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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: A Review

November 19, 2010
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There is an inherent twinge (and by ‘twinge’ I mean big-ass boatload) of sadness that I feel when I reach the end of a beloved book, television series or film.    This is one of the reasons that I am perfectly fine with the decision to divide Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts - all the better to prolong (and put-off) the end to a long, rich story.  While I heard some grumbling about the two-part split appearing to be a greedy cash-grab (and the studio does stand to earn a sizable fortune by doing so), I genuinely think that drawing out the story into two separate films serves to better adapt the original source material – which has such an epic scope.

So far, I have been very impressed with the way in which director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) has handled the Harry Potter film series and Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 1 is no exception.  As the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have matured, so have the films – which have become increasingly darker in tone as they progress.

HP7P1 picks up in the wake of Dumbledore’s death and immediately the threat of serious violence is felt.  The Dursleys make only a brief appearance as they flee their home in fear, now both the Muggle and Magical worlds are vulnerable to attacks from Death Eaters working under the influence of Voldermort – and it is nothing to sneeze at - people are kidnapped, interrogated, tortured and even killed.  Harry is soon greeted by a convoy made up of members of The Order of the Phoenix sent to transport him to safety.  This scene serves to catch the audience up with some exposition, and also provides a welcome bit of comic relief – which is swiftly squashed as soon as the group makes to leave and discover that someone has betrayed their plan to secure Harry.  The chase scene which follows is both breathtaking and terrifying, the stakes have consistently been raised with each subsequent film – killing off significant and beloved characters reinforces the fact that no one is safe, and loss of life early in the film only adds to the tension.

Harry (and some) barely make it to the Burrow to recoup and grieve their losses - as well as prepare for the wedding of Fleur and Bill.  They receive a visit from the Minister of Magic who has been appointed to bequeath Harry, Hermione and Ron with certain items left to them in Dumbledore’s Last Will – items that are both sentimental to the students, but also mysterious as they are believed to be clues left for them to help find and destroy the Horcruxes.  Harry, wrought with guilt over risks his friends have taken, tries to leave alone to avoid the threat of more sacrifice and is intercepted by Ron, who convinces him to stay through Bill and Fleur’s wedding.

Harry, Hermione and Ron are forced to flee the ceremony when it is attacked by Death Eaters and Snatchers (amusingly attired, Adam Ant-looking bounty hunters sent to track down Muggles and Half-Bloods for interrogation).  They decide to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic to obtain an item which they believe to be a Horcrux as well as to garner information and further their quest before embarking on their journey to search for the remaining others.  The trio end up on the run, apparating together (and bickering) from one isolated location another.

As was the case in the book, removing the students from Hogwarts in the film was a very bold move.  So much of the wonder and fun in the series is found in that place and to abandon it in favor of what is essentially a road movie opens the film to a greater scope - but at the risk of becoming tedious.  Mercifully, this section of the film is beautifully shot and the tension between the characters is swiftly established as they seemingly wander aimlessly on their quest.  It is during this time that we see the very foundation of the Harry Potter mythos – his friendships with Ron and Hermione – start to crack and buckle under the strain of their endeavor.  Relationships have evolved and shifted as the children have grown into young adults, with insecurities and jealousies emerging among them in such a relatable way.  It’s difficult to see because it hits so close to home, but it’s a strength of the film to portray characters in a fantastic setting that still behave like actual people.

Along the way, our protagonists discover that Voldermort has a death-cheating-back-up plan involving three items known as The Deathly Hallows which are believed to make those who possess them immortal.  The tale of The Deathly Hallows is rendered in a gorgeous animated sequence – the first time such a device has been used in the film series – and it was incredibly effective.  Using layers of transparencies and silhouettes, this is one of the darkest moments of the film and the results are stunning.

Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a great beginning to the end of a fantastic story.  Yates’ film adaptation of the last novel of the  phenomenal literary series – of which I am a huge fan - remains close to the source material in it’s execution, which is as much a credit to screenwriter Steve Kloves.  There is something kind of bittersweet in watching the three leads (Dan Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) literally grow up onscreen, in large part they have risen to the challenges as performers and have matured well - in keeping with the darker aspects of the films.  I’m incredibly excited to see how the second part of the seventh film is handled,  in spite of my reluctance to say goodbye to the magical world of Harry Potter – as seen on the big-screen.

I think it’s going to hurt.

Rating 5/5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1is rated PG-13.  Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Bill Nighy, Julie Walters, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman.

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