A Darkly Dangerous Double Take

Staff Writer Parker Mott fills us in on the latest Potter blockbuster and final installment of Larsson’s Millenium trilogy

In the penultimate Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the fans’ familiar favourites are transported to dismally dark and threatening territories.
In the penultimate Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the fans’ familiar favourites are transported to dismally dark and threatening territories.
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Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

2.5 stars out for 4

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Director: David Yates
Screenplay by: Steve Kloves
Duration: 150 mins

Penultimate wizardry is among us. Ladies and gentlemen grab your wands, Hogwarts robes and annular glasses because Harry Potter is here again.

But Hogwarts, sadly, isn’t.

Instead of being captivated by the labyrinthine terrain of the enchanting school, we move across vast landscapes and monumental plateaus, as we make our way to the prominent showdown to end all showdowns (I hope).

How is the trip getting there? While it lacks most of what I enjoyed in the previous Potters, it spins off our expectations appropriately. This is not a silly Hogwarts fantasy anymore. This is becoming very real—and dangerous.

Lives are at stake. The whole ensemble of zany sorcerers assemble at The Burrow, the Weasley’s residence. They morph into Harry Potter replicas in attempt to elude the nefarious Death Eaters.

This opening has the Potter package that works: terrific wit (courtesy of the Weasley twins in particular), whimsy and intensity. The camera spirals around in a nifty tracking shot as the characters all turn into Potters—beware, the potion they take to do so tastes like “Goblin piss” warns Mad Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson). There’s a chuckle or two.

It’s action scenes galore, for a little. A real treat. Characters die instantly and our sympathies become very vulnerable, but that tension loosens. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are in grave danger and are forced to flee from their alliances (and the fun).

For a series that tended to act like a John Hughes melodrama fused with Tolkien fantastical innovation, it becomes more of a Michael Mann’s Public Enemies charade. Key difference: Potter is ‘Undesirable No. 1.’ The plight continues. The trio break into the Ministry, steal a locket (because lockets, keys and gold always represent something important) and disappear into the forest. They try to destroy the Horcrux, a device that, if destroyed, would eradicate Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) duress. But of course all fails. We need part two—it’s in our wallets to go!

Now, where does Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 deteriorate? The midpoint. Director David Yates, responsible for uncharted short films, never keeps up the chase. What I did appreciate was the effort.

The script persists pitiably to keep our emotional interests, but I feel though these Harry Potter characters have always been mechanisms of the plot, nothing more. Their chemistry is impeccable but they all represent identical emotions and the script is trying to convince us of what we already know.

Two scenes that really worked in this irksome middle: there’s a nice scene with Harry grabbing Hermione’s hand and doing a friendly dance to reassure her. The characters are all caught in depressed moods, which are almost coma-inducing for us. The dance is a moment of peace, a break from the anguish they’re going through.

The dance was delightful, complex and original. It reminded me of the scene in Peter Jackson’s remake of a remake King Kong, when Naomi Watts randomly juggled to Kong. Critics scorned that scene for its children’s appeal, but it was fascinating: these are characters, in one way or another, confronting and dealing with their problems.

A second sequence that added to the film’s originality was the story-within-a-story of the Deathly Hallows, in which the characters are represented as shadow puppets, giving the story an expressionistic style, like a children’s tale read with the lights turned off.

What vexes me is Voldemort’s underuse. Underusing a villain can have a dramatic effect, as we are let to anticipate their presence throughout the film’s course. But Yates places Voldemort mainly at the beginning and the end. It disposes his menace because we never sense his presence throughout the chase, which is probably why a chunk of the film is sedated in emotional place-holder scenes.

The wand has to be the greatest plot contrivance in all of cinema. I don’t criticize the film for that, but I’m fascinated by its glaring flaw. All characters need to do is swirl a wand that looks like a long cinnamon stick and whatever plot device they demand will surface right in front of them. We accept the ludicrousness of it because Harry Potter is purely matter-of-fact with its fantasy—it’s not necessarily credible as far as realism goes.

The film will be sweeping to most. Especially to those who have read the books. I’m not one to review the books—I have not read a single Harry Potter book and I do not plan to. But it is in my right to treat the film as a piece of cinema and declare it average. It has trouble dealing with its characters outside of the narrative.

Now, the ending is a good cliffhanger. It’s not a cheat, because the suspended conclusion is precisely the point. We are to await Part 2 (which releases this summer) idle with wands in hand.

I didn’t mind this Harry Potter but the greatest of scenes will surely belong to its successor, as it’s the final showdown. Part 2 should be great closure for everyone, just don’t get me started on the 3D.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

2.5 stars out of 4

Starring: Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist
Director: Daniel Alfredson (The Girl Who Played With Fire)
Screenplay by: Ulf Ryberg
Duration: 147 mins

Wearing dragon tattoos and playing with fire were my enemies of the Millennium Series. The posthumous novels by Stieg Larsson may have been golden literature, but as movies felt like muddled, disjointed and exploited pieces of cinema. But as the hornet’s nest is kicked, clarity is given a jolt and the series humbly settles.

The final installation is long, but mostly crystalline. A continuation, but pristine. Director Daniel Alfredson embellishes the murky tone, but doesn't poison the viewer with the abrasive violence. I’ve found the previous two films using violence as scapegoats for the lack of character development. It seemed the director shocked to ultimately reassure us that these malicious characters would receive their comeuppance.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace), the brazen and enigmatic computer hacker, is recovering from the bullet wounds and beatings brought about by her perturbed father Zalachenko (also recovering in hospital). During convalescence, Lisbeth is awaiting her trial for three murders. The, ideally, genius premise: prove her innocence and free the sins and obscurities of the pampered Lisbeth.

There's not much for me to say about The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. It works, but not by much. Why does it? I feel a sense of self-discipline in its style. It winds down the story in a modest and tensely-told way. We know all the characters: Mikael (Nyqvist), who continues to be quite underused (he was psychologically penetrated in Dragon Tattoo the best). The others are brooding caricatures, mechanisms for containing the plot and moving it forward.

The first half of Hornet's Nest is rather fascinating. It withholds Lisbeth and makes her impotent. She's a tiger, locked in cage, exposed and vulnerable. From this point of view, we penetrate her thoughts and Alfredson, finally, gives us an idea of her character. As the second half kicks around, we are placed in a courtroom drama that is reserved, ponderous and uneven to the first half’s ruminative subplots.

In , grisly imagery is no longer incessant. In the courtroom, when the jury is forced to watch the secret footage of Lisbeth's rape, the camera focuses on the reactions rather than the repugnance. This should be a story about character and thought, not an emphasis on the negligent actions. We can comprehend that through the characters's behaviour, something Larsson's narrative is highly dependent on.

Without question, the pace is still lethargic. It's that glum cinematography. These adaptations are full of the classic character brooding and when the action throttles, it's a means to atone that. But here, it works. This is because Hornet's Nest is restrained and profound. In its daring climax, Lisbeth endures a fight scene (or rather a persistent form of parrying) from a foe. No music, just struggling noises, all in diegetic (it even reminded me of the curbed, yet highly absorbing mono a mono scene between Bond and Oddjob in Goldfinger). Finally the Millennium Series discovers a technique. I could almost hear Alfredson yelling from behind the camera: "less please." Sometimes those are the toughest words a director can say, but as for Lisbeth and her dour, extremely inscrutable past, it was for the better.

In 2011, David Fincher will direct the Americanized The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Swedish films seem to be prone to that configuration (Let The Right One In). But they have never really convinced me and left me wondering, who knows?

Despite Hornet's Nest's adequateness, I still think there is something in the Swedish water.

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