Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
(David Yates, 2010, UK)
After almost ten years and six movies in the cauldron, we have finally come to this, the last in JK Rowling’s astronomically successful wizard franchise, The Deathly Hallows, but what’s the ‘Part 1’ all about you ask? Well, for those of you that have been living under a philosopher’s stone for the past two years, Warner Bros. decided back in 2008 to split the film in two halves for reasons spanning from the obvious (mass riches) to the admirable; allowing the conclusion of the mammoth storyline to be explored in almost all of its entirety.
The pessimists out there reviled the idea of course, despising the fact that they were dragging the series on for yet another film, the diehard fans (including me, I must add) on the other hand praised the WB as it allowed as much plot details from the novel to be included without major omissions, something that has scorned so many with previous instalments. Then David Yates was brought back to direct the two-parter, causing more of an uproar by those convinced that his time on the Potter wagon has been an uneven one at best.
Not as radically inventive as Alfonso Cuaron’s The Prisoner of Azkaban but more rousing than Christopher Columbus’s monotonously faithful opening two instalments, Yates’s later episodes have been the more visually accessible adaptations that rightfully captured the tones of the books and certainly delivered on the spectacle front. He’s also shown his skills at balancing big action with intimate character depth and knows how to evoke properly realised performances out of the films extensive British cast. Although The Order of the Phoenix was a rather flat and undersized enactment of the longest book in the franchise, and the main problems with The Half-Blood Prince was the subdued and unfocused storyline, which traded in the dramatic quota of the novel for an over-reliance on the comedic, angsty subplot, Yates remained a director who still had something to say and clearly respected the source material.
It is easy to see that the Potter franchise has been one of the most talked about in movie history, though when it comes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, all that talk will surely be in a more positive vein. Opening with new character Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) fretfully lamenting that “These are dark times there is no denying”, the film takes off at a mile a minute as Harry, Ron and Hermione neglect their final year at an infiltrated Hogwarts in favour of searching for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. The destruction of these miscellaneous objects will lead to the destruction of Voldemort himself, and their search leads our heroes from an undercover mission at the Ministry of Magic to a run-in with an impenetrable locket, all the while avoiding capture by Voldemorts’ gang of deadly Death Eaters and ravenous ‘Snatchers’. The pace is taught and the action exhilarating, making way for Harry’s most thrilling adventure yet.
Many critics have already slammed this opening half as being merely just a set up for the second, perhaps more significant portion, where Harry and Voldemort finally square off during the climactic battle of Hogwarts. But that is not a fair observation, as Part 1 must be viewed as a film in of its own right, a film that bravely parts with the episodic format of its successors and delivers a fresh spin on the rather tired arrangements of the preceding films. You won’t find any sorting hats, great hall feasts or Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons here; in fact Hogwarts doesn’t feature at all and rightfully so, Yates excludes these extraneous elements and focuses on the strong road movie-esque narrative, which is a refreshing push in the right direction for the film and makes way for some strong performances from the lead trio. Yates broadens the scope for the story, allowing the three protagonists to move in and out of exciting locations and introduce important new characters, which adds to the films dark, foreboding atmosphere.
What stands out in The Deathly Hallows Part 1, as with every Potter film, are the appearances of many of Britain’s finest acting talents that range from the return of Imelda Staunton’s softly menacing Dolores Umbridge, Jason Isaacs as the physically tormented Lucius Malfoy and of course Ralph Fiennes as the serpentine Voldemort, to name but a few. Helena Bonham Carter also gains a larger role for her psychotically nihilistic portrayal of Bellatrix Lestrange, one of the many highlights of the film, as is the return of Dobby the loyal house-elf.
As I’ve said earlier, one of the main draws of the split was the allowance of more time to explain the story, surely a good thing as ‘The Deathly Hallows’ itself is an important plot point not to be skimmed over. Their explanation forms one of the films most memorable scenes; a story within a story told entirely with shadow puppets, proving just how wonderfully inventive these filmmakers continue to be. Perhaps the films only real weaknesses lie in JK Rowling’s small number of plotholes (how do the trio have such an endless supply of Polyjuice Potion? It took a month to prepare in The Chamber of Secrets) and the fact that the film does abruptly finish with a gaping cliff-hanger, leaving you eager to apparate to next July to see the concluding chapter. Also, Alan Rickman’s effortlessly compelling Severus Snape is criminally underused.
Though not for the uninitiated Harry Potter viewer and definitely too scary for younger children, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is the grittily entertaining breath of fresh air that this series needs which parts with the mundane and ups the ante as far as the emotional stakes are concerned. Though a biased opinion, this is possibly the best of the films so far, and should not be seen as anything more than the preparatory calm before next year’s bombastic storm.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2002. [Film] Directed by Christopher Columbus.UK: Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004. [Film] Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.UK: Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2007. [Film] Directed by David Yates.UK: Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2009. [Film] Directed by David Yates.UK: Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, 2010. [Film] Directed by David Yates.UK: Warner Bros. Pictures.