This is the Harry Potter movie we’ve been waiting for.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1”, director David Yates’ third contribution to the eight-film franchise, is a rich, dark adventure story that transcends its genre. Just like its predecessor, “Half-Blood Prince,” this new installment works not just as another Harry Potter movie, but as a strong film in its own right. (Note: for the purposes of this discussion, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” will be evaluated on its cinematic merits alone. A more comprehensive treatment of the Harry Potter worldview is forthcoming.)
The movie opens on a world on the brink of war. Evil Lord Voldemort is growing stronger by the day, and is even making incursions into the non-magical world. And the three protagonists – Harry, Ron, and Hermione – are in the very center of the gathering storm. In the wake of Headmaster Dumbledore’s death (at the end of the sixth film), Harry faces a seemingly impossible task: locate and destroy the six Horcruxes, magical objects that prevent Voldemort from being killed.
It all sounds pretty complicated, and it is. Newcomers will probably find it difficult to follow the tangle of interweaving plot threads, but longtime fans will appreciate the film’s rigorous attention to detail. That’s not to say that Yates adheres too closely to the source material – a few well-integrated changes improve the story without compromising the book’s richness. (He even throws in some self-referential inside jokes for diehard HP fans.) A particular highlight: the story of the eponymous Deathly Hallows is told through a visually stunning shadow-puppet animated sequence.
Cinematically, the movie is wondrous to behold. Beautifully paced and filmed, with seamless CGI effects, it balances fast-paced action sequences with quiet, tender moments shared between friends. And this is where “Deathly Hallows – Part 1” finds its surest footing. For most of the film’s latter half, the narrative becomes a “character-driven” story rather than a “plot-driven” story. Harry, Ron, and Hermione become far more believable as they struggle with very human weaknesses, including jealousy, frustration, and despair. Having grown up in their roles, the three leading actors are certainly at their best in this penultimate chapter. For all the talk about magic and epic confrontations, “Harry Potter” is very much a story about friendship, and this movie accurately captures that spirit.
This is a slow-burning installment – all things considered, there’s less action than, say “Goblet of Fire” – but with “Part II” slated for a July 2011 release, fans won’t have to wait too long for the dramatic finale. And the slower pacing of this film is the very reason it’s so potent. For example, a lingering shot of Hermione’s agonized face as she erases her parents’ memories (to protect them) is genuinely moving. Rather than following his contemporaries’ lead – packing the final installment of a series with innumerable explosions and frenetic action scenes – Yates opts for a quieter, more emotional approach. If this movie has a significant flaw, it’s the lack of a real climax and conclusion. Considering this is Part 1 of the movie, however, it’s an understandable weakness.
In keeping with its subject matter, this movie is dark. There’s more violence (some of it bloody) than in previous installments, and elements of torture are also present. (Voldemort’s regime has strong Nazi overtones, leading to a pervasive sense of menace, and the Dark Lord himself has emerged as a genuinely frightening villain.) A few mild profanities also turn up. Most notably, a sensuous scene between Harry and Hermione – in context, it’s an illusion designed to deceive Ron – is racier than anything seen in earlier HP films. In all honesty, this is absolutely not a kids’ movie. It’s far too intense for anyone under 11 or 12, and certainly earns its PG-13 rating.
Should you see it? If you’re a longtime HP fan, this is an absolute must-see. It perfectly captures the essence of the final book, and the few changes it makes feel “just right” in the context of the story. The cast is in top form, making the movie a strong film on its own merits. Highly recommended…but do leave your young siblings at home.
A deep, complex and intense beginning of the end. The best “Harry Potter” adaptation yet.
Normalized Score: 8.7