Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is as long as its epic title. It is enjoyable, funny, dull and confusing in equal measure. Those new to the franchise will be bewildered and frustrated, but hardcore Potterites will be pleased. This is nothing special, but it’s not the terrible mess some feared it would be.

Harry Potter; you can love it, you can hate it, you can be massively ambivalent towards it – whatever the case you can’t avoid it. It’s everywhere. On posters, the news, magazines, the internet, on the radio and at every bleeding bus stop in London. It’s unavoidable, yet is it worth being sucked into the hype? The answer is simple: no. If you’re new to the film franchise, read the books. They’re much more rewarding.

Compared to the novels, the Potter films are easier and quicker to enjoy, but they will utterly baffle if taken out of context, and without knowledge of the books they’re quite frankly a bit rubbish. Yes, they’re exciting. Yes, they’re bursting with British talent. Yes, the score is awesome. But the franchise is also undisciplined, confused, meandering, steeped in dodgy plotting and is awkwardly paced. The novels give you the Harry Potter world, wrap you up in it and absorb you, whereas the films simply pick you up, shake you and slap you about the head a bit.

This time around, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and chums (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) need to find and destroy the seven parts of Lord Voldemort’s evil soul. They don’t know where they are, they don’t know how to destroy them and they’re being hunted by everything and everyone. Nowhere is safe (not even a café in Shaftesbury Avenue, darn it!) and they are forced into hiding in some woods, a forest, some trees, a copse and some fields. For a while.

The plot is perhaps more complicated than this, but the general pace of Harry Potter 7 Part 1 is wrong-ended – it is exciting, manic and thrilling at first (chases through traffic, running through streets, violence, death, darkness) and then followed by a huge lull in excitement (sitting in tents, walking, sitting outside tents, talking). Throughout the film there are various subplots and intricacies that will discombobulate anyone fresh to the franchise, but the plot above is accurate. It’s a film about finding something, but in Part 1 they don’t even bother seeking it…

The major problem with Harry Potter is that Warner Brothers began making the films before the series of books were actually completed by J.K. Rowling. If they’d known how winding, how intricate, how deep, complex, confusing and layered the novels were then they may have avoided them completely. Or simply sliced them down to a manageable size before creating an untouchable giant. Sadly, however, Warner Brothers snapped up the franchise and started whacking out the films before fully understanding what they had. With no one daring to edit Rowling’s final books due to their popularity (ironically boosted by the films’ appeal), Rowling went wild and wrote a meandering, epic tale with a thousand characters and hundreds of important plot points, objects, spells etc… that span the entire series. And thus we come to the final book, forced into becoming one gigantic film split in two huge parts.

Harry Potter 7 Part 1 has many scenes any normal filmmaker would cut – the visit to Bathilda Bagshot and a vastly pointless locket-retrieval scene at the Ministry of Magic, for example. Whilst exciting and funny, it does nothing for plot or pacing or character. It’s one of the many superfluous scenes / characters etc… within the film (and franchise) that are there for the fans but fail to move the plot forward. Of course, not many people would be mad enough to freshly enter the franchise at this point, but even a Potterite will become tired of the latter half of the movie, where some teenagers sit in a tent and scratch their heads, wondering what to do. As a Potter reader, you know what they’re going to do, and for anyone who hasn’t read it, you’re simply a bit bored of waiting for them to work it out.

Writing / Direction wise there is little to be said. Director David Yates does a decent job of what is an epic task and writer Steve Kloves (penning his seventh Potter film) has created another reasonable script from Rowling’s thousands of now sacred words. It is a shame Kloves has only written Potter films since his superb scripting of Wonder Boys in 2000, but hopefully we’ll see more from him in the future. The creative team as a whole should be proud of their work – they’ve taken an unmanageable monster and fired a tranquilizer dart right in its eye. It’s still a giant beast, but it’s one that appears to be under control.

It is not all complaints, though. There are some lovely moments in Harry Potter 7 Part 1. The Polyjuice scenes are especially good – even the pointless Ministry break-in has some excellent performances from David O’Hara, Steffan Rhodri and Sophie Thompson as Harry, Ron and Hermione. Witty and well created.

