Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, John Hurt, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans
Director: David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Cinematography: Eduardo Serra
Original Score: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 146 mins.
As the franchise thunders towards it’s conclusion the the looming darkness is inevitably becoming a bigger threat with death and destruction at every corner, as Bill Nighy’s newly appointed Ministry for magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, intones during the opening seconds “these are dark time”, he’s not joking as the lighthearted and jovial sense of the first couple of Potter adventures feel like a distant memory, though bear in mind these were the weakest entries by far with director Chris Columbus setting the scene and some fantastic casting in motion if nothing ekse. Fast forward 10 years and many have been murdered (some significantly), some have fallen in love amidst raging teenage hormones while the dark lord himself…Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes as excellently evil as can be) tightens his grip on the wizarding world, seeking a wand that can destroy our titular hero and complete his evil dominance.
Voldemort’s quest takes a back-seat however as Potter and co’s. quandaries prove the more pressing matter for us, loosened of the shackles of Hogwarts and the school structure this is a film that sees the heroic trio on the move, journeying across the UK in search of Horcruxes (parts of Voldemort’s soul) and eventually the Deathly Hallows (a “super” magical weapon). The film makes no concessions for newcomers to the franchise and even those without knowledge of the books will likely fail to understand much of the jargon and wizarding terms. Not necessarily a bad thing not pandering to newcomers and non-fans but it is rather presumptuous and for my money makes this yet another case of (too) faithful an adaptation rather than something that takes the fundamental elements of an admittedly great story to craft a true film, something on Goblet of Fire and Prisoner of Azkaban have managed to do.
This does not make Deathly Hallows, par 1, a bad film and one not to recommend, indeed fans will likely lap up that very few of the novels beats have been missed but for those less familiar and wanting an actual film that is paced well there is a major failing. Inevitably as the films have split the novel in two there is a room to show a lot but that doesn’t tnecessarily mean it should have all been shown, as with Half Blood Prince there is little in the way of a beginning, middle or, fundamentally here, an end of any substance, there is little doubt in my mind that part 2 will provide enough denouement for the whole series with some excellent set pieces but it has ultimately left a rather dull film in parts in its own right with endless exposition and character development. This will likely prove great in terms of the whole 5 hour Deathly Hallows experience but drawn out without many peaks of excitement and you will find a little clock-watching may slip in.
This is not to discredit the leads, the central triumvirate have never been better, Radcliffe in particular has totally lost his jaw clenching tendencies and Weasley finds the balance between genuinely funny and being a clown to craft the Samwise Gamgee of the group (after a brief sojourn as Gollum!), the Lord of the Rings comparisons don’t end there and unfavourably this reeks of a mini-fellowship in the way that there is a lot of walking across nice-looking vistas in search of things (too many things in this case), but Harry potter is not LOTR. It simply doesn’t have that emotional depth hard as it may try and the time does not afford for such frivolities, as we leap into a handful of brief set-pieces that are all low key compared to what everyone really wants to see (coming in part 2), a snake attack here, a siege on a wedding there, a jail break from a cellar etc. etc. each is well-directed and there is excitement to be found sporadically but it’s just not enough as a bigger scale climax should have been provided to make this feel like a fulfilling experience.
The most entertaining, if not the most touching, are the came filled ones with cameos, all the villains are as creepy and charismatic as you’d hope and Snape does more in mere minutes than most other characters in hours while the other standout proves to be a CGI creation in the return of Dobby, a genuine hero and genius demonstration in technical terms that shows how far the effects have leapt forward, his eyes show none of the dead-eye look that plagues most CGI characters, though sadly like many others his screen-time is limited. Which means it almost always falls back on the “kids” to hold out attention, and bar one or two odd character beats they do it well amidst the over-swamped plotting. This may not seem the most positive take on the film but ultimately it will undoubtedly feel more complete when viewed with part 2…and if there’s one thing this film does exceptionally well it is in building anticipation for the impending wizard war.
It seems daft to criticise Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 for feeling ultimately incomplete and plodding but there are enough high points that prove this is one excellent franchise when i gets it right, sadly the overwhelming tendency by the makers to cram all the exposition in from the novels leaves this bereft of pace or structure…undoubtedly it will prove to be part of a much better over-all product come next July.