To the Cinema: Harry Potter 7, Part 1

With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, the dominant pop culture franchise of the last decade begins its end.  Sure, the last book has been out for more than 3 years, which has lessened the excitement around the series, but the two-part last movie is Harry’s final send-off.  Fortunately, the first part of it is the best movie in the series to date.

For the record, I mostly did not like the last book.  I had been a fan of the series since the first book came out, and I was on line at midnight to buy The Deathly Hallows.  I had the book read by 9:30 that morning and I have not touched the book since.  Partially this is because I’ve had the book loaned to friends and relatives for much of the intervening three years, but mostly because I just did not care to read it again.  The book does away with Hogwarts and its various intrigues to focus on the much less interesting battle between good and evil.  That was to be expected and is understandable, but the school stuff was replaced with interminable camping scenes.  While I did not hate the book, I did enjoy it much less than the other books in the series.

The movie, however, is better than the others are for some of the same reasons the book was worse.  The lack of Hogwarts is to the movies advantage.  Those parts never really worked in the movies and Deathly Hallows benefits from their absence.  The camping scenes, which drag in the book, actually help the movie maintain its tension.  Combined with the captivating landscapes in some of those shots help make Harry and his companions feel isolated and lost.

Another thing that helps the film is the decision to split the book into two movies.  While this seems like, and probably is, a blatant cash grab, cutting the book in half allows the movie to slow the pace down.  Most of the previous movies tried to be so faithful to the source material that they felt more like filmed summaries moving at a breakneck pace in an attempt to include every possible scene from the book.  To be fair, I am not sure there was a better way to handle the adaptations, but it did occasionally kill the movies’ pacing.  Covering only half of a book in this movie, though, allows the director to construct scenes that are not always rushing to their end.  This pace that occasionally stops to take a breath is the biggest improvement over the previous movies.

It is also apparent how much better the principle actors are than they were in the first couple of movies.  This movie relies on the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and the three performers do a good job.  The movie feels more like a thriller or horror movie rather than the straight magical adventure of the previous ones.  This is something from the books that had been lost in the previous films.  However, Deathly Hallows sticks more successfully to the book’s tone.

Even though I liked Deathly Hallows, all is not peaches and gravy.  It ends on a cliffhanger and really feels like very little was accomplished.  It is hard to shake the feeling that you just watched a two and a half hour prelude to Part 2.  Moreover, for what is ostensibly a children’s movie there is quite a bit of gore and sexual content.  Even with my praise of the slower pacing, outside of the escape scene at the beginning and the infiltration of the magical Nazi headquarters, there is not a ton of action.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a flawed but entertaining movie.  Even with those flaws, it is the best Harry Potter film.  It is sad to see Harry go, but I’m glad he gets to leave in such a satisfactory manner.


Prince of Persia Movie Review

Prince of Persia is not a very good movie.  It could and should have been better than it was, but due to some truly baffling plot points what could have been an entertaining summer epic is just a mess.  Many viewers will write this off as the inevitable consequence of basing a movie on a video game, but contrary to that this movie is better when is stays close to its video game roots and falls flat when it deviates.  The deviations from the game include obvious twists and drawing heavily on tired influences.  The result is that what could have been the first truly good video game based movie is instead an uninspired and uninteresting amalgam of better movies.

The parts of Prince of Persia that could have made it good are there if the plot had let them.  First, for a summer action movie the acting is actually very good.  The casting was dead on as well.  There were no outstanding performances but neither were there any noticeably poor ones.  The acting was better than expected for a blockbuster.  Also the action scenes were good.  They were clear and well choreographed.  The movie shines when the focus leaves the asinine plot and shows Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhal) performing acrobatic parkour feats.  This is something that hews closely to the video game, which was primarily about using the Prince’s acrobatics to traverse the trap filled wreckage of a ruined palace.  In the movie this translates into entertaining and unique action sequences.  Prince of Persia is a joy to look at as well.  The plot of the movie goes to some breathtaking and awe-inspiring places that really make the movie feel epic.  It’s bad that the adventure itself is so dull.

Prince of Persia starts by showing how the titular Prince became such.  Unlike the game, Dastan was not born a Prince.  For some reason the script writers or somebody felt that what PoP really needed was a big dose of Disney’s Aladdin.  In fact he is introduced in a near exact copy of the scene that introduces Aladdin in his movie.  It then moves to the Prince, his two brothers and their uncle debating whether or not to attack a castle that they have been told not to but appears to be conspiring with their enemies.  As soon as the uncle appears on screen he might as well have “villain” tattooed to his forehead.  He looks very much like “Aladdin’s” Jafar.  The uncle, who wants to fight, wins the argument and the battle begins.  During the well done battle scene Dastan acquires a dagger that can control the sand of Time.  He is quickly framed for the death of his father and escapes with the princess of the attacked castle.  This leads to about an hour of the Prince trying to get in touch with his uncle to tell him he was framed, even though it is obvious to everyone in the audience that the uncle is the one who framed him.  The movie plays it as though it is some big twist, but it is really just a waste of time.  How could anyone doubt that Jafar is the bad guy?

The Princess is a troubled character.  At the start she is capable of defending herself and even of killing the Prince when she catches him by surprise.  But as the movie goes along she becomes more and more helpless and useless.  Also introduced are Han Solo and Chewbacca.  Actually it is the leader of a band of gambling thieves and his faithful bodyguard.  Despite being somewhat pointless additions they are entertaining.  Though why it was thought adding Star Wars to an already confused plot was a good idea baffles.

The plot eventually takes the Prince and friends to a place where the dagger can be kept safe, though hit is not clear how considering it has already been found and destroyed.  It is revealed that Jafar wants to use the sands to go back and stop himself from saving his brothers life when they were kids.  The Prince is able to stop him, but only after he has rewound time to before all the bad things in the movie happened.  And he still gets the girl.  In the game it starts with the Sands being unleashed and it follows the Prince’s attempts to fix things.  Rewinding to before it happened is the goal and it costs the Prince his relationship with the Princess.  Instead of the goal, the rewind is a happy accident that was said to cause the destruction of the world in the movie.  It takes something that is convenient in the game and makes it stupidly more so.

Prince of Persia ends up as a messy combination of several better works; Aladdin, Star Wars and the game.  It feels longer than its already bloated runtime, with its stellar action scenes too few and far between when compared to the lame plot.  It is sad that the most glaring flaws of Prince of Persia will be written off as the remains of its video game heritage when in actuality those are the parts that stray furthest from the video game.