K) version of the movie when they inevitably do a number on it. I watched the first three Potter films that way. Almost as funny as their treatment of the Twilight flicks.

  • ||

    [on muggles]"You see Harry, when one group of people is different from another, it helps to come up with a funny-sounding word-- or "slur"-- to describe them."

    The Harry Potter rifftrax are awesome.

  • ¢||

    Are you still feeling guilty for giving U2's 'Joshua Tree' three stars in Rolling Stone back in the day Mr. Loder?

    He better be. That's at least two too many.
    U2:Joshua Tree::Celtic Frost:Cold Lake

    (That's just for Warty.)

  • Hairy Potter||

    But does Hermione finally get naked or not? The boys had their chance when she was petrified by that dragon a few installments ago and they blew it.

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    SNL did the next best thing:
    http://www.break.com/userconte.....ter-400590 (NSFW)

  • Almanian||

    I hadn't seen this before. It was worth watching, and I highly recommend it to others.

  • ||

    Please turn yourself in to your local sex offender registrar.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Yes. I am dead serious, having gone to seen the midnight showing with a bunch of Potter fanatics. There is a scene of adult-actress-playing-a-teenager-in-the-nude.

    What? I hate drinking alone.

  • C-Dog||

    You do know this movie is an adaptation of a book? A 2.5 hour movie of Harry and friends camping out in the woods fits perfectly with the 300 pages of Harry and friends camping out in the woods. What else did you expect?

  • Dumb Ass||

    The Harry Witch Project?

  • Kolohe||

    I thought everyone was done with the Christine O'Donnell jokes?

  • Xenocles||

    I thought it was a Nancy Pelosi joke.

  • Spiny Norman||

    I have it on good authority that Christine O'Donnell is not a witch.

  • RyanReynoldsSexiestManAlive||

    Did you actually see her sink?

  • Dumb Ass||

    Who is Christine O'Donnell?

  • omg||

    I was about to say this myself. I haven't seen the movie, but if the description is accurate it is certainly true to the source material.

  • ||

    That was my thought as well. Half the book involved the trio camping out and trying not to get caught by Voldemort while simultaneously trying to figure out how to get the horcruxes, destroy them and kill Voldemort. This installment was probably the most faithful to the book of all the movies.

  • Chadwyck||

    I'll be riding my vibrating Harry Potter broomstick to the theater

  • DDavis||

    I enjoyed the books, until the last, which was quite a let down. The problem with story arcs is that people (I) expect the arc to be completed in a consistent, meaningful fashion.

    Since the publication of the last book, I ceased to care about the whole story. Threads weren't really tied together; new threads were pulled out of someone's nether regions. All the build up, all the foreshadowing, all the various threads of the story, are shown to be nothing more than a random buffet platter of fantasy cliches, gags, and with some interesting new ideas, but no coherent theme to pull the meal together.

    So once the last book came out, with its unsatisfying conclusion, I found I no longer cared about the movies. They're something to download or rent at random, not something to anticipate.

    Once the suspense is done, once you know the ending, if the overall plot doesn't haven't a beauty of its own, that you wish to savor again, the movies have little real draw. Plot makes art - a story with meaning. Once a story is shown to be little more than a string of experiences, it will have little power to bind your imagination.

    To writers in the audience: plot matters.

  • ||

    Plot is hard.

  • Writer||

    To readers who expect Harry Potter to satisfy their quality-literature criteria:

    "Get a Fucking Life and Read a Real Book"

    "Once a story is shown to be little more than a string of experiences..."

    Right. Tell it to Don Quixote. Or Alice In Wonderland. Or Candide. Or any Picaresque novel.

    Story arcs, 'Completed in a meaningful fashion'? You are like the people who moaned about No Country For Old Men not giving them any 'answers' or any satisfying resolution at the end. Guess what? Thats what the author intended. Don't like it? Stick with Grisham. The 'rules' you expect stories to follow are nothing but conventions of mass entertainment. Yes, perhaps Rowling should have made some more effort to satisfy her audience... but maybe it's time to wake the fuck up and realize that it was never very good stuff to begin with. If you need something to soothe your offended sensibilities, I highly recommend the good 'ol Vintage Crime pulp fiction of Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, David Goodis, et al. Or other similar stuff like Ross McDonald (although he's never as Hardcore. Chester Himes' 'The Heat is On' has a giant, retarded black albino hiding heroin in tubes stuffed up a rabbits ass. Now *that's* some 'ritin!) Always entertaining, and the end is always obviously an end. Often because - as in Hamlet - Everyone Is Fucking Dead.

