Fri
Nov 19 2010 6:20pm

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Harry Potter movies are hard to review. For fans of the books (as I am) it’s often hard to disassociate the movies from the original text and see the necessary changes—most frequently for length—with any kind of objectivity. For reviewers who haven’t read the books, the shorthand screenwriter Steve Kloves (who adapted all but Order of the Phoenix, for which Michael Goldenberg took over) employs often leads to the movies seeming incomprehensible. Characters who appear in one or two scenes (like wisecracking twins Fred and George Weasley, for instance) are treated with a significance that may seem confusing to a viewer unfamiliar with the Potterverse. This is but one of many problems one has adapting a book of 700+ pages into a two and a half hour movie.

Warning, spoilers below.

For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book of seven, the series’ producers decided to split the narrative into two movies. This lead to a great deal of cynicism regarding their motives (widely and probably accurately attributed to a desire to increase profits) and also to the main problem with Part 1 as a movie: it’s an incomplete story. The movie follows the book’s plot with only cosmetic changes: following the death of the great Dumbledore at the hands of the (apparently) treacherous double-agent Severus Snape, Harry and his best friends Ron and Hermione are tasked with hunting down and destroying a number of horcruxes, which are magical repositories into which principal antagonist Voldemort has concealed pieces of his soul in order to ensure his immortality. Only when all the horcruxes are destroyed can Voldemort be truly killed, and Harry is the one who has to do it.

The movie assumes that the viewer already knows this, as all of the above-mentioned principals are established with maximum economy and minimum extraneous explanation (or, really, any explanation other than “Hey, there’s Hermione, there goes Ron, that’s Harry, Voldemort just killed someone while Snape looks on inscrutably and GO!”) In spite of the producers’ claim that Deathly Hallows was done as two separate movies in order to preserve as much of the story as possible, we miss out on the truly touching farewell between Harry and Dudley Dursley in the beginning, as well as many other scenes. But it’s a bit too late to complain about changes made in the adaptation. This is something fans of the books have had to deal with for the entire series, and it will not change in the final movie, even if the final book is being told over two movies.

While screenwriter Kloves is always going to be the bad guy to fans angry about elements and scenes being cut or rushed unnecessarily, director David Yates (who also directed Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince) does some of his best work yet in the series. Yates employs cinematic language very skillfully to elaborate on gaps in the script, with some occasional original touches: the opening extreme close-up on Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour’s (Bill Nighy’s) eyes as he delivers a very War on Terror-esque speech comes to mind. As Scrimgeour speaks to the assembled press and Ministry, the choice of perspective establishes very clearly, and in terms both fans and non-fans alike can understand, that this movie is about a battle to the end against a very dangerous foe. Yates’s pre-Potter work, like the British miniseries State of Play, was often highly political, and he can’t resist the temptation to draw parallels with contemporary geopolitics. These don’t interfere overmuch with the story beyond a brief aside, as the focus remains squarely on Harry and the expensive visual effects.

The fancy visuals go a long way toward cloaking the fact that this is only half the movie. Yates loads this first installment with action set-pieces, the most impressive (and first) being Harry’s escape from the Dursley home. This escape is aided by several magically-disguised clones; watching seven different Harrys walking around and still maintaining the physicality and voices of the other actors is a nifty bit of acting on star Daniel Radcliffe’s part and a lovely visual joke. Many of the others are a bit too protracted, with entirely too much inky black flying Death Eater smoke (an effect I’ve never particularly liked).

With so much feeling like padding in this the first part of two, one is forced to wonder whether it was truly necessary to split Deathly Hallows into two movies. In two and a half hours, we have only found and destroyed one horcrux, and the climactic death (a diminutive, high-voiced supporting character), a greatly affecting mid-point for the narrative of the book, does not make for much of an ending.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a well-crafted movie, and displays the leaps and bounds Dan Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have made as actors. But it is not essential viewing just this instant. It will probably do one better to watch both as a single movie upon the release of Part 2 in July of next year. Until then, when the whole can be evaluated, it would be difficult to say whether it really works as a movie or not. For now Part 1 is incomplete, maybe the longest and most expensive trailer ever made, to prepare audiences for the main event next year.


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

21 comments
lordofsoup
1. lordofsoup
movie stunk. What are they thinking? Why can they not stay true to the series? Lotr stayed true to the story line. No major changes and it was a great movie. Harry potter has gone down hill fast because they leave the story line. First five were just like the books and were great. Then they leave out the final scene of book 6 and now we got harry and hermione f..ing
Sydo Zandstra
2. Fiddler
@lordofsoup:

Either you are trolling, or you have a bad memory. This movie is actually closer to the story than the last ones.

Order of the Phoenix is the biggest book, and IIRC, one of the shortest movies.

