November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 slice

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 isn’t the best Harry Potter film so far.  It’s not the funniest or the most action-packed although it has plenty of moments of levity and breath-taking excitement. But it’s the one film most deserving of audience respect and admiration because it’s the first Harry Potter to cast aside the comfort of Hogwarts.  In place of Good Times with Magic, Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is quiet, contemplative, and sorrowful.  What you’ve come to expect from a Harry Potter film is gone and in its place is a more difficult movie but one that is ultimately more rewarding.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) vowed that he would not return to Hogwarts for his final year.  Instead, he must now find and destroy five “horcruxes”, items which hold pieces of the soul of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and provide him with immortality.  If Harry can destroy all the horcruxes, then he’ll be able to defeat Voldemort and save the world.  This task is made slightly more difficult by the fact that the wizarding world is falling to Voldemort’s army of Death Eaters who are not only hunting Harry down, but also infiltrating the government.  Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson) join Harry in his dangerous mission but their search puts the trio’s friendship to the test.

That friendship is the core of Half-Blood Prince.  There’s no more quidditch, wacky magic classes, or supernatural creatures.  Like the book, Deathly Hallows is about the struggle to find your own way when you no longer have the structure that school provides.  While compacting the seventh book into one movie could have shaped the story into a more traditional mold, splitting the novel into two parts—while clearly done in an attempt to make more money from the franchise—also provides the largest challenge.  There’s not a lot of forward momentum in the plot and so director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves place the drama in the hands of the characters.

I’m once again grateful that this series never recast its lead actors.  While it’s possible that new actors could have done these characters justice, watching Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint make Harry, Hermoine, and Ron their own over the past decade pays tremendous dividends.  This film truly belongs to them as we see the trio pushed to the brink.  And yet the film isn’t afraid to stick to the pacing of the book and drop a character for a good chunk of the runtime.  It isn’t afraid to have a quiet scene where two characters just slowly dance (to a Nick Cave song, no less!) in an effort to lift their spirits.  Most remarkable, it isn’t afraid to juggle tones from comic to thrilling to melancholy all within a short time span.  And most remarkably: it all feels completely organic to the story.

It’s to his great credit that Yates can keep these slow-paced scenes captivating and then easily switch to the comfort of a well-timed joke or intense action scene.  Despite an emphasis on these characters being lost, both directionally and spiritually, Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is still a movie that knows how to have fun.  It just always mixes in the thrills with the sorrow.  You can have a high-speed broom chase, but not everyone will make it out unscathed.  You can have a funny and thrilling heist scene, but there will be the undertones of Nazi Germany.  It’s a movie where a scene can begin with someone getting flushed down a toilet and end with a critical injury and yet somehow it all works.

However, Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is such a delicate balancing act that every wobble is a bit more pronounced than it would be in an earlier film that had a tighter structure and a faster pace.  There’s one scene that goes a bit too far in showing a character his deepest fears.  One character’s death is so rushed that it’s difficult to tell if he/she even dies.  Also, Deathly Hallows – Part 1 doesn’t really have a climax as much as it has a good stopping point.

Despite these minor missteps, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is a triumph.  It eschews the safety the series has brought so far not just in story but in tone.  David Yates and his leading actors have managed to tell a story steeped in uncertainty with the utmost confidence.

Rating: A-

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  • Mike

    Yates has been my favorite Potter director. I absolutely adored the previous two films, and I’m ecstatic for the final two.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewcriuis Matthew Criuis

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  • Dfsprod

    “while clearly done in an attempt to make more money from the franchise”

    So it wasn’t split to try and fit most of the contents of its gargantuan novel on screen? If you have proof that WB or Yates did this on purpose for cash flow only, I’d like to see it. While this is a review and opinion piece, I would be careful of my word and sentence choice.

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      And yet Books 4, 5, and 6, which are also “gargantuan” made it safely into one film each.

      Warner Bros. is stretching out their marquee franchise. It’s cute if you think they split the book because there was no other way to adapt it.

      • MJG

        Note that if all they cared about was the cash, they would have released the film in retro-fitted #-D. They spent enough time and energy trying to retro-fit it. In the end, they decided the quality just wasn’t good enough, eschewed the millions extra they’d make be releasing in 3-D, and went only with the original 2-D.
        That speaks to their intentions. Obviously, they care about quality more than just the cash.

