Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Is this my first Harry Potter review on Rhombus? I think it is.

Well then. You probably haven’t heard my theory. I’ll save it for the end so that you don’t decide to prematurely stop reading this review of the most recent film.

Firstly, let me emphasize the difficulty inherent in evaluating “part one” of a film that was created as two. So much of how I judge a film depends upon how satisfied I feel at its end. Was it emotionally effective? Did the characters’ actions and relationships fit together in a meaningful and reasonable way? Did it help me, as the audience, achieve any kind of catharsis?

This is a film without a climax. Despite starting in medias res, the first act was actually quite powerful, and the second act was great — for how far it got. Then it went and ended right in the middle of the second act.

I’ll go ahead and get my beef with this film out of the way right now. The most powerful and most complete story arc was that of Ron’s relationship with Harry and Hermione. It was effective all the way up until the boy left. And then we don’t see him again until he comes back. So it’s a little disjointed. The strongest plotline in the film loses its primary protagonist halfway through. And then he returns, and we get his whole from-then-to-now story through dialog. And that sucks. It was weakly structured drama. The way he gets back to them is neither set up nor shown. Frustrating.

But the rest of it was beautiful. Radcliffe does some of his strongest acting in this film, which is still embarrassingly weak against, well, all of the other characters, who themselves were all brilliant. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are blossoming into seriously talented actors — especially Watson. Her first scene actually put some tears in my eyes — and she’s gorgeous to boot. Go Hermione.

And speaking of the beginning of the film, I’m becoming more impressed with David Yates with each passing film. Thank goodness he came back as director for these last two installments of the franchise. The very first shot is of Bill Nighy’s eyes, just his eyes, for several seconds, and then his face, as he delivers a statement on behalf of the Ministry of Magic. It was subtle, flawless filmmaking, not to mention a superb performance by a man who only gets a few minutes of screen time. I love Nighy.

Plenty of other scenes were, taken on their own, simply outstanding: that first scene I mentioned with Hermione and her parents; the entire ministry “infiltration” sequence; the horcrux “finale” (oh my gosh); the wedding’s end; Godric’s Hollow; a scene between Hermione and Bellatrix; and a phenomenal animated sequence, about which I shall say nothing.

Eduardo Serra, the cinematographer for this latest installment, works magic with the camera. Once again, I was visually blown away.

In terms of tone, the first part of Hallows almost perfectly matched the book. Through much of the last text, Rowling beleaguers her audience with a lot of stark despondency. Not much happens for quite a few pages. It’s an effective way to help the reader feel some of what the characters feel — that they can’t do anything as the world falls apart around them.

I’m sure many will say that this film feels slow, like nothing much happens through much of the last half, but for myself, I say hats off to the director and editor, who manage to pace this film so that it achieves what it took Rowling hundreds of pages to pull off.

This is not a happy film. It’s a setup film — and a very good one at that. I’ll still be as close to the front of the line as I can get to see the final chapter of this increasingly wonderful story.

And now here comes my theory: When it comes to Harry Potter, the movies are better than the books. Particularly those helmed by Yates’ — the fifth, sixth, and these final two. I realize this is going to make a lot of Harry Potter fans very angry. People love the books. That’s where this whole thing started. If not for dear J.K., there would be no Harry Potter and, therefore, no toweringly good films.

But when Rowling started writing the books, she was very much a novice. She didn’t have a whole lot of talent or experience behind her. What she had was drive and a great idea for a story, one for which an enormous audience happened to be absolutely starving. But she was not a good writer. She was actually a bad one for a while. I confess that when I finally started reading the Harry Potter books, I up and skipped the first two because I couldn’t slog through them, and I already knew what happened anyway, thanks to Chris Columbus’s cloying adaptations.

She did get better. Book three was when she really started warming up to the whole novel-writing business. And then by book five, she was writing seriously okay books. She had her story down, her characters built up pretty well, and a huge audience she knew how to write for. And so she finished off the series admirably for her level of talent and experience.

But none of her books are great. They are, some of them, good books. Books worth reading if you fit into a certain sizable demographic (which, turns out, I do). The films, on the other hand, starting with the fifth, are great. They were written, directed, shot, edited and produced by filmmakers who have a lot of experience, and whose talent has been proven often enough that it is no longer in question. They star an astounding cast of actors who (excluding Mr. Radcliffe) are rarely anything short of brilliant, and who, in every case (including Mr. Radcliffe), have given their characters far more complexity and resonance than they ever had in the books.

That is what I think, and I think it strongly enough to declare that it is not merely my opinion, but an objective, demonstrable fact. You may passionately disagree. You would be wrong, but that’s okay, because ultimately, all I’m saying is that I friggin’ love these movies. I think they’re exciting and funny and moving and I’m all kinds of grateful for the wonderful woman who started it all.

Now all we have to do is hope part two gives us the ending the franchise deserves so the whole thing can soar. For whatever it’s worth, my hopes are high.

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