I saw the movie this evening, and I did not see sex between Harry and Hermione, nor did I sensed it having happened offstage. I suppose you mean the dancing scene. Nothing wrong there. You can dance with somebody without having sex after, you know.
lordofsoup
3. freakidelicism
Speak for yourself, Fiddler.
Thomas Jeffries
4. thomstel
And across the mists of Britain came the call...

TROLOLOLOLOLOLOL!

*thanks lordofsoup*

Seriously though, it may be the new car smell, but I wish the sixth film had come across nearly as well as this one on first viewing.
lordofsoup
5. zenspinner
I enjoyed it quite a lot, yet I agree with a friend who posted a review today who said that the movie would have been a lot better if they'd axed some of the (admittedly gorgeous) landscape shots in favor of character development. Kreacher? As far as we know now, he still hates their guts. And the Dudley bit in the beginning - I was sad to see that cut too. Wouldn't have been that hard to put moments like that in, and it would have saved them time in this film because now they have to explain stuff that would have been self-evident if it'd been shown in its proper place in the series.

Also, I know I'm old because I now lust after Xenophilius Lovegood. That's just sad. :)
lordofsoup
6. ***Dave
Thought the core of the movie -- the Frodo/Sam-like wandering across the wilderness, increasingly isolated and oppressed -- was great. The other bits, with everyone else, were so compressed as to be nearly meaningless.

One element that came forward from the book: I genuinely feel sorry for Draco Malfoy, a person who's found himself in so far over his head that he's like to drown ...
Luke M
7. lmelior
In Ron's hallucination after Harry opened the locket, a greenish, vapor-like Harry and Hermione appeared to be nude, kissing passionately. Not sex, but I can certainly imagine why we prude, desensitized-to-everything-but-sex 'merkins find it offensive. I thought it was very nicely done, showing the depth of Ron's jealousy and his courage to overcome it.
Linden Wolfe
8. Lilith
I enjoyed the film, even though I thoroughly embarrassed myself by jumping right out of my seat ng gur svany yhatr ol gur fanxr, even though I was expecting it to happen.
I always felt the book of Deathly Hallows could have used a bit of an edit in the scenes with Harry, Hermione, and Ron on the run, living in a tent, arguing and whining, because it seemed to really drag on paper, so for me the film covered that period better than the book.
I didn't find myself missing the bits that were cut out as much as I have on the previous films.
I saw it with a friend who has never read any of the books, just seen the films, and she enjoyed it as well.
I just wish the part 2 wasn't so far away, because part 1 ended in a place that left us sad.
Debbie Solomon
9. dsolo
The only part that felt really clunky to me in the beginning was adding Bill Weasley. He could have easily been added in the last film, as he was going to be critical in this one. I did feel the part in the beginning with Hermione and her parents was very poignant. Let you know that she was expecting things to get bad. I also felt the Dursleys got short shrift, as did Harry's rescuers. The escape scene would have been better if some of the other's fights were shown. This movie really set the tone that things are getting very bleak for the magical world.
Andrew Mason
10. AnotherAndrew
I get the sense that LOTR fans tend to think the Harry Potter movies are extremely faithful to the original, and Harry Potter fans think the LOTR movies are. But by comparison with most movies based on books, both LOTR and Harry Potter are amazingly faithful. The mere fact that they have lots of characters with the same names, and broadly similar events happening in roughly the same order, guarantees that.
F Shelley
11. FSS
I think Ian McKellen said it best: "The book is the book, and the film is the film."
Danny Bowes
12. DannyBowes
FSS--we none of us are anyone to argue with Sir Ian.
Heidi Byrd
13. sweetlilflower
I saw the movie today, and I ... liked it. Although, I did notice that I felt markedly depressed after leaving the theatre. Granted, its been awhile since I read the books, but I thought the movie mirrored the timeline pretty well. Of course the movie can't be exactly like the book, but if it were, we would all complain about it. I saw a movie version of a Terry Pratchett novel, and it was EXACTLY LIKE THE BOOK. Needless to say, it dragged. I think the movies are a supplement to the books, and while I have not agreed with some of the movies, I quite liked this one.
Janet Hopkins
14. JanDSedai
Yes, I was hyped up for this, and I liked it. But some of the things they left out were so little, and would have added so much. For instance, the good-byes with the Dursleys; Snape's childhood memories of Petunia are gonna come out of left field now. I guess they're not gonna do the whole sub-plot of Petunia wanting to be a witch, just establish that Snape was always in love with Lily. At least, Dudders' thank-you could have been shown.

And the interaction with Kreacher was incomplete. They should have shown how happy he was to get the locket. But I guess they saved the house-elf graphics for Dobby. The scene where he rescues everybody was his Moment Of Awesome.

These seem like little things, but part of the reason we are cheering for Harry is that he is an extraordinary person. Let's show some of the extraordinary person that he is. Anyone who has not read the books will be confused in the next movie when Harry willingly goes to his presumed death. How could a 17 yr old think like that?

