As delighted as Potterphiles were when it was announced that the final entry in J.K. Rowling’s seven-part series would be split into two movies, so were non-fans and haters bemused and annoyed. So I think the first question that needs to be answered about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is, was it a wise artistic decision or a cynical cash grab?
I think it’s probably a bit of both, but as a fan I think it was definitely a good move. There is simply too much story to be crammed into one, three-hour film, a lesson we all learned the hard way with the Half-Blood Prince. By devoting an entire movie to the first part of the story, Deathly Hallows flows much more smoothly and I didn’t feel like I had to have crib notes or keep my head on a swivel.
Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have apparently learned from the mistakes they made last time around. They nailed the feeling of dread and isolation that informed much of Rowling’s novel, and in some ways bested Rowling. This movie is about emptiness more than anything else, a theme that’s effectively delivered throughout. Harry’s childhood home is empty, the Black home is empty, and the entire middle act showcases a series of gorgeous but empty landscapes. Many of the film’s sequences are shot in darkness, although sometimes it was a little too dark for these aging eyes.
And forget even seeing Hogwarts, the one place in the world where Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) could feel safe. He, Hermione (Emma Watson, who finally proves to be the most capable actor of the trio), and Ron (Rupert Grint) have finally dropped all pretense of leading normal lives and don’t even bother returning to school for their final year. I guess if you can track down Horcruxes and defeat the most powerful and evil wizard ever, that’s gotta be worth some kind of wizarding GED at least, right?
I’m naturally drawn to dark movies, so Deathly Hallows scores a few points for mood alone. But it has much more to recommend it. Underpinning the entire movie is a first-rate soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. While Desplat’s score isn’t as instantly catchy as John Williams’ entries, it supports the mood of the film a good deal and stood out to me in a few places. I will be picking it up.
While I’m still not a huge fan of CGI – especially when used to create characters – it has certainly come a long way since the first Potter film. In particular, Dobby and Kreacher look much better than when they were first introduced. This is a crucial win for the movie since it allowed me to feel connected to Dobby in particular, which made his death near the end of the movie all the more poignant. I’m not saying I got teary eyed or anything, but it sure was dusty in that theater.
My favorite part of the movie, however, didn’t involve any of the principal characters or storylines. It was the animated sequence of a story from “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, narrated by Hermione. It’s a brief but beautifully executed, Tim Burton-esque bit of macabre storytelling about three brothers and the creation of three magical items that are the titular Deathly Hallows (the Invisibility Cloak, the Elder Wand, and the Stone of Resurrection). As I watched this little bit of magic unfold I couldn’t help but wish that someone could make a full-length movie out of “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”. I’d be first in line for that.
The only significant strike against Deathly Hallows is the sagging middle act, which follows Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they hop from one place to another in a desperate search for the remaining Horcruxes. It was my least favorite part of the novel and is the drum solo of Deathly Hallows, now that Quidditch is a thing of the past. It was right after the ever-whiny Ron left the others behind in a fit of petulant anger that I took a much-needed bathroom break (curse you, giant cup of Coke Zero!).
So with the first half of Deathly Hallows out, we’re almost near the end of a journey that started in 1997 with a charming little pre-teen novel about wizards. If you have never taken a chance on the Potter universe, now’s the time to get on board. If you are a fan and felt disenchanted by the last few entries in the film series, this movie is just what you need to get back into the swing of things.
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