*Disclaimer: Review contains spoilers
Release date: November 19th, 2010
Written by: Steve Kloves
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ralph Fiennes
The seventh year marks the first where the main characters do not attend Hogwarts. Instead they have opted to drop out in order to hunt down the Horcruxes, the objects which give Voldemort immortality. Voldemort has also managed to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic and has corrupted it. With so many resources at his disposal, Voldemort has begun an endless manhunt for Harry Potter. But there’s something else he wants, something dangerous. The pressure is on as the fate of both the muggle and the wizarding world hangs in the balance.
This is the first Potter film in the series that I’ve actually reviewed before. My feelings on it haven’t changed since then, but I still thought it be fun to go back and revisit this. The movie starts off incredibly strong. We see the three leads on the eve of all the bad s*** that’s about to go down. Of the three, the most memorable and emotional scene shows Hermione erasing her parents memory so they don’t know she exists. This is followed by the Death Eaters meeting, torturing a muggle sympathizer, and discussing their plans. We also see Voldemort intimidate everyone at the table. We see even the Death Eaters fear him. These scenes really set the tone of the film. Gone is the fun of the Columbus films, gone is the sex-fueled teen drama of The Half-Blood Prince. The Deathly Hallows Part One is dark film where you never feel truly safe.
David Yates had issues with the pace of the last two films, but he really has a fine handle on it in this film. Some have complained that this film was slow, and I agree, but that’s why it works so well. With the novel being split into two halves, Yates is finally able to take his time with the story and not rush things. We finally are able to take a breath and admire the great things happening. His visual style also returns here, and it actually looks better than before. In a strange way, Yates was freed by leaving Hogwarts. It allowed him to show other things instead. The cinematography is top-notch here. It’s dark, its dreary, its awesome.
All of these films are filled with a huge supporting cast. This is the only entry in the series where the supporting cast doesn’t play too big a role. A lot of old favourites return (Hagrid, Snape, Madeye) but the focus is really on the main leads. After so many films with these characters, you can’t help but be wrapped up in their stories. We want to see them make it out of everything okay. All these characters are pushed to their limits in this film, and there is even hostility between the three. Several stretches of the movie are just the three leads together, hiding. If we didn’t care about the characters, these scenes we’d be really boring. But we’re invested in the characters, and thus interested. The actor that really surprises me here is Rupert Grint as Ron. In the past, he was the likable comedic relief. Here he actually steps his character up a notch. Watching him struggle with feeling inferior to Harry is a really interesting subplot and something that had been building for a while. But there all great and I’d expect nothing less.
Steve Kloves delivers another great script. The interaction between all the characters is great, but what really impresses me is just how bold the script is. Not only are they not afraid to kill characters off, but they aren’t afraid to give them very uneventful deaths. I know it sounds strange to say an uneventful death is a good thing, but given the story, it feels appropriate. At this point in the series, a full-blown war has broken out. People are dying, and in large numbers. Not every character is going to get an emotional and heart wrenching death. Some of them are just gonna get shot in the back. Take Madeye Moody. We don’t see his death, someone just says he was killed while everyone was escorting Harry. I remember at first thinking it was anti-climactic before realizing, that’s exactly the way it should be. They even kill off Hedwig. I realize Hedwig is just an owl, but being an animal, you expect it to live through the series. Usually in movies, the pet always makes it out okay.
The move also sees the first appearance of Dobby since The Chamber of Secrets. Seeing him again really proved the effects had come along way. He doesn’t look like such an obvious CG effect and feels much more natural with the world. And Toby Jones is still charming and fun providing the voice of Dobby. The one thing I will say is that I didn’t find Dobby’s death as emotionally gripping as others did. Mainly because he was only in one other film in the series, and didn’t have a lot of screen time in this one. It also does feel like the movie was setting him up to be killed. It’s not a bad scene or anything, it doesn’t really work as the emotional climax.
Actually, I have a problem with the climax as a whole. Not because its bad, but because it isn’t a climax. Overall, I like the scene. I like watching the interaction between the Malfoys, and seeing a glimpse into their life was pretty interesting. I like the darkness of the scene, such as the prisoners in the house and the torturing of Hermione. But all this does not work as a true climax. I am glad that film makers decided to divide the last book in two parts because it allowed for more stuff to be put in, but it does make the ending of this film feel off. The intensity begins to rise, and then the movie stops. Some people may argue that I shouldn’t judge this ending as an ending because it isn’t truly over, Part Two is still on the way. But until Part Two is released, I have to judge this as I would the ending to any other film. I will say that the last shot of Voldemort firing off the elder wand does get the blood flowing for Part Two.
