Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
Hilton loses pet Chihuaua, offers reward
Paris Hilton hasn't been having much luck lately. First, she breaks up with her boyfriend, Nick Carter; then her Hollywood Hills home she shares with sister, Nicky, was burglarized; and now her pet Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, has disappeared, The Associated Press reports. Tinkerbell, who made regular appearances in pink coats and puppy-sized sneakers on Hilton's Fox reality show The Simple Life 2: Road Trip, has been missing since last Wednesday. Hilton is offering a $5,000 reward for the dog's safe return, as posters for the pampered pet were displayed all over the West Hollywood area, Hilton's spokeswoman said Tuesday. It's unclear how the dog managed to get away.
Search on Jackson's Neverland Ranch ruled legal
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, quickly becoming a household name in the child molestation trial against singer Michael Jackson, ruled Tuesday that authorities were within legal justification to conduct a massive search of Jackson's sprawling Neverland Ranch last year, AP reports. Defense attorney Steve Cochran had argued that authorities "relied on a lot of pontificating" from people without sufficient expertise. "The point was to smear my client, to make it appear there was a menace to society out there whose house needed to be searched immediately," he argued. Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen, however, said the only thing that could invalidate the search would be significant misrepresentations on the search warrant, which were not present. AP reports Melville conceded that there may have been "some relevant omissions," but he concluded: "There was probable cause to believe Michael Jackson had committed the offenses based on the statements of the minor witness." More testimony will be heard Thursday on whether Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon and other authorities were aware that private investigator Bradley Miller worked for Jackson's former lawyer, Mark Geragos, when evidence was seized from Miller's office, evidence the defense seeks to throw out.
Firth, Winterbottom films headline Toronto Film Fest
Toronto Film Festival organizers announced their complete program lineup Tuesday, including the world preem of Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, Catherine Breillat's Anatomy of Hell and British actor Colin Firth in the psychological thriller Trauma, Variety reports. 9 Songs features live performances from Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals, intercut with a London couple's explicit sexcapades, while Anatomy of Hell explores the regions of women's bodies and sexuality deemed monstrous and unsightly. Marc Evans' Trauma is about a car-crash victim (Firth) who wakes from a coma to learn that his wife was killed in the accident. The festival runs Sept. 9-18.
Life photographer Mydans dies
Carl Mydans, who became the first staff photographers at Life magazine in 1936, died Monday in Larchmont, N.Y., at age 97, Reuters reports. Mydans, best known for his bleak photos of migrant workers during the U.S. Depression, took stirring photographs throughout Europe and Asia during World War II. According to the Life archives, Mydans and his wife were captured by the invading Japanese forces in the Philippines in 1941 and were held for almost a year in Manila, then for another year in Shanghai, China, before being released as part of a prisoner-of-war exchange. Some of the photographers most compelling images include: the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945; angry French citizens shaving the heads of women accused of sleeping with Germans during the occupation in 1944; and a 1950 portrait of Douglas MacArthur smoking a pipe.
Pam Anderson helps U.S. gymnast
Gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj, who earned an Olympic silver medal with the American women's gymnastics team at the Athens Games Tuesday, probably wouldn't have been there if it weren't for Baywatch star Pamela Anderson. Reuters reports Anderson gave Bhardwaj a check for $25,000 when she found the gymnast was deep in debt and could not afford to attend the U.S. Olympic trials in June. Anderson found out about the girls' plight when friends at her home gymnasium in Los Angeles were selling raffle tickets on her behalf. Reuters reports one of her friend's mothers offered a ticket to her neighbor-- Anderson. But instead of buying a ticket, Anderson--a former gymnast--visited the gym and gave Bhardwaj the check. Anderson has also been asking for donations through her Web site and even created a foundation on Bhardwaj's behalf.
Contender hopes to knock out Champ
DreamWorks TV and reality guru Mark Burnett, the producers behind NBC's The Contender, slugged it out in a Los Angeles court Tuesday with Fox Broadcasting Co. and its The Next Great Champ producers over claims they violated state boxing laws in a "rushed and frenzied" bid to beat Contender to the airwaves. Contender producers are seeking a court order to block Great Champ from premiering Sept. 10 on Fox by accusing producer Endemol USA of illegally promoting boxing matches without a license. Burnett and DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg also argue that Fox became irate after losing a intense bid to land the rights to Contender and vowed to create its own boxing series that would "destroy" prospects for the show.
Sony BMG to cut jobs
Newly formed music giant Sony BMG offered either early retirement or voluntary severance Tuesday to eligible employees, with the warning that future layoffs may not be accompanied by such generous terms, Reuters reports. The company, which hopes to generate at least $350 million in savings following its Aug. 5 creation as a 50-50 joint venture between Sony Corp and Bertelsmann AG, is expected to cut more than 2,000 jobs at Sony BMG's worldwide operations. Billboard magazine estimates the combined company had about 10,000 employees.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.