    That said, I think the end of The Magus (Fowles) was a pretty fucking mean joke. OK, the whole setup was that the invention of 'mystery' is an end in itself rather than a means to discovery... But fucking hell. I think the majority of people who read that book threw it against the wall at the end. Then later encouraged others to read it... (out of a sadistic need to force others to share the pain)

  • Hooha||

    "I think the majority of people who read that book threw it against the wall at the end. Then later encouraged others to read it... (out of a sadistic need to force others to share the pain)"

    I'm pretty sure this is how the poison that is "Battle Royale" gets spread. Why are recreational readers such a vindictive bunch?

  • ||

    Sorry, but I liked The Magus. It was John Fowles and therefore a bit overweening, but still entertaining.

  • Writer||

    Oh, I liked it - and even got to Q&A fowles before he died... but you have to admit it leaves the 'ending focused' readers wanting

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    If you need something to soothe your offended sensibilities, I highly recommend the good 'ol Vintage Crime pulp fiction of Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, David Goodis, et al. Or other similar stuff like Ross McDonald (although he's never as Hardcore. Chester Himes' 'The Heat is On' has a giant, retarded black albino hiding heroin in tubes stuffed up a rabbits ass.

    LOOK HOW MANY OBSCURE AUTHORS IN A NICHE GENRE I CAN LIST! BOW BEFORE MY CULTURAL SOPHISTICATION, YOU TROGLODYTES!

    /:hulkout:

  • ||

    Pretty much my reaction. While it's hard to expect too much from a book written for kids, there is a lot of chaos and clutter in the books, particularly after the first couple.

    The whole thing was ruined for me when it turned out that Starbuck was some kind of angel.

  • dee||

    That's why I suggest to those people who can't get enough, to go online and Google, "Harry Potter Slashfic".

    Talk about some unexpected plot resolutions.

  • Xenocles||

    Characters also matter, maybe even more. I lost a lot of respect for Rowling when she made up the whole gay Dumbledore thing before an audience. She wrote seven books featuring this guy, including one where he became the subject of an unauthorized biography, and failed to include even the faintest reference to this core attribute. She left me with the feeling that she pulled the whole thing out of her ass in order to pander to her audience.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Replace the gay Dumbledore's title as "Headmaster of School of Magic" with "Headmaster of Catholic Seminary" and I doubt Hollywood would have been as sympathetic in its portrayal.

  • ||

    What is this "plot" you speak of?

  • ||

    Since the publication of the last book, I ceased to care about the whole story. Threads weren't really tied together; new threads were pulled out of someone's nether regions. All the build up, all the foreshadowing, all the various threads of the story, are shown to be nothing more than a random buffet platter of fantasy cliches, gags, and with some interesting new ideas, but no coherent theme to pull the meal together.

    wait...are you talking about Lost?

  • Butts Wagner||

    Does it all turn out to be a dream in the mind of Patrick Duffy?

  • Realist||

    This is a very important subject. Certainly worthy of a serious magazine.

  • ||

    For reals. If they're going to review movies then (a) don't do kids' films and (b) how about joining every other political magazine and review Carlos. Moynihan would be all over that shit.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Who cares? Personally, I haven't read any of the HP books or seen any of the films, and don't plan on doing either, ever.

    But writers are going to write about what they want, and from the comments here, it's obvious that I'm (we're) in the minority by not giving a shit about Harry Potter.

  • ||

    When Nick Gillespie took over as editor in chief of Reason magazine in 2000, he promised to focus more on pop culture and less on that vexing and perplexing philosophy stuff. This is nothing new.

  • ||

    You know, I remember that. But his justification for going that direction was that libertarian views were prevailing. Which sort of looked like was true in the 90s.

  • Hog Genital Warts||

    Still, I think Nick has done his best work on Man Vs. Food. Amazing that he fits in writing with that busy schedule...

  • ||

    The Harry Potter series is a story that postulates a lot of subplots told around the framework of an education at a school for wizards and a previous event where a student went over the "dark side" and used his wizardry for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, power, using murder to gain his goals.

    It's not very well-written and the end is somewhat disappointing in that the lengthy book fails to tie up a host of loose ends. Lots of characters are created and they are fleshed out well enough to be interesting, only to fall by the wayside.

    But there is SOME plot to the series, you just have to work at keeping your eye on it.

  • Joe M||

    +1 on the whole wish I'd never seen a Harry Potter review at Reason bandwagon.

