Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1
The end starts here.
BY TODD MULLINS
Nearly a decade after first enrolling at Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s final film adventure brings the epic story of ‘the boy who lived’ to a close. But it’s not quite over yet. The movie studio made the creative (and monetary) decision to split the final book in the Harry Potter series into two separate films. That leaves us with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I.
It begins where all Harry Potter stories begin, with the students of Hogwarts winding down from summer and preparing for the new school year. But this time the stakes have been raised. With Voldemort on the loose and Harry’s life in mortal danger. He must relinquish what few childhood liberties still remain and set off on a journey to find the five remaining Horcruxes-objects containing pieces of Voldemort’s power-and destroy them. Unlike the previous films, which have taken place almost entirely within the confines of the Hogwarts school, Deathly Hallows lets Harry and his friends (and enemies) loose on the world.
The majority of the film follows Harry and his two closest friends, Ron and Hermione, as they travel around the European countryside looking for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. The film maximizes on this new freedom with some beautiful panoramic scenes of rolling hills and sunsets over snow-capped mountains. By taking the characters away from the school, the story becomes imbued with a sense of maturity far exceeding the previous films.
Where to place the break is perhaps the trickiest part of a film like this. Knowing that this is only the first part of a two-part story, the audience expects a certain amount of untied plot threads at the end. But as films like Kill Bill and Lord of the Rings have proven, there are ways for a film to stand on its own, separate from its counterparts, while still maintaining the integrity of the story as a whole.
Unfortunately Deathly Hallows: Part I fails to achieve that level of independence. It simply doesn’t feel like a complete film. While the film is paced very well, it’s evenness leads to very little in the way of a climax. It’s hard not to think that a more tightly focused, but longer film might have worked just as well, or even better. Alas, we’ll have to wait for the inevitable combining of the two parts once they hit the home market to see the story as it was meant to be.
Since most people who watch the film have already read the book (and that can be said about very few book to film adaptations these days), the film works best as a way of seeing the familiar story unfold visually. At this the film is nearly flawless. The cinematography is beautiful; the score is subtle with just the right amount of flare-up when scenes call for it; and the script balances humor and action perfectly. And the actors, many of whom have been playing these roles their entire careers, fit seamlessly into their characters. There is little the film could have done better from a technical standpoint.
The story’s strong moral themes should outweigh any concerns one may have about the films use of magic. This isn’t a story about wizards and witches; this is a story about friends and the need for help no matter how powerful you think you are. There is of course plenty of magic in the film, but it’s used in the same way a fairy godmother would change pumpkins into carriages; it’s harmless and should in no way veil the larger themes of the story: the importance of friendship and of overcoming temptation.
Deathly Hallows marks director David Yates’ third foray into the Harry Potter universe, and screenwriter Steve Kloves has written the screenplay for all but one of the films (2007’s Order of the Phoenix). Then there is the cast, with all principal actors having been on board since day one. At this point the production practically runs itself, and the quality of output is pleasantly consistent. With so much familiarity in the talent behind the film and in front of the cameras, there is little to expect in the way of surprises. Yet the film still manages one. I’ll leave the details out-as it’s a real visual treat-except to say watch for Hermione to tell “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”
Runtime: 146 min