The latest Harry Potter film is Deathly Shallow and proves that it is possible to portray JK Rowling's outrageously entertaining, labyrinthine saga as a lumpy, bland, gray slop of pulpy goo. In the fifth book Dolores Umbridge had outlawed both fun and magic, and it is unfortunate that UK TV director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have done just the same in the past three installments. Is James Cameron the only Hollywood director allowed to make three plus hour films? I find it hilarious that Potter fans have believed Warner Bros' claim that there was too much material in the seventh book to fit in one film. Avarice and hogwash. Didn't Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens skilfully adapt the outsized 'Lord of the Rings' into a classic trilogy? Deathly Hallows is just something out of an assembly line that is packaged with the ad 'Part 2 in July 2011 in 3D'. Its daylight robbery is what it is. And Warner have a 800+ million reasons to break into your Gringotts vault.
With 'Deathly Hallows', a fruitcake of a film rife with exposition but woeful lack of payoff, the Harry Potter franchise hits a stiff series low. Even the wizards can't seem to wave off irony with their wands, as the most exciting book of the septology feels like the longest film of the lot. The decline of the Harry Potter franchise has always been due to its unrelenting change in directors - Chris Columbus was criticized for being too faithful to the first two books (for reasons I cannot quite fathom); Alfonso Cuaron's refreshing 'Prisoner of Azkaban', the best film of them all was dark, artsy and glorious, but curiously made the least amount of money. Mike Newell's 'Goblet of Fire', an inhumanly chopped product was the most action-packed but also jarringly disjointed. Yet even in those movies there were beautiful moments - like Harry, Ron, Neville, Seamus goofing around in 'Azkaban', the flying car sequence from 'Chamber of secrets', Hermione passing a message to Harry from a disgruntled Ron through ten other people in 'Goblet of Fire'. Moments like these made for great cinema. 'Deathly Hallows' has no such moments. All we get are dozens of aerial shots of sweeping plains a la LOTR, loud noise and eye-glazing edits - nothing that is the least bit magical or original.
Cuaron and even Newell demonstrated that darker Potters could still be fun, but Yates, with his gray and black palette paints some deadly dull imagery. He has absolutely no flair for visual grandeur. Nor for seamless direction, as he doles out a watershed of backstory, revelations and plot clarifications with fragmented subplots from the novel that are never given any screen time to develop or any real importance. Kreacher shambles on screen a couple of times without his significance ever explained. And like in the previous film, we are treated with a barrage of supporting characters made of a dizzying onslaught of Britain's finest actors, who're yet again left unexplored - they're merely used as props in a speed-tour through the mythology's greatest hits. Lord Voldemort continues to show up only as a teaser for future installments, has Yates forgotten that there's only one film left? The legendary John Hurt, who plays Ollivander and was last seen in the first film almost a decade ago has exactly one line.
I get that reviewing a film based on a book is like uber-fan nitpicking. They messed with the opening chapter! They didn't show Mad-eye Moody's death! They omitted Voldemort's presence at Godric's Hollow! What next, God, what next?! Understandable, but how can one forgive pedestrian direction, less than spectacular CGI and narrative padding? They're all legitimate targets for criticism, and one can find all of that in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
There really is just one scene in the film which leaves an impression - a nifty flashback involving gorgeous, vibrant, animated silhouettes that explains the origin of the Deathly Hallows. The Mission Impossible style sequence where Harry, Ron and Hermione pop some Polyjuice and assume the form of office workers to penetrate the Ministry of Magic is decent as well. But the overall impact wanes more than waxes, courtesy of an amateurishly filmed clutter of explosions, plot shards and celebrity cameos. Save for a little dance between Harry and Hermione in a tent, there's no room for the gentle human moments that anchor Rowling's heroic fantasy epic to the everyday world. And then there are metaphors that are all too implicit in the film - Nazis, bureaucracy and racism - strangely none of the political subtexts really come alive.
Daniel Radcliffe is clearly willing and able to take Harry to deeper, darker places, but is in severe need of Helena Bonham-Carter's manic cartoonish energy. Rupert Grint displays sparks of brilliance but is frustratingly dumbed down by Yates. Emma Watson, a super star in the making, mercifully keeps her eyebrows under control. The much-ballyhooed nude scene between Radcliffe and Watson renders the least passionate kiss in the long, sad history of dispassionate Hollywood kisses. The only reason I'm looking forward to Part 2 is that I will finally have put all this behind me.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have worked as a single film and a single colossal experience for audiences. Imagine reading the final Potter book on the first day of release, and JK Rowling suddenly apparating in your room and snatching the book from your hands while you're on the 500th page. And then asking you to read the rest next year. And then telling you to buy the book all over again to read the remaining portion. Dear Pottermaniacs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is nothing more than an exercise in loyalty. Avada Kedavra, franchise.