  • Caption This||

    "C'mon, Hermione! 50 quid for a quick shag!"

  • Woodrow||

    I never understood why the all-knowing good wizards like Dumbledore allowed the clearly evil Malfoy father and son to have such a high place in their society.

  • C-Dog||

    Stare decisis?

  • Xmas||

    The Malfoys are a riff on British aristocracy...actually, the whole "magic" world is a riff on British aristocracy and society. They're evil, yet, because they were born into power, they are powerful.

    And don't you get that the Weasleys are gingers, that's why they get so much crap.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Because the all-knowing good wizards don't actually run shit. Apparently, wizards are as prone to elect the venal, the malicious, and the incompetent as much as their muggle counterparts.

  • MJ||

    It's like how we get Kennedy's and Murkowski's in real life.

  • ||

    The Harry Potter wizards seem to be quite inept. Thomas Edison, the "Wizard of Menlo Park," wasn't a real wizard, and yet he invented the light bulb. The retards at Hogwarts are still using candles, for Chrissakes.

  • ||

    I could never figure out why the children were always fighting the enemy. The professors are worthless. They are professors of magic. Shouldn't they be total badasses?

  • ||

    I could never figure out why the children were always fighting the enemy. The professors are worthless. They are professors of magic. Shouldn't they be total badasses?

  • ||

    Those who can't do, teach.

  • ntnu||

    "This weekend moviegoers of all ages will hit the theaters to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, the penultimate big screen entry"
    I don't think that word, "penultimate" means what you think it means.

  • Or||

    Since the movie is Part 1 of a 2-parter, it is indeed the penultimate, the next-to-last entry in the movie series.

  • mr simple||

    Then you need to think again. This movie is, in fact, the second to last Harry Potter movie. Go buy a dictionary, dumbass.

  • ||

    Please explain the difference between "second to last" and "next to last."

  • -||

    It is a distinction without a difference.

  • Writer||

    +1

  • ||

    Any complaints about the pace or the camping must be lodged with J.K. Rowling. These were elements of the book, which Kloves tackled the best he has so far of all the books. As for cramming Hallows into one movie ... it was nearly too much story to cram into one book, there were so many plot threads. Loder, I would guess, has not read the books.

  • ||

    Hi, Fan. I've read all of the books, several of them more than once. When I wonder if "Deathly Hallows" might have somehow been made into a single movie, I'm of course thinking a pretty long movie, with an intermission, maybe.

  • Tom||

    I ashamed to admit, but my fiancee dragged me to it last night, and I didn't hate it. It was the only Potter movie that I would be willing to watch a second time.

    It's at least got some atmosphere, stunning scenery, and decent cinematography. Fortunately, this was one was light on plot.

    I can't believe Kurt liked the previous films better. They were nothing more than random scenes of flying cars, giants, ghosts...any silly, flashy idea they could think of to distract the audience.

    Deathly Hallows pt. 1:Harry Potter::Blow Out:Pablo Honey

  • ||

    The author of this review doesn't really get Harry Potter. It's not about the explosions, CGI or even the magic. These are merely tools to enhance the experience, but not the main point. The main point of the books as well as the movies are to show the struggle between living because you are afraid of dying and risking your life to protect your reason to live, and to tell a story about how to deal with sorrow. J. K. Rowling brilliantly shows that if you do not have something worth dying for, you do not have anything worth living for. I think it was shown very well in the movie, where Ron at first lets his fear of losing Hermione cloud his judgement, but later risks his life to protect her.

    If you just want to see the magic, go watch Penn & Teller instead!

  • ||

    "whole sequences of this new movie cry out for trimming, or even elimination"

    I'd say the same for this review. The only sequence you mention is the forest, and you seem to have missed the fact that each character took a turn wearing the necklace and becoming depressed and angry because of it. Whether or not this should be in the movie is one point, but you mention no others. The book does spend quite a bit of time in the forest, and it also focuses primarily on the three main characters, so I fail to see the problem. Your review is pretty vague. You remind me of Rita Skeeter.

  • ||

    i am so excited to know that how this gonna end up. Harry will surely face some big problems in the harry potter deathly hallows part 2 which is releasing this month.

  • ||

    Finally the last installment of Harry Potter series hit the screen last Friday.. With ming blowing direction and the superb special I love to enjoy Harry potter and the deathly Hallows 2 movie.. I really enjoyed it with my friends..

  • nike shoes UK||

    is good

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