25 November 2010

Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)"

The decision to split of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows into two films is both positive and negative. The final chapter of the Harry Potter saga is complex and viewers deserve a longer film, but at the same time there is a sense that the studio and producers will reap far greater rewards from increased ticket sales. It has been considered to split Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) into two films, but obviously that idea was abandoned. I may be slightly older than the intended demographic for the Harry Potter series when it was first published in 1997 (1998 in Canada), but I have read every book at least twice and I have seen every film in theatres. Besides making international stars of the three lead actors, the Harry Potter film series has showcased the talents of many under appreciated British actors. In particular it has been the flawless Imelda Staunton, Oscar-nominated for Mike Leigh's Vera Drake (2004), who has delivered my favourite performance from the entire series. I was quite disappointed by the last film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as I felt too much had been sacrificed in the adaptation. I would have been very disappointed if the 759 page Deathly Hallows had been condensed into a 150 minute film. Harry Potter has been a part of our lives for thirteen years and while it will not be as hard to say goodbye to the characters on film as it was reading the final installment, I await part two with some hesitation. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 only sets the groundwork for the final film. It is a thrilling, and decidedly more adult, journey that focuses heavily on our three principle characters, Harry, Ron and Hermione.

The Deathly Hallows begins prior to Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) seventeenth birthday, when he will legally be an adult wizard. As Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) grows stronger with the support of the Death Eaters, the Order of the Phoenix arrive at Privet Dr. to escort Harry to safety. He is taken to the Burrow (home of the Weasleys) where he is able to reunite with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). They meet with the Minister of Magic (Bill Nighy) who presents each of them with items from Dumbledore's will. Dumbledore had bequeathed the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry, but the Minister asserts that the sword is a historical artifact and was not Dumbledore's property, and that it was missing. At the Burrow the wedding of Fleur and Bill is disrupted by Death Eaters, forcing Harry, Ron and Hermione to disaparate to London. They are eventually forced to break into the Ministry of Magic to steal one of the Hocruxes, a locket, that is currently in possession of Dolores Umbridge (Staunton). They succeed in their mission but find it impossible to break the locket. Harry and Hermione become closer through their efforts to discover more information about the location of the Hocruxes, causing Ron to become suspicious and eventually abandon them. Unsure of their next move, Harry and Hermione go to Godric's Hollow where they are attacked by Voldemort's snake Nagini. After barely surviving they realize that the key to destroying the Horcruxes rests with the Sword of Gryffindor. While out wandering one evening Harry notices a Patronus in the form of a doe that leads him to a frozen pond, and beneath the ice rests the missing sword. Harry soon finds himself stuck under the ice and is only saved by Ron, who has finally returned. Reunited, the trio visit Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans), where they are told the story of the Deathly Hallows. Unfortunately Xenophilius has tricked them and the Death Eaters eventually surround the cottage forcing them to run into the forest where they are captured by Snatchers and taken to Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) the Malfoys. As the trio struggle to escape Voldemort becomes stronger as he discovers the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows.

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in IMAX (luckily not in 3D!) and some of the film's action sequences were thrilling on the huge screen. The only scene I disliked was the chase scene through the forest, which I felt was poorly shot and messy. I am heavily invested emotionally in the Harry Potter series and I was not upset by the film as much as I was disappointed to have to wait eight months for Part 2.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is not a complete film and it ends just as the excitement begins to boil. When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in 2001 the three main actors were between 11 and 13 years old, roughly the same ages as their characters. Nine year later they are no longer child actors and it becomes harder to forgive their weaknesses. Rupert Grint is the weakest of the three and he often struggled in the more emotional sequences. Even Daniel Radcliffe seemed less involved in his character. Luckily Emma Watson has grown into a tremendously talented actress and her portrayal of Hermione Granger overshadows her co-stars' deficiencies. I am left excited for Part 2 and I can only hope it gives us a thrilling and emotionally satisfying conclusion to J.K. Rowling's series. As the Harry Potter books became more mature and darker it requires the films to do the same. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is more mature than the previous six films, and while I wish I could be more excited about it I know that it is not complete without the second installment.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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