This review may contain spoilers.
Reaction was decidedly mixed when Warner Bros. announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – the seventh and final book in author J.K. Rowlings best-selling fantasy series – would be adapted into two films. Hardcore fans clung to the hope that this approach would allow more of J.K. Rowlings elaborate wizarding world to make it to the big screen.
Now, nearly a decade after director Chris Columbus introduced moviegoers to the boy wizard, he begins his final adventure, and the result – while not wholly satisfying – makes for a very interesting ride.
With the death of Prof. Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in the previous film, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) set off to locate the remaining Horcruxes – magical objects which contain bits of Lord Voldermorts (Ralph Fiennes) soul – in the hopes of destroying the Dark Lord once and for all.
Along the way, they run into several familiar faces, including demented former Hogwarts headmistress Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) and devoted house elf Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones).
The trio spend much of the film evading Voldemorts forces, and this screen time focuses more on the dynamic between the longtime friends, highlighting just how much each has matured since they first met on the Hogwarts Express.
As such, Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is by far the darkest film in the series, light years away from the kid-friendly sense of wonder depicted in 2001s Sorcerers Stone. Several major characters perish, including an especially poignant death in the films final minutes, and the emotional intensity of the film nicely builds on the rising stakes that the characters face.
As Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) says in the films opening scene, this is a dark time for Harry and his friends, a time when they must fight back against the darkness or allow themselves to be consumed by it. The film that follows doesnt quite establish itself as the crowning achievement it yearns to be, but likely, thats only because we have yet to see Harrys tale through to the end.
Despite the return appearance of many of the seriespopular characters, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have always been the heart and soul of these films. Their performances here are their strongest thus far, and the film gives them plenty of scenes simultaneously rich in both drama and comedy, allowing them to explore their characters like never before. Watson in particular shines in some of the most emotionally raw scenes fans have seen in the Potter films.
In fact, its emotional core is the strongest element of Deathly Hallows, Part 1. More than just another fantasy film, it – much like Peter Jacksons The Lord of the Rings trilogy – addresses themes of loss, hopelessness and inner turmoil that are likely to resonate with both longtime fans of the series and newbies alike.
Thats not to say that Deathly Hallows is overly concerned with sentimentality, however. On the contrary, the film also features some of the most thrilling action sequences of any film in the series, including a daring escape from the Ministry of Magic, Harrys toe-to-toe battle with Voldemorts pet snake and a mid-flight attack during which Harry barely escapes the clutches of Voldemort himself.
hat Didnt Work
Despite its many thrills and focus on character development, something about Deathly Hallows, Part 1 leaves audiences not only wanting more but feeling unsatisfied. The central mystery revolves around the Horcruxes, and yet our heroes make little to no progress in this regard. Even the Deathly Hallows themselves arent introduced into the story until late in the film, although the animated sequence which tells the tale is indeed breath-taking.
Certainly, all of these concerns will be addressed when Deathly Hallows, Part 2 hits theaters in July 2011, but as a standalone film, Part 1 is much ado about nothing.
Its as if the filmmakers decided to place an emphasis on character here and save the bulk of the plot for the second half. The same criticism was levied on the action-heavy Kill Bill, Volume 1 when it hit theaters in 2003 and then reprieved when fans caught the character development and emotion of Volume 2 the following year.
The reverse is the issue with Deathly Hallows. When viewed alongside its companion film, Part 1 will likely be rightfully viewed as the first half of one of the best fantasy adventures in cinema history, but as it is now, its hard to recommend it as an individual movie-going experience.
On its own, it lacks balance, leaving moviegoers not so much craving to see what happens next. More likely, theyll be frustrated that so little progress was made in the film theyve just seen.
Undoubtedly, director David Yates and his brilliant ensemble cast will pull it all together next year, giving Harry Potter the cinematic send-off the series deserves. Until then, this film feels like nothing more than a stepping stone.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Ralph Fiennes. It was written by Steve Kloves and directed by David Yates.