Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Directed by David Yates
Screenplay by Steve Kloves
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange
David Bradley as Argus Filch,
Running time: 146 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality.
Wizards at war: seventh Harry Potter film is not an uplifting holiday classic, but it certainly won’t disappoint avid fans.
An hour before the midnight premiere of the anxiously anticipated seventh installment of the Harry Potter films, a teenage girl makes an entrance: she’s wearing a gray sweater vest, a pair of thick, black-framed glasses, and a bike helmet with a stuffed lion strapped to the top (which avid readers will recognize as an adorable attempt at a Luna Lovegood costume). Others file in behind her clad in maroon-colored robes, plaid skirts, and Gryffindor scarves. The air is rife with the telltale sounds of unabashed fandom: “I brought Star Wars gummies!” cries one girl, while another squeaks, “Do you think they’ll show a Narnia trailer?” Midnight screenings of epic franchises have become a time-honored tradition for the young and fanatic (like this reviewer), and they always provide a great opportunity to let your geek flag fly. What better opportunity to express your love for an artfully rendered fantasy unlike anything we’ll ever experience in our mundane day-to-day lives? (Apparently none – Deathly Hallows broke the franchise record for a midnight opening with a whopping $24 million in box office earnings).
With the Potter books, J.K. Rowling fashioned one of the most intricately detailed fantasy lands in popular culture: a world adjacent to but concealed from normal British life, a universe in which witches and wizards matriculate at the vast castle that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is based upon the last book in J.K. Rowling’s ubiquitous series (unless you’ve been living under a rock you’re surely aware of this). Due to the last book’s length (800-some pages) and the importance of the series finale, the movie is split into two halves, the next to be released in July, 2011. The first few films in the series feature young witches and wizards learning how to make objects float, how to avoid passing out from the mandrake’s scream, and how to fly on broomsticks; it was all quite adorable and fantastic. Not so in the last few movies: as the material got darker and more mature, so have the films. The Death Eaters are out for blood, and the benevolent wizard populace experiences great losses. Even the films’ coloration under the latest director, David Heyman, has grown gloomier. The wizarding world is at war, and the seventh movie’s material is no picnic.
Led by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the Death Eaters are out of hiding and inside the Ministry of Magic. Homicidal double agent Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), insane Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter in fine, crazy-haired form), and the Malfoy family (each of whom look the worse for wear) are among Voldemort’s beloved servants—but the Death Eater storyline doesn’t take up much space in Deathly Hallows. Instead, the film follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they take to the British forests to evade capture while searching for Horcruxes (pieces of Voldemort’s split soul). As the trio flits across the dismal, bitterly cold English countryside, Ron and Hermione, at odds throughout most of the films, fall for each other. The Horcruxes prove more difficult to destroy than anyone thought, and the characters snap and squabble under stress. Members of the Ministry produce Nazi-inspired propaganda about the evil of Muggles while they interrogate and torture Muggle-borns and half-blood wizards. Readers of the books will find little to quibble with in the seventh movie; almost every plotline from the book translates directly into the film. Unfortunately the previous three or four films dropped an integral arc involving house elves, and to pick it up in the seventh film cheapens the character (though many would argue that the movies’ squeaky version of Dobby was obnoxious from the start, and they would not be wrong).
Any two and a half hour movie might test audience attention spans, but screenwriter Steve Kloves, who’s stuck with the whole series, manages to keep the plot moving swiftly despite a few jerky moments. A pall seems to hover over characters’ heads, even though Kloves interspersed hostility and tension with a few comical scenes. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra makes the most of the gorgeous English cliffs and forests on which the protagonists take shelter, languishes on fantastic wizarding homes and villages, and uses fisheye lenses to make the Ministry even more foreboding. Visual effects by Motion Picture Company leave a little to be desired—Voldemort’s snake Nagini is undeniably spooky but doesn’t quite look authentic, and the two house elves might have looked better. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have grown into their characters, and though the performances aren’t Oscar-worthy, they’re pleasantly good. Grint’s comic timing and simple grin provide comic relief while Watson and Radcliffe play earnest. The movie earns its PG-13 rating: multiple characters are badly wounded, and there’s an unexpectedly sexy kissing scene. Both films were meant to be in 3D (damn you, Avatar, for bringing this plague upon on us), but Warner Brothers announced a few short weeks ago that Deathly Hallows: Part 1 would be released in 2D. It certainly looks none the worse for it. The movie ends on a particularly disheartening cliffhanger, and no one will leave the theater feeling uplifted. But let’s face it: if you’re reading this review, you’re probably already invested in the series and know what you’re getting into.
The first Potter film, Sorcerer’s Stone, released nine years ago, three years after Rowling published the first book. Bite-sized Brits Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson were around eleven years old, had no acting experience, and basically carried the movie on cuteness alone (although the presence of veterans Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, and the late Richard Harris didn’t hurt). In the following five movies, the world watched them grow up—we heard Radcliffe’s and Grint’s voices deepen at puberty and saw their limbs extend through gawky teenager-hood; we watched Watson gracefully age into the unbelievably composed young woman she is today. The last films, though eagerly anticipated, are bittersweet for those of us who have been paying attention for the last ten years. Some people grew up alongside these kids, and almost anyone who’s seen the films or read the books has found himself suddenly invested, soldiering on for the next installment. As the end of the series draws near, we’re already mourning the loss of the world to which many are so devoted (and grieving over a number of major characters in advance).
Those unacquainted with the books or films won’t be rushing out to see Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Cast and crew made Deathly Hallows one of the most satisfying in the franchise, but at this point the Harry Potter films are comparable to nothing else but each other. Those who are invested will probably love it by default. It will not disappoint, but it will leave you longing for more. July can’t come soon enough.