FILM REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: The seventh installment of the Harry Potter installment is a better picture than the previous entry, though it feels too long and too derivative.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: As Voldemort gains control of the Ministry of Magic, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione go into hiding in order to find the magic charms (Horcruxes) that will help them defeat Voldemort.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Very grim, often macabre elements not usually seen in the series; nearly seamless special effects; bittersweet realization that the series is finally drawing to a close.

CONS: Too long, with too many moments when the movie seems to come to a dead stop; often predictable; too many scenes reminiscent of other movies; and several of the leads look like they’ve stopped enjoying their roles two pictures ago.


And so we approach the end of Harry Potter’s bildungsroman. For most fans, I’m sure Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 will be somewhat bittersweet; for nearly a decade, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have traversed the streets of Diagon Alley, dutifully studied their spells at Hogwarts, and played their fair share of Quidditch…and still managed to find the Philosopher’s Stone, unlock the Chamber of Secrets, and drink deeply from the Goblet of Fire. (They have also apprenticed under such fine actors as Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh and Ralph Fiennes.) Fans may revisit these moments, but the journey is finite, and is approaching its close.

Fans know the tales better than I; I stopped reading the books after the third entry, and have only enjoyed the movies intermittently. The first two, directed by Chris Columbus, were too faithful to their source material to have much life or personality. The next couple had moments of macabre delight in part because they strayed from their predecessors’ literalness but also felt curiously static; formula crushed the energy from them to the point that I skipped the fifth altogether. I did see the sixth, but cannot remember a single frame.

For all of that, our trio of Hogwarts dropouts is still with us. This time they have sought isolation to ensure that Voldemort (Fiennes), who has completed his ascent to power and has gained control of the Ministry of Magic, does not harm their family and friends. Harm, of course, comes during a wedding, and in a welcome change of pace from the rest of the series, Harry, Ron and Hermione, take refuge in London to figure out their next course of action. In an effort to find and destroy Voldemort’s existing Horcruxes (magical immortality talismans) they infiltrate the Ministry of Magic and, in a sequence too similar to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, make off with one before searching for the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, one of the only items that can destroy the Horcrux. (If you’re not confused then you’ve likely absorbed the novels into your DNA. It took me a while to figure out how this tied together.)

Their search takes them through various forests and charmed cities, and at this point the movie drags. A shame, because this is the point where the movie should hold most of its emotional weight. The three have just lost their mentors through death or alienation, they have pushed away their families to protect them, and so have nowhere to go and nobody to show them what to do next: an apt metaphor for wandering through the interzone between childhood and adulthood. But the aimlessness isn’t very interesting. Though I admire what writer Steven Kloves and director David Yates were trying to accomplish (and they certainly try), they dramatize it poorly. It doesn’t help that Radcliffe, Grint and Watson wear the same dour expressions throughout, as if they’ve studied under the Derek Zoolander Center for Children Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.

Indeed, Yates’s direction presents other problems. Though he sets his shots well – the movie is nothing if not beautiful – he zips through the action without allowing the audience to absorb what they’ve seen (as in an early scene in which Harry and Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine) fly through London to avoid Deathseekers) and is often derivative. The opening action sequence veers into territory covered by Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black, and a chase through the forest near the movie’s climax smacks of the opening foot chase in Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace; for a brief moment, I was certain the projectionist had added a reel from The Bourne Sorcery. Yates is far from blameless; Kloves, working from J.K. Rowling’s novel, also incorporates with the wearer of the Horcruxes the same dis-ease that haunts Frodo and Gollum in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Better and more interesting are the scenes that allow Kloves to build suspense and set the movie’s tone. Near the beginning of the movie Voldemort plots the takeover of the Ministry of Magic with Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and others while suspending the tortured body of a teacher of Muggle Studies over a long table. (The scene is haunting and grim, and one of the most memorable of the movie. While I’m glad that this particular series has grown up with its audience, I must warn parents with young children that some of these sequences might be too intense. Use discretion when purchasing tickets.) But the most memorable scene comes in the form of a shadow puppet show of the story of the Deathly Hallows, a bit of animation that enlivens the entire movie for a few too brief minutes.

But the movie does pick up steam somewhere during its second hour, and then, too heavily weighted with story, lumbers to a halt. We are not surprised, for they had more story than they had movie, so needed to split it in half. This makes a complete review difficult, for we must wait six months to learn the conclusion. Fans I’m sure are already making plans to attend the first available screenings in July 2011. The rest of us could be forgiven for sitting it out.

12 thoughts on “FILM REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)”

  1. Really looking forward to this movie. Glad its finally arrived on the big screens. I am going to have a wicked weekend. Can’t wait until the second half next year.

  2. I saw it on monday it was fabulous. when harry stripped down to jump into the icy lake, the entire crowd starting giggling and wolf-whistling, that was hilarious… ;)

  3. A fair and accurate review and I say this as one that has read the series twice over by now, though the last time I touched the books was a good year ago.