Generally the acting within Harry Potter 7 Part 1 is superb, filled will quality British acting legends that add gravitas to the proceedings. Their appearances are tragically short, with the likes of Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, John Hurt and Brendan Gleeson becoming side-lined cameos. Their brief but notable performances, amongst a plethora of others, makes the main protagonist’s acting skills seem poor. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson do a reasonable job of a clunky, plot-heavy script, but still seem awkward in their roles. When Bill Nighy (as Minister of Magic) talks to them it feel like we’re watching Marlon Brando desperately giving an acting class to three confused GCSE students. They are not terrible, but they are not hugely compelling.

Horror wise – this is a horror review after all – Harry Potter’s latest is genuinely scary in places. Especially for those under twelve and ophidiophobics, the film is littered with darkness, violence, death and snakes. There are jump moments, horrible deaths and genuine moments of surprise. Ideal for fans of narcissism, this film is delightfully gloomy throughout and stretches its 12A rating to the limit.

For young teenagers or zealot-like Potter fans, Harry Potter 7 Part 1 will impress and excite. Being so boldly labeled as Part 1 of 2, you may expect an exciting car-chase of a film that leaves you teetering on a cliff-hanger, salivating for more. Instead it just ends, leaving you realizing you’re going to be paying twice for a film that’s overly long and hasn’t even left the car park yet.

Harry Potter 7 Part 1 is good fun. There are superb moments, genuine comedy, some excellent acting and it’s all supported by a great score by Alexandre Desplat. Yet the pace sags, there are superfluous scenes and the acting by the protagonists is frustratingly awkward. Also, it is simply too long. Much like this review…

Wait until the inevitable double-bills appear in July 2011 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows might be one epically awesome film. Until the final film is released, however, there is no way knowing whether Part 1 is a genius set-up or a pointless leg-boost to an exciting finale. Only time will tell.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

4 Comments on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”

  1. Yvonne says:

    I was extremely disappointed in this film. I have loved every Potter film so far and was expecting to just be delighted once more. Not so. Very dragged out, boring, horrible in some parts for young children watching. I know if my children were still little I wouldn’t take them to see this film.
    Too long for what was produced and too many dark, sad and unsavoury scenes.

    Won’t be going back for Part 2!

    • Scullion says:

      You touch upon a very interesting point, Yvonne – this isn’t a film for children. At all.

      Especially since it ends so joylessly and devoid of hope. It’s a depressing start to the Christmas film season from a franchise known for it’s hope and it’s ability to appeal to all ages.

      Waiting until July 15th 2011 for the conclusion of this mood-sapper is a little cruel. As I mentioned in the review, I recommend anyone who wants to see it waits until July and catches a double-bill – at least you won’t leave the cinema with a huge sense of loss and frustration…


  2. Dave P says:

    Some of your points are taken directly out of my brain; pacing-wise, I totally agree – like with The Half-Blood Prince they have action sequences, but they just don’t compliment the rhythm of the film; the Ministry of Magic bit (like the Battle of Hogwarts in HP6) is considerably more involved and exciting in the book… somehow the film-makers seem in a rush to get to the quiet bits…

    Surely the point of film is that we could see what happens to Mad Eye and to Scrimgeour, but we’re left with exposition instead or almost like they want to put up captions (if you want to know what/who this is, read the books).

    You’re quite right that a fault is how Warners started making the films without an idea of how everything fit together – I have tremendous respect for Rowling and how she seeded information throughout all her books, throwaway references that would grow in importance – but Warners increasingly found themselves hampered that by discarding a lot of what they thought was ephemera in order to make standalone record breaking blockbusters, they have been hamstrung later on.

    Likewise, I think that even after all these years, Steve Kloves still hasn’t worked out how to write British teenagers – Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are great at non-verbal business (I found the dance scene really quite charming) but the dialogue they’re given always seems so clunky.

    Anyway, it pains me to be so critical, I love the books and I think the first five films are fantastic family fare and great standalone films, but at HP6 the wheels kind of came off, with the filmmakers choosing the totally wrong focus, and now as we approach the end, what should be the culmination of a decades work just comes across as so many regrets at the mistakes along the way…

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