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

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Film

Déjà vu. It seems like we’ve done this before.

The years of anticipation, the long queues for tickets, drooling over the latest trailer, gossiping about Emma Watson’s new haircut, the promise that this one is, indeed, the most “epic” of them all — and finally the eventual disappointment that it just wasn’t as good as the book.

Oh yeah, that’s not déjà vu. We really have already done this six times over the past decade.

Friday marked the release of the latest of the Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. (By the way, I feel like there had to have been a better way to differentiate between the two instead of part one and part two. Like chapter 1 and chapter 2 perhaps? This was a book after all.) After seeing it I find myself with a familiar set of mixed emotions.

Being a longtime fan of the Harry Potter series, I of course relish seeing characters I love so deeply being brought to life on the screen. This is, however, a double-edged sword. When the movie departs from the stories and characters that I love, I only find myself asking in disappointment, “Was there really no other way?”

(Spoiler alert for everything that follows.)

First off, let me say that Deathly Hallows is a beautifully shot movie. From the dark moors of the north country to the brightly crowded streets of London’s Piccadilly Circus, Britain comes to life in a way that these films have yet to capture. The cinematography is a step up from anything seen yet in the series.

The effects are also as good as they’ve been, especially when we meet our old friend Dobby the house-elf. It is readily apparent the forward leaps CGI has taken in the last decade. The completely computer generated character comes to life in a much more realistic way then he did 8 years ago when he first appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Where Deathly Hallows really excels though is in doing what its source material did so excellently — bringing all the characters back and taking us on a nostalgic ride through the Potter universe so many have come to love. Memorable characters like the aforementioned Dobby, Kreacher, Mad-Eye Moody, the Weasley and Malfoy families, Fleur Delacour, Olivander the wandmaker, Dolores Umbridge, Rita Skeeter, Griphook the Goblin and more come back to us for the last time. One has to applaud the ability of the filmmakers to keep all the actors interested in returning to minor roles some of them began playing nearly ten years ago.

Where the movie fails though is in, of course, the adaptation and what the filmmakers chose to include and exclude. One of the most important elements of the original book is Harry Potter’s relationship with the now-dead Albus Dumbledore, in which the new biography by Rita Skeeter plays a central role. In the film, they begin to approach this subject in the beginning, then seem to abandon it halfway through. Apparently it was more important that we see three minutes of Harry and Hermione awkwardly dancing and having some kind of moment (what exactly was the point of that?) then spending three minutes to elaborate on the crucial situation with Dumbledore. I can’t help but feel that this will cheapen the ultimate emotional climax of the entire series, which hinges on Harry’s ability to trust Dumbledore even though he feels he constantly lied to him.

The film has some spectacular action sequences — the infiltration and subsequent escape from the Ministry of Magic really stands out. However, the character interactions seem to suffer. Much of the chemistry between the three principle actors seems to be missing from the film, and they really have very little dialog between them as there are long stretches of silence.

The fact that most of the excellent adult cast is absent for much of the film really hurts the movie as we realize that “the trio” really aren’t that great on their own. They need the likes of Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, and the incomparable Alan Rickman around to really get the scenes going.

The other huge flaw in the film is its pacing. Much of this comes from the filmmakers trying to arbitrarily find a good stopping point for a story that isn’t supposed to stop. In reality, they stopped the film in what is about as good a place as possible. However, it makes the film feel like a series of action and chase sequences connected by teenage angst that just ends without ever really climaxing. The group’s escape from the Malfoy mansion is well done, but it isn’t really any more exciting then any of the other half-dozen escapes they perform throughout the film.

In the end, one leaves the theater feeling like they’ve seen a really great, really long trailer for a fantastic film they have to wait another six months to see.

Of course, if you like Harry Potter, you’re going to go and probably already have gone to see the film. In reality, I enjoyed it just like I have all the other Potter films, but it is not without its flaws. Is it the best of the series? No. Does it serve to get you really excited for the next part? Absolutely.

It’s hard not to chalk up the film’s flaws to the fact that it is part one of a two-part film. It feels almost like being at the warm-up for an NBA game. It’s really fun to watch the players joke around, practice their prettiest dunks, take ridiculously long threes, and throw some chalk up in the air. There’s an unmistakable excitement in the air, for sure — but, in the end, it’s always better once the game starts, people play defense, and everything’s for real.

Next June, when it really counts, expect Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to show us something really spectacular.


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