    This note of yours is particualrly telling for my take on the film: “…they dramatize it poorly…”

    Yes. The film is constantly pushing us from scene to scene so rapidly there is no pause for impact. Or by comparison it limps along slowly, trying to impart a feeling of desperation. For me it all comes back to a constant miss on the setup and execution to make moments that should be telling.

    Like the scene where Mad-eye Moody dies. Didn’t do a thing for me. The moment came, it left, and I was like, “So?” When I read the book, however, I was shocked.

    Yes, the book is long, and yes a lot happens, so of course it will be hard to condense the book into a motion-length picture; but Lord of the Rings pulled it off, so why not Harry Potter? The only way I feel like I know what is going on in the frenzied blur is because I’ve read the books, and the only reason I care to sit through the duller moments is…because I’ve read the books.

    The movie is not bad, in terms of film, it is pretty decent and features our favorite boy-turned-man-wizard, but it has a lot to live up to. (Yep. Sorry Rowling. It’s all your fault)

    The movie plays out more as a visual accompaniment to the books than a complete piece. Though many have read the books, a movie can’t take that excuse, it needs to stand on its own.

  4. “Fans know the tales better than I; I stopped reading the books after the third entry, and have only enjoyed the movies intermittently. “

    You are not qualified to review this movie!

     

     

  5. Dude,

     

    Why isn’t Derek qualified to review this movie?  Having read the books is NOT a pre-requisite for reviewing the movie adaptations. And actually can often create a hindrance of inappropriate expectations.

     

    While I don’t necessarily agree with everything Derek said about the movie, I will never dispute his qualifications to review it.

     

    Rick

  6. Gotta agree with Rick on this one.  Not reading the book beforehand would only make him unqualified to compare book and film.  The film should be able to stand on its own merits to anyone and everyone. 

  7. I  think that saying Mr. Johnson is “not qualified” to review the movie is a bit extreme, but by Mr. Johnson’s own admission (based on  the quote Dude pulled) he does seem like a strange choice to review the movie.  After I read that line in the review, I immediately stopped reading.  I at least have to take the author at his word and assume that he  has a negative predisposition towards the film (as implied by the line cited).

  8. I’m going to chime in here for a moment to Chris:

    As Rick put it well, there is not a need to have read the books to be able to evaluate the movie. I’ve read all the books twice over and having read the review agree with him quite extensively. A movie is a work of art and needs to stand on its own.

    I felt Half Blood Prince was better executed than this one.

    Chris, you do have a point about the reviewer’s negative viewpoint on the property. But I wasn’t an instant Potter fan myself.

    I remember it took until the fourth book for me to finally be hooked. Perhaps Mr. Johnson should give that one a try and see if he can’t keep himself from reading the rest. I’ve always found the build-up of the series to be very interesting and almost the work of a marketing genius (though I believe it was mostly just luck). Because the series started simply and spartan (but not immature) it brought in early readers and as it developed–getting better and better–it built into something adults could find just as addicting. It’s a masterful approach, but I think it can also make a new reader think: “This is just a kids book!” When in fact, they are quite wrong.

  9. Chris, 

     

    Sorry my review wasn’t what you were looking for, though I don’t see what in the statement Dude cited indicates “a negative predisposition towards the film.”  All I said what that I’ve only read three of the seven novels (why I never explained) and have only enjoyed the movie adaptations in fits and starts, and explaining why.  I am therefore not as familiar with the seven volume, multi-picture series as several million other fans around the world, but this does not (and should not) preclude  potential enjoyment of any work.  You don’t have to be a fan of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series to enjoy Harper.  You don’t need to have read every Ian Fleming novel, from Casino Royale to The Man with the Golden Gun, to dig the James Bond movies.  I’m not the biggest Tolkien fan, and yet I found Peter Jackson’s first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to be a singular effort.  Whether or not I expected to like the movie beforehand is never stated in any way; the presumptions are yours alone.

     

    Clifton,

     

    I’m not a Harry Potter fan, but that doesn’t mean I dislike the series.  My reason for not having read beyond Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has nothing to do with Ms. Rowling’s writing, character development or story arc.  I enjoyed the first three books quite a bit, and purchased a hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire one Sunday night at 10:59 pm in 2000 from a nearby Borders intending to begin the book the next day…and never got around to opening it.  Other books, other projects and life in general separated me from an opportunity to continue the series, which I keep intending to start again.  That the series’ tone grows darker with each subsequent volume actually strikes me as a benefit.  It’s just, alas and damn it, that I must find the time.

     

    Derek

  10. I think the assumption came from this text: “I stopped reading the books after the third entry, and have only enjoyed the movies intermittently”

    Where the juxtaposition of the comment: “intermittently” with the rest, led to that assumption for me (and probably everyone else).

    You are forgiven… ;-) and I understand your pain. Too much media to intake and too little time. Here’s hoping the last film delivers a stronger piece of the Harry Potter puzzle.

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