Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
There are three types of people who are going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: People who were diehard fans of the books; people who have been faithful fans of the movies; and finally, people who have seen some of the movies and know something about the books (at this point how could you not?), but have really only admired the Potterverse with a casual eye.
The first two types of people will very much enjoy Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – but that casual fan may not walk away with same sense of satisfaction from what is essentially half a story, chock-full of references and characters that could fill an entire page on Wikipedia.
The movie starts exactly where the last one left off: Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has waged war on the world. The Ministry of Magic has been corrupted. Wizards and witches everywhere fear for their lives. Even “muggles” aren’t safe from The Dark Lord’s reign of terror. Dumbledore, the great protector, is dead, and every evil “Snatcher” or “Death Eater” in the wizarding world is trying to get their hands on Harry Potter.
Trapped under this growing shadow, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grit) quickly learn their childhood has come to an end. They are soldiers in a war now, no longer children in a school; sacrifices must be made and lives lost if they are going to defeat Voldemort. Harry has tasked himself with seeking out the remaining Horcruxes – magical talismans which contain shards of Voldemort’s soul – only he has no idea where to begin searching or even how to destroy the enchanted objects once he finds them.
Soon Harry and two best friends are on the run, hiding out in the countryside, desperately trying to come up with a plan to beat Voldemort – even as The Dark Lord himself is scrambling to locate an object of immense power that could turn the tide of battle in his favor.
J.K. Rowling’s Deathly Hallows novel was a beast. We’re talking about one thick book. Warner Bros. could’ve “streamlined” the film into a bare-bones interpretation of the text, but for the fans (and the box office receipts) they decided to deliver the final chapter in the Harry Potter saga as the sweeping epic it was meant to be – to both the benefit and detriment of these final films.
David Yates has directed the last two Harry Potter movies (Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince), and all things considered, I would have to say that he’s outdone himself with this latest film. In my opinion, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 visually surpasses all the previous films in the Harry Potter franchise – yes, even Alfonso Cuarón’s fantastic third entry, The Prisoner of Azkaban.
The color schemes and tones of this film are very crisp, dark and vivid, and the cinematography I would go so far as to call gorgeous. The world of wizards looks vibrant and alive and yet is constantly shrouded in the darkness and shadow that is literally and figuratively descending upon it. Because this film pulls the main characters out of their usual year-at-wizard-school routine and stashes them in woodland settings, Yates even gets to bathe our visual palettes in rich earth tones – browns, dark greens, stone grays – colors that have been somewhat missing from other Harry Potter films.
However, there is another dimension of Yates’ direction of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 that will simultaneously impress some and bore others to tears: the quieter and more meditative portions of the film. Some people will say “the middle hour dragged,” and others will say “some of the best scenes were the slow ones,” it really does depend on what you came through that theater door to see. A large portion of this film involves Harry, Ron and Hermione literally sitting around in a magic tent sulking, worrying, and/or yelling at one another. If you consider yourself one of those movie goers who likes to see action, action, action, you will likely get bored by the abundance of static moments in this film.
What will make this two and a half-hour journey even harder for “action types” is that this film offers no real “payoff” to speak of. Over the course of the movie there are a lot of setups, some small developments, some big developments that won’t feel big (yet), and a couple of dramatic turns that will totally hit or miss, depending on your level of Potter fandom.
And speaking of fandom: unless you’re one of the book fans who has already memorized the entire Harry Potter chronology, or a movie fan who has recently watched all six films back-to-back, there are a lot of references, inferences and name drops in Deathly Hallows: Part 1 that could soar right over your head. The book was meant to tie up every plot line from six (thick) novels – even in a slimmed down movie there are a lot of plot points to remember. Potterphiles will enjoy the sight of familiar faces and the mention of familiar events and objects; everyone else may be left scratching their head.
The cast all know this dance pretty well by now. The supporting players (such as Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter – even newcomer Bill Nighy) all turn in some wonderful ensemble character acting, but it’s the three central players – Radcliffe, Watson and Grint – who steal the show here. And it’s fortunate that they rise to the task, considering that most of the film revolves squarely around the three of them.
If you couldn’t tell from seeing their faces plastered on billboards, TV ads and merchandise all over the world, these three young stars are now grown. Like their characters, we’ve watched Radcliffe, Watson and Grint sprout before our eyes – an amazing maturation that admittedly makes things a bit awkward in sections of Deathly Hallows. While these actors are now adults, free to explore more adult themes and situations, it’s hard not to look at them and still see the same kids you met way back in the first Potter film.
In fact, people are already talking about one scene created solely for the movie, in which Harry and Hermione try to break the monotony of loneliness and stress with an awkward, quasi-romantic dance party. I’m sure many other people will also be talking about a sexually suggestive scene near the end, in which one character is forced to face their darkest fear. Between an increased air of sexuality and dark moments of violence, torture and (oh yes) death, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 also represents a chapter of the Harry Potter saga that is probably too much for small kids to handle. Teenagers? Not so much. But small kids will definitely walk away a bit scathed.
To their credit, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have all developed into skilled actors, and Watson is especially good at filling the quiet moments of her performance with genuine and engaging drama. It’s certainly debatable, but I’d say that the actress actually steals the show from her two co-stars, who are equally good in their more adult roles.
While there is no “ending” to speak of, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 cuts off at a point where the stage is fully set for the epic showdown that will take place in Deathly Hallows: Part 2. That second half of the story should be a non-stop thrill ride – one that comes at the expense of a first half which is a lot of build up with little payoff. So long as you can accept the fact that you’re paying to see only half a story, then you should enjoy the many appetizers that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 serves.
Here’s a trailer for Deathly Hallows: