Saturday, 4 December 2010

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)

Ending one of the most popular franchises in recent years was never going to be easy. Regardless of the flaws the earlier films have had, Harry Potter has always been a highly popular and very successful series of films, and above all fun, particularly for those who have read the books. So, just as J.K. Rowling no doubt struggled to do her heroes justice as she completed her saga, the makers of the films have been faced with tough choices. The first of these was to split the final tome into two films, rather than one, and how to remain faithful to the text while maintaining the pace. They haven’t been entirely successful in this but have still managed to produce an excellent addition to the series, and a compelling introduction to the final film next year.

There’s not much of a recap before being thrown into the thick of things at the beginning of the Deathly Hallows, so it may be best to watch The Half-Blood Prince before starting this one. To summarise, this is not a good time to be a wizard or a muggle, with the rise of Voldemort and his Death Eaters practically complete and now in open warfare with the Ministry of Magic. But these are wizards and witches not used to battle and it isn’t long before the spread of Voldemort’s army seems unstoppable. Our three heroes are members of a small group who know what’s at risk and so go in hiding to ensure that the dark lord can’t get his claws into Harry Potter. But Harry isn’t happy about sitting by doing nothing (was he ever?) and so sets out to find the remaining Horcruxes, the pieces of Voldemort’s soul spread out into everyday objects, to kill his nemesis once and for all. But Voldemort has plans of his own, and it involves making himself indestructible by gathering the Deathly Hallows together…

Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) - isn't he pretty?
If reading the above seems a bit incomprehensible than be prepared to be slightly confused during the film. The concepts behind the story are dealt with at length in the book but here they can only be given the most cursory of explanations. The Horcruxes is particular are hardly explained at all, relying as the film does on your knowledge of The Half-Blood Prince, where Dumbledore ensures Harry (and by extension, us) understand what the things are and what destroying them means. The film deals with the Deathly Hallows better, with an excellent animation sequence telling the story of their creation and what they all do together. But this isn’t done until nearing the end of the film, as it actually happens mid way or so through the book, meaning the viewer feels like they’ve just understood what’s going on when the credits start rolling. This will work better once the next film is out and both can be seen in quick succession, but until then this feels a little frustrating. Joined with a lagging middle, that feels more than a little like an extended teenager’s huff, the film does at times challenge the viewer to keep watching. This was where this reviewer thought the director and writers have been too faithful to the original text and could have afforded to have cut a lot of the “what do we do now?” section to get things rolling again. But then the film would only have been an hour and half, and that’s just not the done thing nowadays.

Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic. His accent is... interesting.
The visuals are, as ever, brilliant. The attacks by the Death Eaters are terrifying and visceral, their black cloud stream suitably ominous before the attacks begin. The effects are of a very high quality, with the house elves looking particularly good compared to the earlier films. And the instrumentals are excellent compliments to the onscreen action. But most notable is the growth in the three main characters’ personalities and the actors abilities to show this. As good as the early films were the acting from Daniel Radcliffe and, in particular, Emma Watson was far from perfect (Rupert Grint has always done a pretty stand up job and continues to do so in the Deathly Hallows) and in this installment Harry and Hermione are pushed to grow and reveal a vulnerability not seen much so far. The opening sequence shows Hermione “erasing” herself from her parent’s lives in order to protect them, and Watson does a great job to show the pain and poignancy of this moment. And in fact this improvement in our stars’ abilities sums up the Deathly Hallows – this is a film about growth, taking responsibility and accepting the consequences of our actions. We can only hope this maturity in story telling and in the story itself can survive into part two.


  1. The Harry Potter saga has been one of the best of our time. J.K. Rowling is a very intriguing and imaginative author, and puts a lot of thought and time into her work. I haven't had the time to see Deathly Hallows in the theatre yet, but I plan to within the next few weeks.

    And yes I agree, Lord Voldemort is a very pretty person. He has such a nice nose. :D

    I enjoyed reading your review. I can't wait to see more from you. :)

  2. Thanks W.B., your comments are much appreciated.

    I also really admire J.K. Rowling, mainly for what she's done to get children to read books and fantasy in particular. I have some problems with her writing style at times (let's just say I'm not a fan of Quidditch... or having to read whole chapters about it!) but she's an inspiration to upcoming writers and shows that if you have a good idea and enough dedication to see it through, being a published writer is not impossible.