REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 [2010]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 146 minutes | Release Date: November 19th, 2010 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): David Yates
Writer(s): Steve Kloves / J.K. Rowling (novel)

“To a perfect pureblood society”

The time has arrived for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga to come to a close. After an admirable job condensing each increasingly thicker novel to sub-three-hour durations on film, the decision was made to have frequent screenwriter Steve Kloves split the last chapter in two to ensure every single detail is retained so the tale itself can be given the justice it deserves. The book was definitely my favorite of the series and as the end cap contains a surplus of exposition, mystery, and character resolutions—so don’t be surprised if your favorites only get ten seconds of screen time or *gasp* perish. If you give Rowling credit for anything you have to enjoy the fact she stuck to her guns and allowed the progression of the series to get darker at every turn, keeping the stakes high and refusing to pander to her audience by sparing popular roles. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 sets the mood and the table for the final task Harry, Ron, and Hermione must complete. Dumbledore’s history is revealed, the means to kill Lord Voldemort are exposed, and the power of love is constantly tested.

But no matter how gorgeous it is to watch (which is saying something since the cinematography is much tamer than the brilliance of Half-Blood Prince—sorry Eduardo Serra, but you had much less action to work with), how strong the performances are considering this trio’s unpolished genesis a decade ago, or how much is uncovered, the simple fact this is a ‘part one’ cannot be forgotten. I applaud the filmmakers for finding a fitting place to set up its sequel in a few months time, but the installment just can’t exist alone. This does unfortunately hold it back from containing a successful three-act structure. As such the middle third drags while emotions run high and the futility of searching for horcruxes and meaning to the fight after their leader had fallen in the previous entry slows the pace to a crawl. I can’t think of a way around this, however, since all the seemingly unnecessary mythology of The Tales of Beetle the Bard or Dumbledore’s family, amongst other tidbits, is essential to how it all comes to a close. Cutting scenes would cause confusion and, thankfully, director David Yates is capable of keeping a lot of information coherent through performance and action rather than relying heavily on dialogue alone.

That’s not to say a lot isn’t said. One must pay close attention to every frame because the film will leave you behind if you aren’t careful. There is no rehash to catch newcomers up on what has happened—you’ve either been following from the start or have entered the wrong movie theatre. The summer after tragedy befell Hogwarts has been somber and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) watches as his adopted family leaves for safety. Ron (Rupert Grint) waits impatiently for the return of his friends and the knowledge of what comes next while Hermione (Emma Watson) must say goodbye to the Muggle world once and for all by saving her parents from danger and investing in the magic necessary to preserve good over evil. School isn’t safe and the Order of the Phoenix hatches a plan to surround Harry and move locations, protecting their hopes for an eventual victory. But the boy knows he can’t keep them in danger. He must complete Dumbledore’s mission and destroy Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) means of immortality. Not alone, though, as Ron and Hermione volunteer, eventually falling prey to stress and the evil emanating from the horcrux they can’t destroy. Much like the ‘precious’ in Lord of the Rings, (parallels are apparent throughout, even giving each hero a premonitory gift), the allure of darkness is all that can taint the purity of light.

As always the special effects are superb, lending the required aesthetic to believe a world with magic can exist. The Death Eaters’ smoky trails are rendered to perfection, the mysterious doe patronus is a beautiful piece of computer animation, sparks from onslaughts of wand wars light up in staccato against the dark skies, and every disapparition is warped and spiraled for full effect. Between the Weasley wedding ambush, (I won’t ruin which of the lot is getting married in case you haven’t read the book), the heavy use of polyjuice potion to deceive where Harry is and to sneak into the Ministry of Magic, and the multiple close encounters with the Dark Lord himself, this installment is never without suspense. Even the mid-portion with the young trio wandering through desolate forests to figure out their next course of action with plans to visit Godric’s Hollow—the place of Harry’s birth and his parent’s death—as well as Xenophilius Lovegood for some very pertinent information (perfectly cast as Rhys Ifans gives a great, odd portrayal like Evanna Lynch’s Luna) proves to crescendo the tension through brooding actors and dangerous events.

The sense of the unknown is really what Deathly Hallows: Part 1 possesses that none of the previous movies had. Integral and lovable characters die throughout the journey to make each situation more dire than the last, imposing a sense that perhaps this tale won’t have the happy ending you’d assume in family-friendly fantasy. But then I’d be remiss to continue calling the Harry Potter franchise wholesome for young and old with scenes depicting pure evil released from a horcrux in imagery that digs up deep-seeded feelings of hatred; Voldemort’s trusty beast of a snake finding its way into close-quarters battle; or the absolute remorselessness of Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix when she has a Gryffindor in her clutches. It will induce nightmarish reactions from the unsuspecting. I love it, though, and find the series more involving and resonant as a result, continuing to put value on each life onscreen by risking unbiased death. Thus, on a pure tonal and emotional level, this film is a resounding success and worthy to have a place alongside the rest. However, standing alone, I can’t pass judgment since it really can’t survive without what follows. So I will await the finish and consider the sum of both halves one complete film. That’s how it should be.

Oh, yeah, the animated telling of The Tale of the Three Brothers is pretty awesome too.

[1] (L-R) EMMA WATSON as Hermione Granger, RUPERT GRINT as Ron Weasley and DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[2] (L-r) RALPH FIENNES as Lord Voldemort and JASON ISAACS as Lucius Malfoy in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[3] Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (2010)

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