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Before this, Harry Potter made an effort to include casual fans in the fun, but now at the end, it seems clear these last two movies are going to be made almost exclusively for serious Potter lovers. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, that philosophy hasn’t yet resulted in great moviemaking.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 has a problem, and it’s a problem which most of the diehard Harry Potter fans who see it may not even notice. Screenwriter Steve Kloves will almost definitely get away with it, as by now a quite large percentage of the people who attend these films are diehards by definition. Seven movies and seven books in this phenomenon has taken its place as a permanent fixture in our cultural consciousness.
That means the likeliness is at least fifty-one percent of the audience will have read the novels or memorized every bit of the previous installments and be able to tell you all there is to know about the origins of Regulus Arcturus Black. But for the rest of us, much of this first part of the Deathly Hallows is nearly impossible to comprehend.
It’s a problem of technobabble. Technobable is a term coined to describe the overuse of technical jargon. In the past, it’s been most usually applied to stuffs like the Star Trek series, when characters have prattled on so relentlessly about the buttons they’re pushing, that it overshadows anything true or human the less techno-savvy members of the viewers might have been able to latch on to. The most recent Star Trek incarnation strove to solve this problem by focusing on relationships rather than technology, and in the process created something that every audience member could buy into whether or not they’ve read the Star Fleet Technical Manual.
In Deathly Hallows maybe it’s more correct to call this a problem of Potterbabble. In much the same way Star Trek has in the past committed the sin of drowning its viewers in nonsense technology chatter, Deathly Hallows is inexorably mired in the endless names and details and spells and trinkets of the Potter universe. It’s worse than simply mired in it really, much of the movie’s plot is built almost entirely on it. In the books that attention to detail is perhaps one of the story’s strengths, but if you haven’t read them or haven’t memorized every detail of the previous movies, then in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 film it’s just a big muddle.
It’s no coincidence that the Harry Potter franchise’s best moments have all happened when they’ve focused squarely on something else. It’s for this very reason that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are often regarded as the best of the franchise by those who aren’t dedicated Potterphiles.
Those entries, more than the others, cut through the Potterbabble straight to the human element of JK Rowling’s stories. They focused on the emotion of them; a boy coming to the grips with the loss of his parents, or teenagers dealing with hormones run amok. It’s a huge disappointment to see that, as the franchise counts down to the end, it has reverted back to being something designed not so much as a film but as an homage to all the things people who have read the books already know.
But maybe this was unavoidable. Seven movies in, it’s as though the Harry Potter movies are finally collapsing under their own weight. They’ve overlooked all the insider details for as long as they could, but now with all coming to a head, there’s just no way around the Potterbabble. By now you’re either on board or you’re not, and director David Yates doesn’t care whether you even remember Dobby the House Elf exists, let alone what he’s all about. He’s going to use Dobby the House Elf, for God’s sake.
The fan, confused or not, will likely have to deal with it. You won’t enjoy this movie as much as the guy sitting next to you dressed like Dumbledore, but you’ve invested too much time in these movies and characters to do anything other than sit there, ride it out, and trust that all of this makes sense to someone else.
If you’re able to hang in there for the entire Potterbabble, you’ll eventually be rewarded, as when Deathly Hallows settles in for real, character development it completely soars. In the movie’s more intimate moments it’s about three kids whom you’ve seen growing up on-screen channeling their characters as adults. Those sequences anchor this film and ask more of its actors than any Harry Potter film ever has before. For the first time, they’re old enough and adult enough to handle it. The trio, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have grown into full-fledged actors completely capable of carrying even the most emotional moment.
It’s those little interactions between them that kept me interested. Harry and Hermione sharing a dance inside a tent, just when things look like they’re at their worst, stuck with me after the credits rolled. The friendship between these people, their chemistry, their connections, that’s what has always made the Harry Potter saga work best on movie. It’s a shame that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 doesn’t have more of it. When it stops for those things, when it makes time for them, this movie works on every conceivable level. When it doesn’t, those who aren’t already obsessed with the elements of this series are forced to just sit back, shut their brains off, and enjoy the special effects.
Fortunately, visually at least, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is as crisp as director David Yates’ other Potter attempts. This is his third Harry Potter movie and by now he knows just what it takes to immerse your eyeballs in a world of witchcraft and wizardry. Even in a film which visits none of the familiar Potter set pieces, like Hogwarts for example, it still looks and feels like all the magic of a Potter film is there, in every shot.
Instead it’s a road film where our main characters wind up traveling together, often isolated and alone. In the process things of gotten dark and, even though David Yates may lose some of his audience with confusing specifics of his story, he absolutely nails the film’s tone. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is dire, desperate, and dreary. Much of it takes place in a world that seems almost emptied, as if it’s been sucked dry by evil. There’s enough in that to make the movie good enough, even for the rest of us who have absolutely no idea what’s happening once the plot resorts to Potterbabble.
Good enough is just about what Deathly Hallows seem, if you actually look at it as a film and not specifically a Harry Potter film. The thing is, that forty-nine percent who haven’t memorized the inner workings of the Ministry of Magic just don’t care about what Dolores Umbridge has been up to, nor do we remember why Lucius Malfoy is lately very sweaty. Instead those casual fans are probably going to wonder why the Horcrux’s effect on the Potter kids seems like a direct rip-off of the One Ring from Lord of the Rings. They’re going to think it’s kind of lame that the plot has suddenly turned into the somewhat worn out Nazi template as a model for Voldemort’s evil empire. That 49% has seen all the film adaptions, but hasn’t memorized the names of every Grindelwald and Weasley. Before all this, Harry Potter made an effort to engage casual fans in the thrill anyway, but now at the end, it seems obvious these last two entries are going to be made almost exclusively for diehard Potter fans.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 that philosophy hasn’t resulted in great filmmaking, but by now Harry Potter has amassed so many truly dedicated fans that it doesn’t matter, because they won’t care.
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