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Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Monsters and Lebanon

By November 24, 2010November 28th, 20105 Comments

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 1 posterHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the seventh film in the series but only the third that I’ve had to review in these pages. Sadly, my conclusions are almost always the same — and almost always irrelevant. These films are increasingly made for Potter fans only and there are so many of them that box office success is guaranteed regardless of churls like me.

And, of course, the Potter films are as important to the British film industry as The Hobbit is to ours — hence why the final book in the saga has been, in a breathtaking act of commercial cynicism, been split in to two blockbuster films. If you were expecting any kind of conclusion (satisfactory or not) then you’ll have to wait until June. Maybe.

Dumbledore is dead and Harry is on the run from Voldemort and his Ministry of Magic stooges. (One of the disappointments for me as the series has gone on is to find that Voldemort isn’t so much a malevolent force of nature as another whiny super-villain with a sarcasm problem.) Harry is also looking for something called a horcrux which needs to be destroyed before Voldemort gets hold of it and uses it to rule the world. Why he doesn’t just throw it into the fires of Mount Doom, I don’t know. Oh, sorry, wrong saga.

For the uninitiated (or the non-brainwashed), the same problems remain: the lead actors simply don’t have the talent to carry a film of this magnitude and Rowling’s storytelling is so banal that I’m saddened she’s become the introduction to reading for so many young people. New characters are introduced just in time for them to be plot points, new spells revealed just in time to defeat an adversary; she and the filmmakers are just making it up as they go along.

Interesting side note: I wonder how many of the Embassy audiences for Potter this week realised that they weren’t watching an actual film. I mean they weren’t watching much of a film, obviously, but literally there was no film flickering through a projector. The Embassy has gone digital and the future is here. Bright, perfectly in focus, superb colour and the complete absence of dirt, scratches, flicker or judder. I was captivated.

Monsters posterBest film of the week is the potentially under-appreciated Monsters. A bit like District 9 last year, writer-director Gareth Edwards has used the alien arrival genre to make a thoughtful statement about ourselves.

A space probe containing alien spores gathered for a research project has crashed in Mexico and the spores have grown into terrifying 100 metre high squid like creatures and the authorities have barricaded them in to a quarantine zone just south of the Rio Grande. Photo-journalist Scoot McNairy (In Search of a Midnight Kiss) is trying to escort his boss’s daughter (Whitney Able) to safety when they miss the last ferry and have to cross the infected area to get back to the States.

While there’s plenty of ‘what’s around that corner’ tension, Edwards keeps the creatures out of sight, for the most part content to focus on the damage they have done. But, were all those buildings wrecked by the aliens or by the military trying to destroy them?

Gently paced, lyrical and humane, Monsters is terrific and Edwards (best known as visual effects designer) has announced himself as a talent to watch for the future.

Lebanon posterEarlier this year we had one guy trapped in a coffin — now, in Lebanon, we have four guys trapped in a tank. It’s the first day of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and these raw recruits are on their way to help mop up after an air attack. The outside world is seen through the viewfinder and gun sight of the tank and the claustrophobia and paranoia of the situation is brilliantly achieved by director Samuel Maoz, a veteran of the same war.

The horrors of war are on full display in Lebanon and, frankly, it’s twice the film that The Hurt Locker managed to be. One cliché that it doesn’t avoid — if there’s a young soldier crying for his mother in the first act, chances are he ain’t coming home.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 November, 2010.