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Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Reviewed by Eliza DoLots

This is a hard movie to review because, really, it’s only half a movie. It lacks that oh, so important element of a good story: an ending. It doesn’t even have the benefit of a good “cliff hanger” moment. There really is none in the book and it would have been a stretch to invent one for the movie.

That said, Potter fans will be quite happy with it. Considering how unhappy many Potter fans are with the book version, this is quite an accomplishment.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that there would be disappointment with the climactic book of such a popular series. The depth of disappointment felt by some Potter fans was, however, extreme. Author JK Rowling chose to violate the laws of the universe she had created, something which outraged many, including me. Had she published her story on a fan fiction site, as opposed to in a book, it would have had to bear the label “AU” for “Alternate Universe”.

That’s rather sad from the work’s creator.

Nevertheless, I was hopeful for the movie. By its very nature, a screenplay cannot be everything a book is. In the case of the Potter franchise, this has resulted in movies which have been quite different, yet sometimes more enjoyable than the books from which they are derived. The best example of this is the fifth book: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Huge (870 pages), overly complex and loaded to the gills with whiney teenage angst, it is almost painful to read. Yet, the movie is delightful and the shortest of all the Potter movies.

So, I went into the theater in a positive state of mind. I was not disappointed. True, the first half of the story is the most entertaining to read, so perhaps the easiest to put to screen, but, much of the story is told through reminiscences of ancient history by old witches and wizards we’ve never met before. The movie makers wisely determined we didn’t need as much information about them as Rowling had provided and simply had them engage in a brief conversation. We didn’t even get the name of one of the characters, despite the fact Rowling had devoted page after page to describing her. Brilliant.

One of Rowling’s more despicable crimes is, in my opinion, ignoring the established rules for polyjuice potion. Polyjuice allows a person to turn into someone else for exactly one hour. That time restriction has been a critical plot point in two of the books/movies. Yet, apparently, to tell this story she felt the need to keep people polyjuiced for longer. It could be done in a believable way. This is, after all, magic and Hermione is, after all, brilliant. Hundreds of fan fiction authors, faced with the problem of “not enough time polyjuiced” have managed to have Hermione apply her knowledge of the Muggle world to created “slow release” polyjuice or something similar…but not Rowling. Rowling simply had them “take a big dose”. As polyjuice potion is used extensively in The Deathly Hallows, the readers had multiple times to find this aggravating.

The movie makers chose to simply forgo the polyjuice potion in 2 situations—neither of which suffered the least—and, rather enjoyably, poked fun at Rowling in another. Harry rather pointedly asks Hermione “How long did you say this batch of polyjuice lasts?” She replies “I didn’t”. He then explains that they will simply have to finish the job “before the hour is up.” I found that a very nice touch.

The movie opens with a dinner party/Death Eater strategy meeting at Malfoy Manor. This is our first opportunity to see Snape and Voldemort together and it is quite fun. Alan Rickman, as Snape, is finally released from the realm of “middle school teacher” and is free to exude all sorts of sexy, super powerful wizard charm. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort is, despite his serpentine appearance, charming. Finally,we understand why people would follow this man.

One of the more touching scenes in the movie is a non-scene in the book. Hermione, the “Muggleborn” heroine (magical child of non-magical parents) tells Harry how she charmed her parents to forget her. In the movie, our first look ever at Hermione's home life is, in fact, her erasing herself from it. It's achingly sad and Emma Watson manages to convey her love, her sadness, her determination while uttering only the one word: "Obliviate". The movie, unlike the book, remembers that this happened. When Harry asks Hermione to alter the memories of a pair of death eaters, she does it. In the book, she says she doesn't know how to do a memory charm before “giving it a try”. In fact, having to use the same charm on the death eaters that she used on her parents is an obviously painful experience for movie Hermione.

Visually, this is a lovely movie. The cinematography is excellent; very graphic, very clean. The considerable CGI is well done. The snake—which is completely CGI—is simply horrifying. Anyone with a fear of snakes should stay home. I like snakes and I knew what was going to happen, but I nearly screamed.

We see very little of the adults in this part of the story, which leaves our heroes holding up the bulk of the movie. They do fine. Emma Watson's Hermione is the standout, but Daniel Radcliffe's Harry has some really stellar moments. Even Rupert Grint's Ron Weasley—normally somewhat one dimensional—handles the complex emotional scenes well.

In my opinion, the PG-13 rating for this movie is low. It's very, very scary. Parents who don't take the time to read the books will likely think “oh, Harry Potter! That's a good kid's movie, go ahead.” They would be wrong. Rowling wrote the books to appeal to audiences roughly the same age as her main characters. The movie makers have, since the fourth movie, pushed the scarier aspects of the stories. While I think this movie is probably fine for most kids 14 and older, anyone younger (and some who are 14 and 15) should really have a parent in the audience with them. While I hesitate to make the already complex movie rating system more so, this movie is a good argument for a R-13 rating. Meaning, kids 13 and under would be required to be accompanied by an adult. Beyond the simple “scare” aspect of the snake, there are themes of subjugation and torture that require an adult interpretation; beloved characters are killed in not very nice ways. The filmmakers have, at least so far, steered clear of the heavy sexual innuendo that pervades the final book. It is likely that fact which kept this movie from achieving an R rating.

If director David Yates and his crew can continue their courageous rescue of Rowling's rather muddled final installment, then Part 2 should be an excellent and exciting culmination of one of the best movie series of all time. It's a big “if” however. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, there are some big matzo balls out there. Rowling completely mishandles the story of Snape's motivation. As that is central to the entire series, it's something of a problem. In one scene Rowling gives us parents and adult family members encouraging a child to sacrifice himself. It's a horrifying scene yet seems impossible to avoid. As I said: big matzo balls.

However, why worry in advance? Part 1 is great. Let's enjoy it.

Related Link:
Eliza's review of Deathly Hallows, Part 2

 

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Director
David Yates

Screenplay
Steve Kloves

Released
November 19, 2010 (U.S.)

Cast
Daniel Radcliffe
Emma Watson
Rupert Grint
Ralph Fiennes
Alan Rickman
Julie Walters
Bill Nighy
Michael Gambon
Robbie Coltrane
Helena Bonham Carter

Full Credits at IMDb

DVD and Blu-Ray available from amazon.com