REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

17 11 2010

Gone is the familiar comfort and charm of the Hogwarts castle in the first installment of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and the movie has a distinctively different mood throughout.  At times, it feels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road: Kids Edition” as the three undaunted friends Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger traverse through hazardous territory to find horcruxes, pieces of dark magic in which Lord Voldemort has stored his soul.  There are seven in existence – two have been destroyed in past movies, and over the course of 150 minutes, we get to watch them find and destroy not two, not three, but a single horcrux.

Take that in.  All the trouble to split the final book of J.K. Rowling’s series in two, and they squander an entire half on just one horcrux?  Standing alone, it feels like a whole lot of exposition amounting to little more than a section rising action that culminates in a pseudo-climax that just feels somewhat off.

The important thing to remember, especially for rabid “Harry Potter” fans like myself, is that this is the first half of a two-part saga.  Normally, the first half of any movie is its lesser component, and particularly so in this series. The first hours often struggle to remain totally exciting through the set-up, and they also have the daunting task of getting the rising action going, which can often be pretty slow.  If the first half of any movie had a full narrative arc, wouldn’t that essentially be defeating the purpose of the second half?

We should remember to give thanks that Warner Bros. even took into account moviegoer’s opinions to split the movie in two.  They could have just done the movie in one fair swoop, skipping over many nonessential details to compress the plot.  Yet since so much of the beauty of J.K. Rowling’s prose is in those details, it really doesn’t do her work justice to skip over them.  If anything, the movie offers us the chance to take a step back and appreciate just how imaginative her series really is.

Since the pressure to be constantly moving the plot is slightly alleviated, the movie gets the chance to take some time for little moments that we aren’t normally afforded.  Some of these work; others don’t.  The teen angst is gone, making way for serious love games for Hermione between Harry and Ron (excruciating to watch for those who know how it all ends).  We get to absorb the surroundings more, both through the beauty of the production and set design and through the atmosphere of crisis rampantly running through the wizarding world.  There’s also a whole lot of Dobby, bringing back a wave of affection for the adorable house elf.

The movie is also structured to rely on the talents of the three leading actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint.  They took these roles as children, and we’ve all spent the past decade watching them hit puberty and endure physical changes that run concurrently with their characters.  At the same time, they have all grown so much as actors, and we really do get to see the difference in this installment.

While part two will be the visual spectacle and the grand finale of what J.K. Rowling built thousands of pages up to, part one will be about the characters and the toll that all these events have taken on them.  More importantly, how have these three unlikely people from entirely different backgrounds managed to stay friends through everything that has happened?  There’s all the trademark “Harry Potter” witty moments that define their relationships, but the movie also attempts to probe deeper into their feelings, something it does with varying success.

So remember, this is just part 1, the beginning of the end.  For those who have the stamina to power through 5 consecutive hours of movies, think how glorious it will be to watch this and then be led into the concluding installment.  “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” as a whole will be a spectacular event, but watching the first half of anything without its resolution makes for a strange aftertaste.  B+


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3 responses

18 11 2010
Dan

“…it feels like a whole lot of exposition amounting to little more than a section rising action that culminates in a pseudo-climax that just feels somewhat off.”

…these were my exact thoughts about Half-Blood Prince.

18 11 2010
Whiffer

With such a sprawling buildup over six books, how could anyone resolve all of it in one film?

How could they save it from being five hours of explosions and death?

Divide into two parts. It gives the feeling that this story has gotten a little too big…we end – after 146 minutes!! – in midstream.

18 11 2010
Marshall

True, although I can’t tell if this you criticizing the movie or praising it…

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