Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
While Harry Potter is an integral part of my generation, I drifted away from the fandom shortly after finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While I was excited for the film, I wasn’t as excited as some people I knew. (There’s a joke about the average student at my women’s college being a vegan lesbian who loves Harry Potter, which is funny because it is true.) I was also displeased about the decision to split up the film; I’ve dealt with so many series, film and novel, with such poor structure that I thought it would be difficult to pull off. Still, I was going to go see it–how could I not?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 finds The Boy Who Lived in a dark place; after narrowly escaping another attempt on his life (killing and wounding friends in the process), the Ministry of Magic falls and becomes a puppet government for the Dark Lord Voldemort and his racist agenda. On the run from the magical government with his faithful friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Harry decides to seek out and destroy the magical artifacts that protect Voldemort from death–the Horcruxes that Voldemort has housed bits of his soul in–in order to take down Lord Voldemort once and for all.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is unrelentingly dark–fitting for a film whose tagline is “Nowhere is safe”. The film opens with Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic, delivering a speech meant to hearten his public in these dark times. It’s immediately contrasted by the Dursleys hastily abandoning Privet Drive, Ron looking out at an oncoming storm, and, heartwrenchingly, Hermione removing herself from her parents’ memories, literalized by her vanishing from the family photos around the house. (And that’s when the first round of tears started.) This sense of instability reigns supreme, even in the humor–at one point, disguised as a Ministry member, Ron worries over his wife being interrogated until Harry reminds him he doesn’t have a wife. Even the cinematography is dark; shadows, night shots, and plenty of forests on cloudy days. There are moments of real horror; Bellatrix’s torturing of Hermione is framed as a very physical assault (which, of course, it is) and the Bathilda Bagshot sequence made me jump in my seat. This darkness makes the moments of brightness all the more dazzling.
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have all grown into their roles over the past seven years quite well. Radcliffe, especially, gets across the burden of being the Chosen One while still managing to be a guy growing up, and Watson, while too pretty for Hermione, splendidly gets across Hermione’s brand of awe-inspiring and mildly socially off-putting brilliance–when Harry declares Hermione a genius, she corrects him; she’s just highly logical. While Grint is no slouch, I was really impressed with Radcliffe and Watson’s portrayal of good friends in dark times. After Ron storms off and Hermione sits crying by the radio, Harry silently asks her to dance–it’s a sweet friendship scene, as the two goof around like proper teenagers in the middle of all this darkness. (Didn’t cry, but definitely teared up.) I could really go on about the young cast–the Phelps twins, as ever, nail the Weasley twins (one of the funniest scenes in the film occurs when George walks in on Harry and Ginny making out in the kitchen), and Matthew Lewis’ sadly short scene gives us a taste of the Neville who is going to rock Part 2, but I simply haven’t the space. The “adult” actors (the distinction is arbitrary by this point, don’t you think?) are, to a man, lovely–except for Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Bellatrix, which I’ve never liked. While Bellatrix is certainly unstable and vicious, Carter’s Bellatrix is just too crazy. (The hair certainly doesn’t help; the Black women got the shaft on hair in these films, didn’t they?) Still, in a film with this big of a cast, it’s not a big deal.
As an adaptation of the novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 falls into the same trap as the rest of the Potter films–if you haven’t been following the film series or the book series, you might be aconfused as to who’s who and why should we care about them, especially in the very quick Seven Potters sequence. Otherwise, it uses its two and a half hours to maximum benefit–the pace is quick but never frantic, and, miracle of miracles, the plot structure actually works in a similar fashion to Jacqueline Carey’s fantastic The Sundering. It stops during a natural lull in the action after the climactic battle of Malfoy Mansion, albeit with a killer hook for the next film. While I’m still not convinced that two part adaptations are a good idea (especially not for The Hobbit), it works well here. There’s also a pleasant surprise when a character tells the Tale of the Three Brothers–a fantastic 3D animated sequence that blends together the whimsy of the earliest Harry Potter films and the darkness of the later ones. I was terrifically impressed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and I’m definitely looking forward to Part 2 next summer.
Bottom line: Unrelentingly and brilliantly dark, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is not the place to start if you’ve been immune to Pottermania–but it’s otherwise a very good film that proves that two-part film adaptations can work. A fantastic set-up for the series’ finale.
I saw this movie in theaters.