Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living Up To The Hype, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 Prepares The Viewer For The End Of The Saga!

The Good: Engaging plot, Moments of character, Special effects, Moments of acting, Decent direction, Tone.
The Bad: A little lighter on character development than I would like
The Basics: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is bound to please fans and arrives as a compelling act setting up an end which puts the world of magicusers as the only hope for humanity!

I have not, traditionally, been a fan of the Harry Potter Saga film franchise. The early films are plagued with acting problems and story issues that are almost unfathomable for their problematic nature (see the links at the bottom for my reviews of them!). But over the last two Harry Potter movies, I have found myself engaged in a way that the early movies did not do for me as one who was not into the books. Having had the pleasure of a preview screening of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that not only will fans of the Harry Potter Saga be pleased with it, but that they would riot if they had to wait a full year for its conclusion. Fortunately, they will not have to. And for those of us not so invested in the Harry Potter Saga, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 stands up quite well as a classic hero story which is likely to please most moviegoers.

But, as one might expect given that the film is "Part 1" without "Part 2," Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is not a resolved movie and as such is frustrating at its climax (or lack thereof). But in its way, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 does what it ought to in many ways, creating a conflict which is compelling on its own and interesting enough to come back to. As always in such cases, it is worth noting that this review is strictly for the film Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1; I have not read Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, nor any of the other books, so this is a pure review of the cinematic work.

Having abandoned Hogwarts, Hermione, Ron and Harry Potter prepare to trek out into the world in search of the Horcruxes that will allow the magical world to destroy the evil Lord Voldemort. While at a Weasley wedding, Harry Potter is attacked and the trio learns the full might and determination of Lord Voldemort. It appears the dark lord has taken over every major institution of magic from Hogwarts to the Ministry of Magic and he is using the full resources of the magic world to lay waste to the muggle world to find and kill Harry Potter. Harry, Hermione, and Ron begin following what few clues were left by Dumbledore to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes.

Unfortunately for the trio, finding the first Horcrux only puts them in more danger and leads them to information of more objects which, in the hands of Voldemort would be even more dangerous. As the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself begin scouring the world for the Deathly Hallows objects, primarily the Elder Wand, and for Harry Potter, Harry, Hermione, and Ron search for the Horcruxes, the Deathly Hallows objects and attempt to stay alive. To do that, they must enter the very lair of Voldemort and the struggles in their journey leave the three friends at odds.

First off, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is very much a middle act – ironic considering that this is part seven of eight! – and it is the The Empire Strikes Back of Harry Potter films. The analogy does not hold simply for the sense of plotting, but rather the tone. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a thematically dark movie and it puts the heroes in the worst possible places the viewer can imagine for them. The recurring theme throughout the movie is “loss.” Starting with Hermione choosing to lose (as safety as she causes her parents to forget she ever existed in order to keep them safe) through Ron losing when his family comes under attack, always on the mind of the protagonists is that there are stakes in the fight of good versus evil that they never appreciated as intimately before now.

In fact, the struggle between good and evil is drawn out masterfully in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 with only few, small, victories for the side of good. Draco Malfoy, who has been bullying Harry Potter since early in the series, is far more hesitant in his working with the agents of the dark side, most notably his own father, a favorite of Voldemort. And while Snape’s side is kept cloaked (except in a great facial performance by Alan Rickman), the crushing sense of the world changing around the primary characters makes for a film that is not only moody, but carries with it a real sense of menace. There is the feeling that not everyone will survive and this leads to surprisingly adult conflict between the main characters.

But what Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 isn’t is oppressive. I have a great love of nihilistic films and what this film does not have is the sense that the viewer wants to take their own life after watching it. Many movies where the villains dominate and the heroes are hunted with the legitimate feeling that any of them could be killed at any time have such an oppressive sense of hopelessness associated with them that their pacing is dragged down and the viewer leaves the theater feeling like they have been crushed for hours on end. Not so with Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Instead, the film sets up a sense of importance for Harry, Hermione and Ron and then starts with an almost constant barrage of attacks which keep them fleeing, falling and fighting. With the middle act devoted toward their daring infiltration of the Ministry Of Magic, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 has a surprisingly brisk pace for a film that clocks out at almost two and a half hours.

Part of what makes that work, beyond the quick plot reversals and an actual sense of a mission (there’s no meandering around waiting for a plot in this one!) are the characters. In Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 there is a sense that the characters are coming into their own and growing into their adulthood in a way that makes the viewer care about them; they no longer have the hapless quality of children and the weight of the mission is both real and compelling. Hermione, always the most mature of the bunch, has a determination to her that stems from a belief in the power of good that lacks the naïveté of a child. Instead, here Hermione seems to have a real sense of the depth and power of evil and she wants no part of it. As such, she uses magic with a speed and ferocity that saves the hides of her friends more often than it imperils them.

Ron is, arguably, the character that develops the most, largely because he had the furthest to go coming into the movie. In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 the undertones of jealousy that have been played out from the character under the surface rise to the conscious aspects of the character and he experiences the most strife with being on the run from the Death Eaters. As he angrily points out in an outburst with Harry, he has the most to lose and as such, the losses he takes mount up quicker and with more of a sense of hurt than with Harry or even Hermione. Harry Potter is mostly developed and determined in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1; he just needs the opportunities to make what he believes he can do actualized. Thus, it is his friends who suffer quite a bit more and Ron is chief among them.

This is where Rupert Grint finally comes into his own as an actor. While Emma Watson has shone for several films portraying Hermione as more mature and together than the boys, here Grint becomes more than just comic relief. Instead, Grint’s Ron reasonably expresses anger and the menace to his psyche – both from the Death Eaters and his budding feelings for Hermione – gives Grint more layers to play than the fool he has been condemned to too frequently before this episode. Grint shines and he holds his own with the more prominent celebrities who make their appearances in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

This is not to say that Watson and Daniel Radcliffe do poorly as Hermione and Harry. Radcliffe does fine as Harry Potter, but he was left from the last films with very little place to go. Harry Potter has known that he is the target of the dark lord’s wrath for some time now and Radcliffe’s performance reflects more the determination he ended that last film with than any new emotion. And Radcliffe is fine with those emotions and he and Watson play off new and recurring performers like Bill Nighy’s Rufus Scrimgeour and Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange wonderfully.

Director David Yates deserves a lot of credit for making Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 look as good as it does. While Steve Kloves might have kept the pace tight on the page with his screenplay, it is Yates who deserves the credit for making the film feel fast and fresh. Despite numerous attack sequences which are basically young people fighting older people by waving wands and waiting for things to pop, Yates makes the special effects special and those sequences pop.  It is also worth noting that while there are some bad edits that make chains of events difficult to follow at some moments, the conservative hostile takeover of the institutions of magic (and the recurrence of Umbrage as part of Voldemort's team) lends a bigger social statement to the work.

For those who are not fans of the Harry Potter books and films, starting with the prior installment, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince and going right into Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 works surprisingly well. All of the key information needed to enjoy this film is reiterated in the prior installment and thus it stands as a real middle act that will leave viewers salivating for its conclusion next year.

For other films in the Harry Potter franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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