The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

You Don't Have To Camp Around

Went to see the latest Harry Potter film in the cinema the other day. It was bloody freezing. The cinema, I mean. Cineworld at West India Quay. It’s normally pretty good – much better than the apocalyptic Greenwich Odeon, where you never have to pay to see a film because you’re always being given vouchers as an apology for the standard of the last film you watched there. Honestly, seeing Wall-E with tramlines skittering across the screen like it’s the Keystone Cops, that’s irony.

Anyway, HP7. Good points; the first half-hour or so, it hits the ground running, and all the leads gave decent performances. Bad points; well, to begin with, Helen Bonham-Carter was incomprehensible, again, and Rhys Ifans, who you’d think would be ideal casting for a bohemian hippy, underplays the part so much that he just comes across as mildly bored by the whole Voldemort thing. Bill Nighy is also weirdly twitchy. But the first half-hour, all the stuff in London, all the stuff in the Ministry of Magic, is lots of fun.

The main problem, though, is that after that first half-hour, from the moment they put up that bloody tent, the film loses momentum and inexorably grinds to a halt. The next, what, two hours consist of maybe fifteen minutes of exposition, fifteen minutes of plot development, and about one and a half hours of rugged scenery. Honestly, it was like watching a cross between Highway and A Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party. At any moment I was expecting to see Pete Postlethwaite striding across the moors talking about winter fuel payments.

And it’s all coincidences. Harry just happens to find himself in the right part of the New Forest where a magic sword is hidden in an icy pool. Hermione just happens to spot a symbol on a gravestone. It’s aimless and frustrating. They materialize right next to where some Death Eaters (I think) are hanging out. They wander into the Ministry and end up finding the Horcrux amulet by accident. I realise this is a fault with the book, yes, but this was an opportunity to fix all that. None of these coincidences have to be so for plot reasons; look at the third and fourth films, which sort-out and boil-down the plots of those books beautifully and economically. But with HP7, I was mentally script-editing it as we went along – for something to do while watching it, more than anything else – “Oh, we could have come into this scene three lines later, and we really should have left it by now.” “This scene hasn’t developed plot, theme or character, no-one would miss it if it was gone.” Some scenes are just painfully slow, laboured where they need to be building pace.

One last example. About an hour and a half into the film, Ron wanders off. Half an hour later, it will come as very little surprise that he comes back again. In between those two points, absolutely sod all happens. Really. Sod all. You could have gone away, had some chips, read the paper, and come back and not missed a single story beat. There might be some confusion as to whether are heroes are searching for Horcruxes or Deathly Hallows, but nowhere near as much confusion as if you’d stayed actually watching the film.

And the ending. It ends on, hang on I’ll check – page 389 of the book. It’s not a completely arbitrary place to stop, but it comes after yet-another-escape, not a particularly exciting or important one – Dobby turns up to free Harry Potter, raising the question of why the bloody hell he never bothered to do that before in this film or any of the preceding 4 – and the whole you-know-bit is thrown away - like so much of the story, it happens off-screen. I was hoping this film would open the book up a bit more – because unlike the books, the films have never restricted themselves to only showing scenes featuring Harry – and show us some of the exciting stuff going on elsewhere while our heroes are working their way through locations from one of those shows where Alan Titchmarsh stands on hills and talks about Wordsworth.

Oh. And I haven’t even mentioned the vision with Harry and Hermione snogging in the nude. It was greeted with embarrassed laughter, I’m afraid. Watching it, I cringed from both ends at once. It just felt cheap and gratuitous, and even if you look really, really closely, you don’t get to see anything at all.