But then, the arguing and depair of searching was done well, in cinematic terms. We don't need to hear the arguements for going or not going to Godric's Hollow but once. And a montage works as well as pages and pages. And it was not so long as I feared; I look forward to getting parts 1 & 2 on DVD and watching them together!
lordofsoup
15. urAllNuts
1 - how could you expect this movie to be anything BUT depressing? Do you not watch trilogy movies? Have you never see Empire Strikes Back? The purpose of this one was to build up to the next movie, and to leave you at the LOWEST POSSIBLE POINT, to make it so unbelievably depressing that it looks impossible to win. If you went in expecting anything else, well, no friggin' comment.

2 - The plot elements they changed seemed unnecessary. They could have followed the book without making the movie any longer, and the unexplained parts didn't make it easier to understand, rather the contrary, I thought. The whole conflict about Dumbledore not being the icon that Harry thought him to be was only brought up once during his conversation with Doge/Auntie Muriel, very underplayed.

3 - JanDSedai, you're wrong, Harry is absolutely NOT an "extraordinary person", that's exactly why they got the casting right for this part. Hermione and Ron (and others) continually outshine Harry, he depends on the help from all of his friends, and knowing he is not extraordinary makes him care for them and not want them to be hurt, and THAT is the point of the book. Circumstances conspired to make him who he is, but it's not about him, it's about the circumstances.

All in all, you probably have to have read the books to understand this movie, or have someone willing to explain a lot, but on the same level with the rest of the movies, so no surprise there.
lordofsoup
16. Cynicalbard
Bad call on Warner Bros' part to put out the depressing half of the movie during the holiday season.
lordofsoup
17. sofrina
it was fantastic. most faithful by far. when they said they'd do two movies for the final book, i thought they'd do two 3.5 hour movies to get everything in. still, they covered the first 2/3 of the book in this film. obviously the split is designed to give the final confrontation - which is an epic battle - as much time and detail as possible (make it 3.5 hours! please!).

the editorial choices in this one are so agreeable i couldn't even rate myself annoyed by them. for the most part, it was clear why they were made and the execution leaves little room for argument. although they cut the parts about running into acquaintances who were also on the run from the ministry (i would have loved to see dean thomas in this), they did take time to illustrate how the protective enchantments actually work. that isn't explained in the book. they simply cast them, we don't know that it makes them invisible.

overall, the time on the road was very effective. bleak, lonely and desperate. the three things that threw me off were harry's attitude about the radio, hermione's suggestion they just grow old in the woods (very un-Hermione) and that dance scene. the two of them were so bereft over the hole ron left in their dynamic that they barely spoke to eachother for weeks. nice, but unnecessary add.

that locket scene was spot on, and very excellent, but i have to agree the images of harry and hermione kissing did seem to be nude and on the verge of something not illustrated in the text. there's no need to refer to americans as prudish just b/c we didn't expect things to go in a direction they've NEVER gone before. harry and hermione's sibling relationship has always been very clear, as have ron's insecurities. (and when did ron ever outshine harry except in wizard's chess?)

the ending works extremely well for me. our heroes undergo an harrowing situation and take a devastating loss while our villain makes acquires a significant boon. it leaves more worried for harry than ever. which is where we need to be when the story resumes.
lordofsoup
18. Naazju
Saw the midnight showing last weekend and loved the movie overall, just wish a couple things had been changed. Won't take too much time to restate what's already been posted, but I agree that little scenes (i.e. Kreacher development, Dursley farewell) would have very much enriched the story. And, in the case of the farewell, it seemed the filmmakers chose to focus more on a character that we've spent more time with (Hermione and the Memory Charm).

And, while I know that the film is split in two and the point of the ending is to leave the heroes looking most vulnerable while Voldy gains more power, I can't put it better than the words of my friend, "they ended it at the perfect, pivotal decision-point but forgot the pivotal decision part." Which left me disappointed rather than anticipating the next film.
lordofsoup
19. Amal21
I enjoyed the movie thoroughly. Yates has really grown as a director. I especially liked the part where the narrative goes into flashback, telling the story of the deathly hallows. That was pure directorial magic. I am an avid potter fan and according to me this is the best adaptation... Can't wait for part 2!!!!
lordofsoup
20. Shimmer
I thought the movie was really good and much better than the Half-Blood Prince. I was certainly sad to see that the Dudley and Nice-Kreacher scenes cut but overall it was a very good movie, IMO.
But from a cinematic point of view it is perfectly reasonable to see the Nice-Kreacher and Delumintor Radio scenes cut seen as there wouldn't be much to enjoy seeing them planning and sitting around.
Overall, a very enjoyable movie which still stays true to the magical storyline. :)
Ian B
21. Greyfalconway
I thought it was cool finding out Hermione is Arya, Sansa, Robb, Bran and Rickon's sister, too bad she had to use obliviate on her mom and they'll never find out, maybe in the next movie ;)

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