      • Alex

        The broke it up in two parts cause they could, the actors aging (all of them) and not being credible in their roles was the most serious problem. But now that it’s the end, two films at around a year of shooting, could be done.

        Also stretches out the band and ties up all the loose ends of every character. Thus making the franchise much better overall.

      • http://senzafineonline.net/ Yahzee

        … you said it best, it’s cute to think that way. It was all about the money… but it also works for us, because we get t spend a little longer with theses characters, and there’s more room to developed the story… they get the money, I get my slow character scenes… so I’m over it

    • Anonymous

      Of course they did it for the money. That’s it no more books. It’s a no brainer to split it into two.
      Just like the last Twilight book really “needs to be split into to movies.”
      And just like they are splitting THE HOBBIT into two movies. Come on, the Hobbit does not need to be split in two.

  • Christophercantos

    if i didn’t know who directed these films, i wouldn’t believe you if you said that the 5th movie has the same director as the 6th and 7th. the 5th one was the first bad Potter film. Montage after Montage with irritating music, and bad direction on capturing humor. but then something happened at Half Blood Prince(maybe it’s the return of Kloves). The humor is done very well. the shots arent irritating(i would even say it’s the best shot Potter out of all the films. even Azkaban), the scenes are thrilling. Music seems to blend the movie instead of overpowering it. it’s a great film.

    i saw Deathly Hallows part 1 last night. and just with the opening scene, you know that this is the Yates that did Half Blood Prince. Another great film. and a really ballsy one.

    • http://twitter.com/grapenutsrbt Jim Goff

      Uh, no the first two were the first two bad Harry Potter films.

  • Christophercantos

    also, Matt. i wonder what do you think about the action scenes on this film? the heist scenes were very good. it was thrilling exciting and you feel the danger. i also love what you said about how they switch tones and do it seemlessly. but i feel that Yates isnt really yet a master of action scenes. other action scenes reminiscence of Foster in Quantum Of Solace. it’s troubling for me if he would do it like that on Part 2(SPOILER ALERT: we all know the battle at hogwarts will be epic and big and probably longer than any action scenes before). i think Yates is at best when he’s creating mood and tension rather than creating action scenes.

    also, still can’t believe he did Order of The Phoenix. i’ll probably unlock the secret of why that film was bad when his next one is probably the best(along with Azkaban and now DHPart1). maybe if i see those 3 films back to back to back. or maybe just HBP and OoTP, i’ll unlock the secret.

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      I think Yates does a fine job with the action. The broom chase could be a bit cleaner in terms of following the action, but the heist at the Ministry was well-paced, knew when to be claustrophobic, and built to a thrilling conclusion. It gives me a lot of hope for the heist at Gringots (assuming they kept it, and I don’t know why they wouldn’t).

      • Christophercantos


        i’m with you. his best action scene in the film was the heist in the Ministry. one of the great heist scenes i’ve seen. he masters that scene so incredibly. and the fact that he switches tone from thriller to drama to comedy then back to a thriller again. that’s amazing film-making. but what about the snatchers scene, a bit sloppy for my taste. and the broom chase i agree could have been cleaner. i think his weekness is when the characters are running. but it’s really hard to film those scenes.

        but there are scenes here in this movie that are pure genius. you’ve mention the heist at the ministry, how about the one in the restaurant or the one in Godric’s Hollow. Man i can’t wait to watch this again

      • Army1601

        I saw the dragon, and harry ron and hermione riding a cart with a goblin in one of the trailers, odds are they kept that gringotts scene

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  • Jbdavis90

    I don’t think the scene with the fears went too far. I thought it was perfect. This has been the first Harry Potter movie that I’ve respected as a movie.

  • Aarush

    I think Yates does a fine job with the action. The broom chase could be a bit cleaner in terms of following the action, but the heist at the Ministry was well-paced, knew when to be claustrophobic, and built to a thrilling conclusion. It gives me a lot ohttp://blog.zorex.info/?page_id=2f hope for the heist at Gringots (assuming they kept it, and I don’t know why they wouldn’t).