Despite the slow pace, the action in this film is some of the best in the series. Mainly becasue it is action with consequence. People actually die. The action scenes aren’t adventurous fun, but they’re tense scenes where you’re afraid for the characters. The opening chase really sets that tone where both Madeye and Hedwig die. I also like the foot chase through the woods with the leads being chased by the snatchers. What made that scene work so well, for me, was the sounds. The loudest and most predominant noises in the scene are the sounds of twigs breaking and heavy breathing. All in all, this is my favourite type of action. Where you can marvel at how well its done and how technically efficient the scenes are, but one where you’re also emotionally invested with the characters in danger.
Another thing that really caught me about this film was the music. Famous composer John Williams left the series after The Prisoner of Azkaban and it was a noticeable departure. The music in the subsequent films wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special. For this film, composer Alexandre Desplat wrote and conducted the score. His music would be the first to really catch my ear since Prisoner of Azkaban. The music reflects the tone perfectly. It’s dark, it’s dreary, and it’s very emotional.
One thing I find inconsistent about the film is some of the humor. Simply put, some of it works, of it doesn’t. I’m not oppose to humor in a dark film, and a lot of the characters are known for their sense of humor. I just have a problem when it conflicts with the tone. While for the most part the film never falls into that trapping, there are moments it does. The one that stands out the most is Dobby on the chandelier. In the middle of this wizarding duel, after watching Hermione get tortured, the move takes time to give us a comedic shot of Dobby unscrewing a chandelier and dropping it on the villains. Then, he makes a humorous comment about how he, “…never meant to call. Dobby only meant to maim, or seriously injure.” It bothers me that the move had to defuse the tension for a lame joke, especially when it’s followed by Dobby being killed.
Despite some minor flaws, The Deathly Hallows Part One is a great film, one that I only imagine will get better when Part Two hits theaters. Yates brings the best of his previous films, as well as improving on the flaws that had plagued him. The film is dark, it’s intense, and it really builds to what I’m sure will be a balls to the wall insane conclusion in Part Two. This film is not for the casual movie goer. If you haven’t seen all the other films, you won’t know what’s going on and you probably won’t enjoy the film. This is a film for those of us who love these characters. This really is great film making, even if technically it’s incomplete.
And that’s the end of my Harry Potter retrospective. My review for The Deathly Hallows Part Two will be like any other review. It’ll be published in the “PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews” section and there won’t be any spoilers. Looking back at the series, there is a lot to admire. Here we have a series of blockbuster films that put characters and story telling at the front of everything. That in itself is a rare thing. Even more impressive is that there really aren’t any bad Potter films. Even the most problematic entries do have a lot going for them. Most of the best movie series have at least one bad film. Indiana Jones, The Terminator, Batman, and Star Wars are all examples of film series that couldn’t avoid having at least one bad film. You do see a fair share of consistently good trilogies, but how often do you see a consistent series spanning seven films. The seventh James Bond film for example is horrible. But somehow Harry Potter has remained consistent, albeit problematic.
It’s hard to think that after this Friday there won’t be any more Potter films. I know some fans are sad to see it go, but all good things most come to an end. I’d rather see them go out on a high note then have them drag on and become watered down. Personally, I’m expecting a great film from Part Two. It’s easily my most anticipated of the year and I have very high expectations. I don’t like going into a movie with big expectations, but after ten years, it’s hard not to. Regardless of what happens, thank you to all the people who worked on these films. From the actors to the directors to the composers to the grips. Thank you for your contribution to the series. But most of all, thank you to J.K. Rowling for writing these books and creating all this in the first place.
Oh, and if anyone’s curious, here’s how I’d rank the films.
1. The Prisoner of Azkaban
2. The Deathly Hallows Part One
3. The Goblet of fire
4. The Order of the Phoenix
5. The Half-Blood Prince
6. The Chamber of Secrets
7. The Philosopher’s Stone