Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Non Spoiler Review:
The penultimate chapter of the Harry Potter franchise delivers a very dark but satisfying installment. Voldemort continues to solidify his hold on power, meeting with little resistance, while Harry and company must go into hiding to find the final Horcruxes. Deathly Hallows is directed by David Yates, who also did the Half-Blood Prince. While not as action-packed as some of its predecessors, this episode is primarily character-driven while setting up events for the final act next summer.

First, I must confess that I have not read the books, but have been a fan of all the movies, so some of my plot points may find explanations in the literature and not in the films. This is an interesting movie, and difficult to judge outside of its franchise context. The series is pretty much inaccessible to anyone who hasn't seen the previous chapters, so is it even worth commenting on that at this point (aside from the occasional poor lug who is dragged to the Deathly Hallows with no previous knowledge of Harry Potter, I can wager that most viewers will already be fans).

It does suffer from the middle-movie syndrome, given it's the first part of the final act. Where previous movies had a lot of action to carry the audience through the long running time, this one seems to slow in the middle as Harry, Hermione and Ron are on the run. However, if you've stuck through the series this long, the time spent on character moments like these are appreciated.

We get a sense of the dire straits facing everyone right from the start as Hermione erases the memories of her very existence to her parents in order to protect them from the wizard war. Many of the characters, including the main trinity, go through emotional trials necessary for their continued evolution, so it is welcome that the director allows the time for this growth to progress at a natural pace. The actors all know their roles so well it's a pleasure to see them interact. 

As far as the plot, previous film continuity is starting to weigh down the series. For the viewer who has not rewatched all six movies in anticipation, I found myself struggling to remember certain characters and plot points. It wasn't convoluted, but the quieter time in the middle of the movie gave me time to consider possible plotholes (nitpicks below). 

There were some exciting actions sequences—the Dementor attack at the beginning, and on the Weasley wedding, balanced out by an especially fun infiltration of the Ministry. I don't doubt that when Part II airs in summer, the momentum will pick up, and this piece will be a nice addition to the larger tapestry of the film series. Visually it was stunning, from vast location shoots to the stylish and dark animation for the sequence that told the origin of the Deathly Hallows. 

The time spent on details really rounds out the experience. Even minor characters pop in and out, just to provide continuity with earlier films and help to breathe life into the fictional world. As always, the acting is great, so there is very little to quibble about if you're a Harry Potter fan. 

The conclusion will undoubtedly satisfy, and the saving grace of this film is that the characters are now so familiar and comfortable in their skins that we can watch twenty minutes of them just sitting around interacting together and not get bored. The series has evolved into adult themes and will be unsuitable and frightening to children, but that's a good thing, as it has matured along with its fans.

Spoilery Nitpicks:
Harry, Hermione and Ron apparently have the most versatile and stylish winter wardrobe in Hogworts, helped by Hermione's interdimensional handbag in which she's managed to stuff everything possible they may need. Each winter morning scene brought a fresh Ron, Hermione and Harry comfortably adorned in a new multi-layered ensemble.

The Nazi allegory was a bit heavy-handed. Yes, the pro-magic forces were ghetto-izing the Muggle bloods, right down to redecorating the Ministry, replete with Voldemort era statuary and brown-shirt style uniforms. The parallel was obvious with all the visual reminders and it seemed we were hit over the head with it over and over.

For that matter, I'm interested in what the greater real world implications are for this coup. Is it spilling over into the world (there's very little evidence aside from the attacks on Harry and friends in London). What would it mean when Voldemort takes control completely?

The locket Horcrux being carted around the movie between the three provides a source of corruption and conflict very much in the same vein as the One Ring, but I guess talismans of pure evil are generally very dangerous and to be handled with the utmost care.

I may have played too much D&D that I consider these things, but it seemed a blatant oversight that the Malfoys (or Voldemort) would not ward their castle against teleportation. Even Severus walked up to the gate at the beginning and enters through normal means, yet they allow slave elves the ability to come and go at will, potentially taking prisoners with them. Surely that's not beyond Voldemort's power. For that matter, could they not cast a spell to detect magicks being used (like Hermione's illusion on Harry?)

I was struggling with how easily Harry concealed his appearance from everyone at the Malfoy's, including Draco (I realize Draco is struggling with the whole turn to the dark side, so I can give him a pass for lying). Are we just presuming that Bellatrix, Lucius and others would not recognize Ron and Hermione? That whole scene left me wondering if I'd missed something.

The most potent magical artifact is buried with Dumbledore in an easily accessible grave? Would not a powerful wizard's tomb be a target for any treasure hunter around, never mind Voldemort? Who's bright idea was that?

Whenever supernatural forces are used in movies, they're bound to raise such questions, and likely the books go into greater explanations. But when you have a lot of quiet time in a film, it provides an opportunity to start musing on them.


  1. i know i'm commenting on an old post- but you should read the books if you are nitpicking- the basement is warded against teleportation by humans. house elf magic works differently, and it isn't warded against house elf teleportation because they use their powers to do their work of cleaning and general slaving, and house elves are generally held in contempt and not thought to be able to plan escapes and such.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad to hear J.K. Rowling considered all that in her writing. I guess they can't include everything in the films.


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