Watching the extended (and often breathtaking) trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Comic Con on Saturday a thought crossed my mind – could this be when Harry Potter goes for the Oscar?
The series has been in competition for some categories in the past, but it’s never made it into the Best Picture race. Which is understandable, as I don’t know that many (if any) of the films to date have been worthy. There was some talk about Half Blood Prince (which I sort of agreed with), especially when the Best Picture category opened up to ten films, but it never came to pass. But now Deathly Hallows looks like something altogether different, and I wonder if the series’ time hasn’t finally come.
What was most impressive about the footage show at Con was the sweep and scale of it, contrasted with the emotion. What we saw looked like a Harry Potter film, but it didn’t have the standard look of a Potter movie. The film looks huge and completely epic. Director David Yates has changed up the cinematography for scenes in the first part, using handheld to create a shaky, unsteady atmosphere around Harry, Ron and Hermione as they go on the run. And more than that even in the few scenes we saw the tone was dark, raw and elegiac. There’s power in the imagery and in the finality. Yates imbues the scenes with a sense of danger that was missing from the other chapters because they were, quite simply, not the finale. It’s adult, but in a way that feels totally consistent with the growth of the series.
It looks to me like the two parts of Deathly Hallows are in the running for the best of the series. But what about Best Picture? Having not seen the films I can’t argue anything on merit, but I can argue on larger issues. There has never been a film series quite like the Harry Potter films. They’re fantasy adventure versions of Michael Apted’s Up films, and they’re a triumph purely as achievements. Not only did the series keep the same cast, allowing the young actors to grow with their roles, it’s actually a series where the films got better as they went along. It’s the inverse of standard sequel business, and it’s been inspiring to watch a popular, mainstream film series maintain a level of quality from picture to picture, and to even try to top itself again and again. You can argue which film is best or your favorite, but the sheer reality is that there has almost never been a part 6 of a series as well made as Half Blood Prince. It’s remarkable.
And that’s a big part of what could be earning one of these films a spot on The Ten. Remember, Best Picture goes to the producer, and the Academy could very well be looking to honor the producers of this series for what they accomplished. It’s like the Return of the King Oscar – I’m not sure they gave it to the movie for the movie, because I think they gave it to the movie for the trilogy. An Oscar (or just a nom – I think unless Deathly Hallows really, really surprises it has no actual chance at winning) for one of the final two wouldn’t be just for the nominated film but rather for the entire series as a whole.
There are roadblocks. The Academy doesn’t like sequels. The Academy is a bit biased against genre pictures. And even if those can be overcome (Warner Bros is already selling the films as the culmination of a saga, which feels more prestigious than just another sequel), the question of which picture should get the nod complicates things. The first film will likely have a large amount of emotional content, and will feel very, very unlike previous Potter films. In the Comic Con footage we saw Ron and Harry fighting as the pressures of being on the run ate away at them, and we saw our heroes battle dark wizards in a very Muggle diner. This is the film that’s probably going to feel almost experimental when placed up against the rest of the series, with a darker emotional edge and with a grittier focus. But then there’s Part II, which looks to be just huge, and to balance emotion with overwhelming spectacle.
Even if the Academy doesn’t wake up from their geriatric slumber to recognize one of popular cinema’s greatest longform triumphs, the fans will be more than pleased. The final two films look to be as grand and as exhilarating as we had hoped. I was stirred and deeply moved by the few minutes I saw in Hall H; I can’t wait to see how deeply the full films touch me.