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STUDIO: Warner Brothers
RUNNING TIME: 146 minutes
Maximum Movie Mode
How do you make more money off of the final Harry Potter adventure? Split it in two.
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes as The Beaver
Harry searches for the Deathly Hallows, so he can take the fight back to Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is an interesting take on the final leg of the Harry Potter journey. Director David Yates has still not found a proper compromise in this literary adaptation, but if he can’t find the pace by now…it’s not going to happen. The magic of this film series remains in the efforts of its stellar cast. While most make jokes about how the British acting all-star line-up that is the adult cast might below the younger gang off the screen, the kids are all right. Watson, Radcliffe and even Grint have grown over the last decade and found a way to anchor themselves into their characters. In turn, they’ve become this generation’s Han, Luke and Leia. While I finish this film for the umpteenth time, I have to wonder if that sort of notoriety means anything.
Popular cinematic fiction and the current Hollywood business model dictates that all genre films should strive to become franchises. When every major film release is almost guaranteed to have an endless series of sequels, it waters down your connection to characters being thrown upon you in a vicious onslaught of mass-marketing. When Harry Potter and his world made the jump from Scholastic to the cinema, many wondered if the magic would follow. Director Chris Columbus did a noble job, as he helped to shape the younger cast and guide the talent that would be the series’ focus for the next ten years. When he left, a handful of other directors stepped up and tried to put their stamp on Hogwarts. At this point, the franchise should’ve collapsed upon fan disapproval. What was different was that our heroic trio had your emotional attention.
The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is defined by Yates and Kloves’ push to compromise and find a way to incorporate nearly all of Rowling’s lengthy content. The hardcore fans want every word of the books delivered to the screen, but that’s not going to happen. The kids want to see cool special effects and the eventual death of Lord Voldemort. Where does that leave the average asshole trying to kill two and a half hours? That’s where Kloves and Yates shine, as they are turning this massive tentpole franchise and trying to find a way to deliver the magic of a fan beloved series to the uninformed masses. I know that it’s hard to believe that there’s still people out there that don’t know a lot about Potter. But, even the greatest media blitz doesn’t saturate every piece of ground.
Kloves and Yates tries to introduce you slowly into the mix by showing us that Harry and the gang have to go into hiding. Bad things are happening in the Wizarding world and Harry is open to attack from all sides. After a quick reintroduction to Voldemort and The Death Eaters, we’re thrown into the Privet Drive sequence. Privet Drive almost sets the tone for the rest of the movie, outside of some aggressive camping in the second act. I’m working off the assumption that most readers have seen the film by now or having a working sense of where it takes place in the book. The escape from Privet Drive is a pretty complicated sequence that results in the death of two supporting characters. Hedwig gets whacked onscreen, but it’s a brief moment for Harry’s pet Owl. What’s more nerve-wracking is how they handled Mad Eye Moody.
Moody was a major character in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, but he doesn’t even get an onscreen death. Everyone lands at the Weasley Estate and they suddenly realize that Moody must’ve got his ass capped back in the chase. I understand that time is money, but film is a visual medium. If you’re going to whack a major player in a film franchise…give us some visual recognition. It doesn’t have to be an amazing death, it just has to be a cue to the audience that shit just got real. Talking about a character getting killed offscreen is some straight-up Poochie shit. Fleur and the Ginger Kid get married, while we get the setup for Harry leading the gang on a quest to destroy the Horcruxes. From this point is where we start delving into complains that the film slowed down and we became plagued with too many scenes of the kids arguing with each other. Some of it was necessary, but I began to wonder why Ron had to keep playing the whiny bitch in so many of these films.
The emotional connection to the film is what allows fans and bandwagon Potter followers to look past these problems and experience the ride. While I don’t support this for everyone, we can at least acknowledge what’s at hand. Throughout various chase scenes, magical spells and random visits from extraneous Wizards…the kids keep our focus. I still have no idea who the lady was at Godric’s Hollow. She turned into a snake and tried to munch Harry and then Hermione saved him. It was a cool scene and Watson/Radcliffe were able to keep me invested in the moment. Now, I know that I’m inviting a bevy of readers to comment on what that character meant, but that doesn’t matter here. You have to accept that for the average viewer, what they see on the screen is going to be their only foothold into the world of Potter.
This concept comes back into play, when you see how much Dobby gets shoe-horned into key scenes. For the average viewer, this is just some magical creature that Harry rescue from Lucius Malfoy in the second film. Dobby’s a good guy who can be trusted in a pinch, but do we feel anything for him? At best, he’s just a deus ex machina who gets a few good lines. The placement of Dobby’s key scene confuses me in the book as well, as you’re left wondering why his involvement was that important to the overall plot. I wondered why in the hell we didn’t get more information about him or Regulus Black in the insane amount of exposition that plagued the second act.
Yates tried to battle a lot of this by playing with the animated origins of The Deathly Hallows and the heavy FX use during key scenes of suspense. The world of Potter feels organic, as threats and friends weave in and out of various key locations established in prior films. It is a world that exists parallel to the muggle London, as our heroes have to weave in and out of the real and surreal to escape the Dark Lord that stalks them all. The threat is real, the armies of evil are grand and no one is safe from a killing curse. But, why can’t I shake the feeling that we’re being deprived the goods?
The film works as a teaser for what’s to come. Everyone wants to see The Battle for Hogwarts. We want to learn more about Dumbledore and his secretive brother. The audience wants to know what’s going to happen during Voldemort and Harry Potter’s final duel. People love to retroactively give Lucas shit, but Return of the Jedi wasn’t split into two parts with a cliffhanger that hung on Yoda’s death. He gave us a Death Star exploding, dead Ewoks and Palpatine frying a dude with his old man fingertips. Prattle on about literary origins all you want, but the audience doesn’t go to the theater to see a book. Wrecking overall pacing to save face on the merits of straight adaptation is boring and always results in loss.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 isn’t a perfect film, but it tries to be everything for everyone. As someone who could barely get through the books without being put off by Rowling’s bizarre writing style, I have come to love her work through its cinematic adaptations. Popcorn cinema gets a bad rap, but when I can see such world-building heart onscreen…I flash back to a time when everything I saw didn’t have to be critically acclaimed. A time when I saw movies based on emotional stimulus rather than direct cerebral entanglement. Since I have to put a capper on this piece, I’ll leave you with a few words to piss you off. I love what the Harry Potter film series wants to do. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t work as a cohesive whole.
The Blu-Ray is a three-disc combo pack that also includes a DVD and Digital Copy. The main disc sports Warner Brothers’ delightful Maximum Movie Mode that will take viewers through every aspect of the production. Those fans that are looking for extra material might be happy to discover a bonus scene from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II has been included on the set. It’s a brief scene from the first reel of the upcoming sequel, so don’t expect anything too amazing. There’s also a rather in-depth featurette that shows off how they created the seven Harry Potters for the Privet Drive sequence. The A/V Quality is pretty strong, but the off-kilter cinematography plays aggressively dark through most scenes. The clarity changes when they invade the Ministry of Magic, but it’s just one bright spot in a rather dark and dour film. The DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track is crystal clear with no moments of dropout. In the end, I’d recommend a purchase. That is until Warner Brothers goes for the final cash grab in Fall 2011.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars