Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I'm going to say this up-front, in the hopes that I have time to shield myself from the attacks I'm likely to receive in response to it: HARRY POTTER 7, PT. 2 is a deeply-flawed film.
All out of rotten vegetables to throw? Good. Now give me a chance to explain.
In order to fully understand how I came to this opinion, you need to know that I never finished the book upon which it was based. I, like just about every other person on the planet, started reading the book on the day it was released. I got to the section where they went on the eternal camping trip and put the book down with the full intention of finishing it at a later date. That still hasn't happened. I just sort of lost interest. I am a fan of the series, but certainly not a fanatic. When the first book was released, I championed it to every person who would listen. I still think that Rowling should be very proud of the series. They are smart, creative, and, at least in the early volumes, quite humorous. By the end, however, I just wasn't as excited about them as many other folks were. Watching these last two films, then, was a different experience than I had with the previous six. Save for the first section of the seventh film, I was experiencing the story from a purely cinematic perspective, with no preconceived knowledge of where the plot was going. What I discovered was that the films made very little sense.
Films are a different beast than books. Slavish adaptations rarely work on screen. If Peter Jackson had followed Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS to the letter, people would have walked out halfway through the first film complaining about epic Elvish poetry and listings of kings and their offspring. Film requires that a story that took hundreds of pages to tell in a book be told in a couple of hours' time on screen. If the story is particularly complicated, then a well-made adaptation can get away with three or more hours without audiences complaining too much. However, the story must be clear and engaging. The problem with these last two POTTER films is that they seem to be a wasted opportunity. The first film is all set-up and, at times, seems padded in order to take a limited amount of material and stretch it into a full-length running time. The second film, by contrast, has so much to get through that it plays like a Greatest Hits album. Plot points are rushed and, at times, unexplained. Characterization is thrown away because there simply isn't time for it, with all the running about. I stopped trying to make sense of the endless parade of characters and events about half-way through when I realized that the filmmakers expected viewers to have read the books in order to follow along with it. It was a mess. Don't even get me started on the utterly useless Epilogue, which I understand is a fault of the source material.
To be fair, the POTTER films have never failed to deliver a high level of quality in their production aspects. The final film is no exception. It is beautiful to behold for every minute that it is on the screen. It is eye candy of the highest magnitude. The special effects are flawless and plentiful. The ensemble of English acting talent is unmatched by any other film series I have seen. The music, though not even approaching the genius of John Williams score for the first film, is sweeping and appropriate. As for successfully telling an engaging story, however, the film fails on almost every level.
I know that my opinion matters not to the success of this film. It has already made more money in its opening weekend than any other film in history and will continue to rake in money for years to come through rentals and home video sales. Still, It is a sad occasion for me. The odds are that we will never see these books adapted for the screen again. Frankly, it's a miracle that the series has been so consistently good over eight films and ten years. To have the climax of the series be as empty and incomprehensible as it has turned out is a shame.
Feel free to reload your tomato slingshots.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Klaus Kinski is not a well man. This is a man who is not only loathed by nearly all who have worked with him, but has actually earned numerous death threats against him due to his egomaniacal behavior on the sets of the films in which he is cast. Even so, German director Werner Herzog has worked with Kinski on numerous occasions and even considers him one of his best friends. I forgot to mention that Herzog has been the source of several of these death threats. If you watch interviews with Herzog, he comes across as a sane, soft-spoken, intelligent man. So, what is it about the unpredictable Kinski that compels Herzog to work with him? Herzog, himself, made a film, released in 1999, exploring the subject: MY BEST FIEND - KLAUS KINSKI.
The film covers the period from when the two first met as lodgers in a boarding house (when the director was only a teenager) through the production of the five films the two would make together over the years. Herzog revisits many of the locations where his films were shot and interviews those who worked with Kinski on them. Kinski, himself, only appears in archive footage, apparently wanting nothing to do with the documentary. There is no doubt that Kinski is one of the most temperamental actors ever to have worked in cinema. The slightest provocation can lead to extended rants, fights, and threats of quitting. Witnessing footage of these rants is like watching car accidents on the highway; difficult to stomach, at times, but compelling. Herzog's stunning footage of remote and rugged landscapes perfectly matches the wild abandon with which Kinski practices his art. Kinski's unpredictability synchronizes with that of the wilderness surrounding him. It's almost as if he feeds off of the energy of his environment and channels it into torrents of vitriol and manic explosions of movement. In the end, what is learned is that Kinski possesses incredible raw talent that also comes with a stupendous ego and an emotional hair trigger. When these energies are focused into a role, however, he gives performances unlike any other actor on the planet. Those performances drive the films in which he appears and command the audience's attention in remarkable ways.
As for the film itself, it's a bit of a mixed-bag. The scenery that Herzog photographs is gorgeous beyond imagining. Rough, wild, and bursting with life. Enduring Kinski's abuse of his fellow workers can be a bit hard to stomach for such an extended period of time, however. In addition, Herzog's deep, almost monotonous narration can be off-putting as the film progresses. One can see that it would take someone as even-keeled as Herzog in order to successfully tame a beast such as Kinski but his voice still palls after a while.
I would recommend the film as an interesting study of an actor who lives and works on the edges of acceptable behavior, crossing the line more-frequently than is comfortable for most people. The film is not light entertainment, but it does have its charms and the subject is certainly unique.