I have to admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to this one. No, it’s not because I didn’t feel that it would be a great film, or that it is something not worth watching. Rather, I literally did not look forward to this film, for the simple reason that I wasn’t really aware. Looking back, I realised that I had missed out on a lot of the hype and the build up that I traditionally associate with Harry Potter films. These are massive, behemoths of blockbusters in their own right (the highest grossing franchise of all time, in fact), but I did not feel the hype I felt in the years gone by. Was it a reflection of the marketing of the film, reflecting the fact that this film is nothing more than an opening course to the seven-dish Chinese wedding dinner that is the second part? It’s far more likely that I found myself being too engrossed in my own work that I did not pay much attention to the marketing, however good or bad it might have been.
So, lo and behold, it snuck up on us and was released just in time for Hari Raya Haji. It was during this time that I was back in Penang, and it seemed like an ideal opportunity to spend more time with my sisters. It should also be noted that while I did read the Harry Potter books, I was never quite the die-hard fanatic that some (Fazil, ahem) are or was. In fact, I did it as a way to get into something that my little sister herself was quite into, so that we’d have something to talk about. All the books, including the last one, are hers. The last book I read, ‘The Deathly Hallows’, I read it when I was scared shitless living in an empty house some years back (you try it). Conversations with my then-girlfriend helped, but other, more normal people need their sleep too. With that, I retreated to my local mamak, and stayed there until the sun came up, blazing through the entire book to the end. I may not have been that interested in it, but they are very well-written books.
I didn’t quite remember all the details of the book before I stepped into the cinema, and so as I stepped into the unknown, it was also an attempt of moving back into the past. Now nearing the end of their education at Hogwarts (I think; we never really did see them attend that many classes, did we? Surely some of them had failed…), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) should really be looking forward to the end of his school days. But no, things are a bit messed up. After all, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) was murdered, by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), of all people. Having your least favourite teacher become the headmaster wouldn’t help in many ways. In addition to that, the Death Eaters, emboldened by Voldemort’s increasing powers, wrecked havoc on both the muggle and wizard worlds. It’s not the ideal situation to be in, but it is what Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (the lovely Emma Watson) find themselves in.
It is, as ever, Harry who is the centerpiece exhibition in the museum of things Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) wants to destroy. With that, the Order of the Phoenix devised plans and strategies throughout the entire story to keep him safe and away from the clutches of he-who-must-not-be-named-but-is-done-so-at-random-intervals-anyway. Harry, however, feels that the initiative should be taken to destroy the Dark Lord once and for all, and so they sought to do so by looking for the Horcruxes, which would, in turn, get rid of Voldemort forever. The film then transforms itself into something of a road movie, with more than enough challenges to test any friendship.
It is this ‘road movie’ aspect that I want to get started with. Road movies have always interested me in some way, primarily because you can’t help but develop the characters as they go along the literal journey. The journey is an important aspect of any story, for it is through that the the characters grow. If the characters don’t grow, then there would be no difference. As my cultural studies lecturer, Dr Pat, was so fond of saying, if there is no difference, then there is no meaning. This film, perhaps because of its role as the beginning of the end of the whole saga, need to have all its meaningful eggs put together in the bildungsroman basket. Because of that, we do get to see more of the characters in more locations. No longer merely confined to Hogwarts and a number of surrounding or related areas to it, we do move from one place to another, as Harry and his friends sought not only to look for the Horcruxes, but also to escape detection from Voldemort. The visualisation and literalisation of this journey helps us to get more involved in the drama of their friendship.
And when I say drama, I do mean drama. Lest people walked in with an expectation that they will see a fair amount of CGI-aided magic, they would do well to realign their expectations. This is not an action film, nor is it a particularly exciting one, to be honest. It is very slow, with a lot of static shots that focuses on the protagonists and their relationships. We see little bits here and there of Hermione and Ron’s growing affection for one another. We see Harry dealing with the deaths of past and present in his life. Slow, moving scenes. I’m not quite in favour of writing spoilers, but this is one of my favourite scenes in the entire series, so I have to stop, and Ctrl + B the following word: SPOILER! There was a scene with Harry and Hermione. No, it’s not what you might think, though they do make a lovely couple together. Harry turned on the radio, and tuned into a station playing a nice little bit of music. He then walked to Hermione, who was more than a little stressed at Ron’s behaviour. He offered his hand, like a gentleman, and smiled at her like one as well. She offered a small one in return, and after some moments, accepted his hand. He pulled her up, and then they…danced. Slowly, in step, though at times slightly not so. But they danced, hand in hand, arm in arm, smiling and laughing as they did so, as the non-diegetic music rose to peaks and crescendoes. Do you see what’s happening here? Even as the world is burning around them, as the forces of darkness is closing in on them themselves, they danced. Two people…two friends, spending time together, laughing and smiling. In many ways, the deeper they get into the unknown, there are also steps made to dip their toes into the childhood they never really had. END OF SPOILER.
It was moments such as that that made this film the most interesting of them all. I had understood that it is also an attempt to get all the slow bits out of the way before the wham, bam, thank you m’am action of the final part to be released next year. That will no doubt be an exciting and tearful film in its own right, but in the bigger scheme of things, I wonder how that will top the emotional value of this film. Going beyond their friendship, we also see how they deal with the loss of loved ones throughout the film. It’s become a common thing that shouldn’t be.
Everything came together very well for this film, in my opinion. The rest of the cast were themselves, as usual. I suspect the chance to come back and act was nothing more than an attempt to put back the skins they’ve been wearing all these years. Some of the roles were more scaled back than I thought, and Fleur Delacouer came back with ‘In Bruges’ under her belt and seemed to be more than just eye candy this time around. Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans also had a go; Ifans was so convincing I completely didn’t notice who he was! It took me until the credit list to figure that it was indeed him, Hugh Grant’s flatmate in Notting Hill, who proudly walked around in underwear half the time. “I know a girl named Pandora once,” he said to Grant. “Never did get to see her box, though.” Classic.
Many of the other aspects were continued from the previous Potters, but I do have to doff a very, very special cap to Monsieur Desplat. Though this is an entirely subjective opinion and experience, I am humbled to have heard this great composer’s work for this film. I rarely get original CDs anymore, but once my next paycheck kicks in, I will be there at the CD shop, saying, “I want my Desplat now, bitch.”
The ‘HP’ used in the posters reminded Fikri of HP sauce first, and Hewlett-Packard second, before Harry Potter.