Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

At this point, it seems almost silly to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. For one thing, the seventh entry in the Harry Potter series cannot be considered a stand-alone movie. If you haven't seen any of the other movies or read the books, this is a terrible place to start. And if you loved the previous movies, you'll probably love anything that doesn't seriously screw up the universe of the film series. A few moments in Deathly Harrows: Part 1 show how egregious the film could be if it were badly made, reminding us that this is, in fact, a very good adaptation of the first half (almost two-thirds, really) of the last book in J.K. Rowling's popular series.

In the interest of time economy, the story leaps into gear immediately, even faster than the novel does, with few explanations. In fact, the explanations of who some people are at the beginning of the film are a little amusing -- some of these people were cut out of the previous films to the extent that the characters are just meeting each other for the first time, unlike in the books. "Wotcha, Harry, I'm Mundungus Fletcher, who was left out of the other film adaptations but unfortunately was impossible to cut this time."

For those of you who haven't read the book, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is about what happens when Mr. Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) "comes of age" in the wizarding world at age 17. Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) -- if you need me to tell you who these people are, why are you reading this? -- run away together when Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) takes over the Ministry of Magic, and are on a quest for the Horcruxes, which are the bits of Voldemort's soul that he's hidden carefully so he can't die if someone slays his mortal body. Not only must they find the Horcruxes, they also have to find something with which to destroy them, and they have to steer clear of the gangs of evil Snatchers who would love to get their hands on someone "Muggle-born" like Hermione ... or on Undesirable Number One, aka Harry.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 actually does an excellent job of streamlining the story elements from the seventh book without leaving a lot of gaping plot holes, and in fact is an improvement on the novel in a few ways. For example, the first half of the book bogs down in some very long "hopping from forest to forest aimlessly" sequences, with a lot of bickering, but in the movie this is deftly condensed. I was sorry about a few of the details that had to be cut, like the conversations with Phineas Nigellus Black's portrait, but for the most part the action moves seamlessly. One detail I was impressed with was the art design on the Ministry propaganda in the film, which had a lovely WWII-era look to it.

One disappointment is that the seventh novel contains many small scenes of repentance and/or reconciliation that the movie does not seem to find necessary. For example, I would have liked to have seen the moment in which Dudley tells Harry goodbye. Wormtail doesn't have quite the same fate, either, and we don't see the kindness extended to Kreacher. These are all trivial but together, make a point that perhaps director David Yates felt was repetitive. Too bad. Only a few moments in the film were jarring or didn't quite seem to work in the context of the film series. One is the much-hyped Harry/Hermione "love scene," which looks CGI-ish and ludicrous.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 ends a little later than you might guess from the book -- right after the scene at Malfoy Manor -- but this structure fits the film very well, and will give the second movie some space to hold all of the plot complications with Horcruxes and Hallows and battle scenes and whatnot. It does mean that you leave the movie feeling like you've just seen the first half of something and you don't really want to wait until next summer to find out what happens, even if you've read the novel and you know what happens already.

The three leads have developed their characters very well over the years, and are enjoyable to watch onscreen. As usual, they are supported by an array of amazing British veteran character actors. Rhys Ifans is new to the series in this film, playing Luna Lovegood's father Xenophilus. For some reason, he doesn't quite work -- it may simply be that Ifans just doesn't look quite right in hippie-wizard robes and hair. Sophie Thompson pops in as Ministry employee Mafalda Hopkirk, reminding me that I always wish she were in more movies.

Most of the supporting characters from other films pop up only briefly, but I liked getting even a peep at Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter, and another actor I won't mention in case it is spoiler-y. Helena Bonham Carter chews up the scenery quite appropriately as Bellatrix Lestrange, and I always have adored Imelda Staunton's portrayal of Dolores Umbridge, the one witch in this series who reminds me of people I have actually encountered in real life. So many well-known British actors are in this movie that I started to wonder if the British film industry suffers for a lack of talent whenever a Harry Potter movie is in production.

The Dementors appear to be scarier than usual this time, along with some nasty werewolf bounty hunters and a few scenes of violence. One of the stories in Beedle the Bard is portrayed onscreen rather effectively in a shadow-puppet animation style ... which includes a splash of shadow-puppet blood on the screen. Bear this in mind when deciding whether you want to take younger folks to the movie.

I could go on for another page or two, but like the movie, I need to know when to abridge and wrap up. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a fine addition to the series -- as good as the sixth movie, with little to disappoint fans of the movies or the books. If you're not a Harry Potter fan already, you won't care. The 2.5 hours passed remarkably quickly, and this is coming from someone who frequently gets fidgety at anything over 100 minutes. See it in a theater, and be thankful it's not in 3D. And have the book at hand when you get home to quell your suspense about what happens next.