Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 11/18/10 21:00:00

"...or Harry Potter Goes Camping..."
3 stars (Just Average)

J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” seven-book series, released over 10 years (1997-2007) will eventually take 11 years to complete their blockbuster run at the box office in the United States and elsewhere. Seeing the end of a highly lucrative franchise and, perhaps, in denial, Warner Bros. executives decided to split the release of the final film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," into two parts, the first released now and the second (and last) next July. Driven by financial considerations and not, as publicly stated, by a desire to give series’ beloved characters a proper sendoff, that decision may satisfy most Potter fans eager to see Potter one last time next summer, but not casual fans or general moviegoers who won’t be able to overlook the "Deathly Hallows Part 1’s" long expository middle section and an unsatisfying, abrupt non-ending (set-up, naturally, for Part 2 next year).

Deathly Hallows Part 1 opens several months after the death of Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), a powerful, benevolent wizard, longtime Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry headmaster, and Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) mentor-father figure. Down two father-figures/mentors in two school years (Potter lost his godfather, Sirius Black [Gary Oldman], at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Harry’s inevitable (and final) confrontation with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) nears (but not until Part 2 next summer). With his life and the lives of his close friends in danger, his mentors gone, and Lord Voldemort ascendant, Potter realizes he has no choice but to forego his last year at Hogwarts and find and destroy the Horcruxes, magically empowered objects that offer Potter the only chance to defeat Voldemort.

With the aid of the Muggle-hating Death Eaters, Voldemort uses fear, intimidation, and violence to take over the Ministry of Magic. With spies everywhere, Potter is safe nowhere, least of all at Hogwarts. With the help of two of Dumbledore’s allies, Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), and his best friends, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), says his unemotional goodbyes to his Muggle relatives, the Dursleys, and heads out for a magically protected sanctuary, the Weasley family home. Presumably betrayed by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the former Hogwarts instructor who murdered Dumbledore, Harry barely escapes, but loses yet another father-figure/protector. A respite at the Weasley home proves brief. The Death Eaters attack the wedding reception. Harry, Hermione, and Ron flee, teleporting to London.

On their own, they have to find the first of several Horcruxes, Godric Gryffindor’s sword, and evade capture by Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Once Harry and the others are on their own, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 devolves in long, dialogue-heavy, expository scenes (all middle, no ending), camping, hand-wringing, a dangerous excursion to the Ministry of Magic, camping (made infinitely easier by Hermione’s bottomless shoulder bag), and more hand-wringing. The tension-free, faux-romantic triangle between Harry, Hermione, and Ron, aggravated by a mood-altering Horcrux, threatens to destroy their friendship (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring-style), a lengthy animated sequence reveals the meaning behind the “deathly hallows” of the title, eventually culminating in an inconclusive confrontation with Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), a non-poignant non-ending, and the obligatory shot of Voldemort at the apex of his powers (cue end credits and an eight month wait for Part 2).

Although Deathly Hallows Part 1 was never intended as a standalone film, it also fails as the first part of a two-part film. The director, David Yates (he’s directed the last three adaptations including Deathly Hallows), and screenwriter, Steve Kloves (who’s written all but one adaptation), lean heavily on expository, explanatory dialogue to pad out Deathly Hallows Part 1’s running time to the now obligatory 2-1/2 hours. Although earlier adaptations of the Potter series tended to run 2-1/2 hours, they never felt repetitive or padded to reach a predetermined length (given the plot compression necessary in squeezing Rowling’s increasingly longer novels into cinematic form, the contrary was true). Maybe the better alternative would have been to compress the last novel into three or even 3-1/2 hours (it worked for The Lord of the Rings series). That might have satisfied casual and serious fans, but not Warner Bros. executives.

Not at all is doom and gloom, however. Actually it is, at least for Harry, Hermione, and Ron and anyone not on Voldemort’s side, including two key supporting characters that won’t make it to Part 2 (one dies unsatisfactorily offscreen). The production values, thanks to Warner Bros.' generous budget, allowed Yates to continue filming in England and, presumably, hire every available English actor, are still top-notch. The visual effects continue to impress even as they’ve become predictable. And just as, if not more importantly, the three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, continue to grow with their roles, adding nuance and color to their performances. They’ve grown as actors, a testament (if nothing else) to original director Chris Columbus’ talent in selecting his then preteen cast. Even better? With Part 1 finally out of the way, casual and serious fans can finally look forward to the final battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort, not to mention that proper sendoff we’ve been promised all along.

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