Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
Summary: As Harry races against time and evil to destroy the Horcruxes, he uncovers the existence of three most powerful objects in the wizarding world: the Deathly Hallows.
It is easy to take for granted how consistent and dignified the Harry Potter film series has become. From the talent involved to its mature evolution, not many franchise’s make it to this point in such admirable condition. Having been a fan of these films and the books they come from over half my life, it is surreal to have gotten to this point. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, director David Yates continues to prove that he knows how to handle and even enhance the source material. While the result is certainly not perfect, overall it is a haunting film that carries a considerable emotional impact led by Yates’ refreshingly original filmmaking.
People going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 can be split into two groups; those who approved of splitting the film in two and those who do not. I count myself as one who whole-heartedly agreed with the choice. Yes, this allows the franchise to make even more money. However, why disagree with this particular decision when most decisions being made about big studio films are monetarily motivated? At least there is, in part, a desire to cater to the book’s fans. This brings along the next point of discussion.
One of the reasons this is not the best film of the bunch is because it is unable, more than any other Potter film, to stand alone for the casual viewer. Granted, this is not an issue I personally had, but the critic part of me could not ignore it when trying to picture those unfamiliar with the source material watching. As a film, it cannot be denied that if you do not know the story, a lot of this first part is going to feel empty. There are so many scenes that are set-up for later revelations and plot developments. Going to the house of Bathilda Bagshot, Elphias Doge’s conversation with Harry, the story of the Deathly Hallows and more illustrate entire sequences that as of yet have zero payoff for the casual moviegoer. This cannot be helped and Part 1 will most likely be enhanced by many once they have the second half to go with it. The fans are this film’s priority and, honestly, they should be. Seven films in, the majority of people watching have read the books and it’s hard to make a case for why this film should have kept newcomers in mind over the devoted.
While splitting the film in two and not paying off moments that are meant to come later are issues others have, here are the problems I did have. First, about 15 minutes should and could have been shaved off the film without losing the deliberate and effectively slow pace. The pacing problems of the book transfer over. Not much actually happens in the first two thirds of the novel. This means it would have been easy to shave off fifteen minutes and maintain the hopeless monotony that Harry, Ron and Hermione feel on their mission. Also, it was a mistake to keep the emotional manipulation that the locket Horcrux carries. It is too similar to Lord of the Rings and it also makes the raw quality of these scenes carry an artificiality that slightly diminishes the very real conflicts the locket brings out. It was a problem in the book and it would have been effortless to change it to having it naturally come from them. Lastly, using Dobby’s death as the emotional climax of the film falls a bit under its own weight. It is definitely an important moment for them but it is forced to represent itself as bigger more tragic than it really is as a precursor to Part 2.
If this is sounding like a negative review, fear not; I loved this film and just wanted to get the negatives out of the way first. First off, David Yates is the only director to improve on the books. He is able to execute the big sequences with precision and creativity as well as filling the screen with special moments that enhance character and feel genuine. The scene where Harry tries to cheer Hermione up by leading her in a dance to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “O Children” is a delicate moment led by wonderfully broken up editing by Mark Day. It’s a scene that shows Yates’ ability and desire to try new things by adding a subtle art house sensibility to the film, which can be seen throughout. There are certain scenes, like the Death Eater attack at the café and the Snatcher chase through the woods that have no score where in another blockbuster, they would. Yates uses a lot of handheld camera that builds on his techniques from Half-Blood Prince which fit this gritty road film even better than it did at Hogwarts. Eduardo Serra picks up where Bruno Delbonnel left off with beautifully vast and evocative cinematography that evokes the emptiness of the characters and the bleakness of the wizarding world.
Most of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 features Harry, Ron and Hermione. More than ever, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are critical to the film’s success, especially when its majority is the three on the run. All three actors turn in their best performances in the franchise and add the gravity needed to be emotionally resonant. Each are asked to do things they haven’t done before and they pass with flying colors.
Screenwriter Steve Kloves and Yates also make the film as dark, bleak and haunting as it was meant to be. The Bathilda Bagshot sequence is unsettling and creepy. The Hermione torture sequence is more graphic than expected. The sexual tension is jacked to the brim. The film lingers on the particularly dark material as well as the emptiness facing these characters. These are all compliments. There is no reason, this late in the game, to downplay the severity of events. It is exciting to see how far the film is able to push the intensity.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 may disappoint those who were upset by the split. It is also the most inaccessible of the films for the casual moviegoer and is almost to faithful to the original novel, which accounts for the transference of pacing problems. Mostly though, this is an exciting and bleak prelude to the finale, which is sure to be riveting. It uses inventive editing, framing and cinematography that go beyond the necessities of a mainstream fantasy film. Most of all, it shows how far this franchise has come. It has become a dark, mature story about growing up infused with a procession of moments both epic and intimate. Some people may not approve of the execution of this final tale, but it shows that money is not the only motivating factor at work here. This one’s for the fans and that’s how it should be.