Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Release Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (David Yates, 2010)

Directed by David Yates, who also directed the last two installments in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I remains as dark in its visual style as his predecessors, but is also remarkably different. The plot requires no detailed attention as most of the world's population are familiar with the adventures of the young wizard as he tries to counter the pending rise of evil commandeered by the tyranny of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). With Dumbledore now dead and leaving behind his valuable possessions to aid them, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), along with his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson), embark on a quest through the magical realm to seek out and destroy the remaining Horcruxes (a receptacle where Lord Voldemort has hidden part of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality) while remaining elusive to the dark forces in pursuit. The journey is perilous and a testament to their skills as witches and wizards but also the strength of their friendship, which is placed under pressure by fear, confusion, indecision and jealousy.

The middle drags at times with idle activity, but a lengthy part of the novel is devoted to the trio's struggle with their personal emotions about the mission and this is adequately conveyed in just a few sequences. Notably, the Harry/Hermoine dance sequence was a beautiful addition. Much of the middle makes you think that perhaps they could have squeezed it all into one film, but then you realize how much has really been left out and conclude that this was quite impossible. It was disappointing to see Bill and Fleur's wedding and the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic trimmed and simplified, and an almost complete absence of Snape's character (who is ultimately so important). The chase sequence at the beginning, as the members of the Order attempt to move Harry from Privet Drive to The Burrow was exciting, and the visit to Godrick's Hollow and Bathilda Bagshot was genuinely creepy.

The selected point of closure was also pleasing; a heartbreaking tragedy for our heroes followed by an ominous possession of great power that appears to make Voldemort's regime unbeatable. While there is definitely an inconclusive feel to the film, Yates and screenwriter Steve Cloves have made a good decision to introduce the tale of the Deathly Hallows near the conclusion, subtly twisting the focus of the story from the Horcruxes to the Hallows, which become more important in Part II. Fans of the novel will obviously know what is to come, but fresh viewers will likely be impatiently awaiting the final installment, set for theatrical release in July 2011.

As this is the first film of the franchise set outside the walls of Hogwarts, the scope of their quest does feels much broader, and the staleness of the events coinciding with each school year, and their increase in age and maturity, is absent from this one. I actually found myself relating to the characters better here, perhaps because they are now older, but also because they are removed from this fantastic environment (Hogwarts) that we just cannot fathom outside of our imagination, and have to cooperate together in an attempt to survive on London's streets and be at liberty to the natural environment.

Voldemort's dark forces unmistakably resemble another certain regime that ordered Genocide on an undesirable race, while Harry and Ron's personalities turn savage and uncontrollable from the weight and power of the Horcrux, which is somewhat Tolkein-esque. The cinematography throughout was stunning, and the camera's activity often quite imaginative, notably when it resorts to slow-motion in their escape from the Ministry and in the gritty hand-held to capture their chase through the forest from their pursuing snatchers. The locations used throughout were gorgeous and beautifully captured and the score by Alexandre Desplat was relentless and ominous but never overwhelming.

Bill Nighy (as the Minister of Magic) and Rhys Ifans (as Xenophilius Lovegood) join a seemingly endless cast of quality British actors and give brief but solid supporting performances. The veterans really had very little to do (confined to only a few sequences each), but still remained consistent in their roles. The film belongs to the younger performers, however, and more so than in any of the other films, there was opportunity for growth here. While Daniel Radcliffe was still unconvincing at times, seeming to try a bit too hard, he has certainly improved. Rupert Grint, as usual, was good, but I thought Emma Watson was excellent. Hermoine in the previous films was pushed aside and given little to do, but her role increases here and the film certainly benefits.

Despite my interest wavering a bit in the middle, overall I found it to be a fine adaptation of a fine novel and a must-see for Potter fans. I wouldn't recommend it though if you haven't seen the previous six films or read the novels. It just won't make sense. With the exception of the fifth one I can't say I haven't enjoyed all of the Potter films but I must confess I am relieved the franchise is finally drawing to a close.

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (B-)

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