I suppose I should get it out of the way early and say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 represents only my second experience with the Harry Potter franchise, so I’m going to talk about this film in the strictest terms possible, as a movie created for the purpose of entertaining folk and making money. I’ve never been the kind of person who was terribly concerned with the usual hullabaloo surrounding book adaptations large and small. A movie is a movie. A book is a book. The two meet, but their effects on each other are largely ephemeral. In the greater scheme of things, a review of the seventh movie in a phenomenally popular eight movie franchise on a blog in the back corner of the universe has literally zero effect on both mediums, but I figured I’d come clean before anybody happening upon this begins pointing their internet finger at me.
Regardless of my experience with Harry Potter, nothing in the first part of Deathly Hallows is at all hard to comprehend for anybody who’s read a story or watched a movie involving a Chosen One and his friends, a dead mentor, an ugly bad guy, and a litany of colorful supporting characters who, depending on allegiance, either want to help or hurt the Chosen One. If Star Wars or Lord of the Rings were beyond your grasp, then yeah, Deathly Hallows isn’t going to be an easy watch.
The chosen one here is, obviously, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who, in the way of all generation-defining heroes, has grown considerably since his first days at Hogwarts. The world, it seems, has grown darker, more threatening as the years passed. Harry’s mentor, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), was killed by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), and here, in the aftermath of that event, the world is no longer a safe place for Harry and his friends. Hermione (Emma Watson) is shown erasing all traces of herself from her family home. The Order of the Phoenix must secret Harry to the home of Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). They are besieged on all sides by the Death Eaters, a gang of rogue witches and wizards led by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who killed Harry’s parents and now seems on the verge of discovering how to kill Harry.
Since Harry is the Chosen One, a whole legion of good witches and wizards have decided to align themselves with him, but there’s a mole in the group, which makes hiding Harry a difficult prospect. When the Minister of Magic (Bill Nighy) is murdered, a puppet of Voldemort takes over and immediately makes radical revisions to the Ministry of Magic’s worldview. Harry Potter, no longer the Chosen One, is Undesirable No. 1. Witches and wizards are routinely dragged to a courtroom to be questioned as to their status as pure-blooded magical beings. A giant statue is erected in the foyer, displaying a horde of muggles being crushed, put in their rightful place. Things are pretty bad, generally speaking, and to make matters worse, Harry and co. aren’t exactly sure what they’re supposed to do to stop Voldemort.
They have an idea, I suppose, but they’re working at a distinct disadvantage. The key to beating Voldemort lies in collecting and destroying pieces of his soul that are lying around the world in various forms. They could literally be anything. Dumbledore seemed pretty good at finding and destroying the things, but he’s dead now and, in death, has left our heroes with a series of clues that are couched in riddles, symbols, and memory. Voldemort is after the same things Harry, Hermione and Ron are looking for, but he knows what those are and can strong arm weaker beings for the information he needs.
Eventually, Harry and friends come into possession of a locket that contains a piece of Voldemort’s soul. Not knowing how to destroy it, the three take turns wearing the locket, which is evil and causes them to say terrible things to each other. In a movie mostly absent of giant action pieces and magic spells, growing up is the enemy of this film, as the locket brings out the petty jealousies of the group and amplifies them. Ron loves Hermione, right? Well, while he’s wearing the locket, he sees the two walking through the woods and his mind starts to wander. What if…what if Harry had something for Hermione…and what if she had something for him?
These scenes comprise a large majority of the film, and they’re largely frustrating affairs. Lots of yelling and huffing and storming off into the great unknown. Hidden from the Death Eaters and largely out of the picture for most of the combat going on off-screen in the film, Harry, Hermione and Ron enter the wasteland and must find themselves, love and understanding being the first steps towards conquering evil. That’s great, but it’s a plot that has been recycled thousands of times, and often better than what’s on display here. I understand that camping is really only fun the first two or three nights, but at times it seems that Ron Weasley wants to yell at Harry due to things he can’t control, the weather or the fact that Dumbledore told them literally nothing about the last remaining pieces to beating Voldemort. Yes, I know: Ron is jealous and must deal, but the ensuing will-they-won’t-they dance scene between Harry and Hermione is more than a little pandering and none of the issues bandied about in the woods are particularly penetrating or insightful.
But none of that really matters. It’s eventually back to business as usual for everybody, at which point we’re left with a cliffhanger for part two, which hits theatres in 3D next July (because splitting the last installment of the franchise into two movies apparently wasn’t a decision made to double the bottom line and a different cash cow had to be found). As far as movies go, this wasn’t a very exciting one. It seemed to rush along at some points and stall at others, idly watching as the clock ticks down to the end of the franchise. Hearing the applause of the midnight audience, I got the feeling that I wasn’t the film’s target demographic and probably never was. A film about what the likes of Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy , Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes were up to while Harry found himself in the woods? Now that I would have gotten into costume for.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. Directed by David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), and Bill Nighy (Rufus Scrimgeour). Released November 18, 2010, by Warner Bros.