Reviews

The End Looms Near in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1'

Even when there are small moments of respite, the overall tone is one of pressure and anxiety – not typical for your average teen movie. But the Harry Potter movies have never been content to stick to one category or demographic.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Rhys Ifans
Distributor: Warner
Studio: Warner Bros.
Release date: 2011-04-15

So, it’s all winding down now as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 begins the conclusion to what has been a consistently faithful and increasingly gripping series of movies. In dividing the final book of the Harry Potter series into two movies, the material has been given room to include the kinds of details fans expect, as well as time to build properly to the climax in the final film.

Immediately, the tone is set with the opening sequence. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are all leaving their families in order to search for and destroy the horcruxes – essentially tangible holding places for his soul – that are at the heart of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) power. Their departures range from heartbreaking to bittersweet and it becomes clear that this chapter of the Harry Potter saga will be difficult and unforgiving. Moreover, the film also takes place completely removed from Hogwarts. It's the first time that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are away from the school that has guided them so closely for six years, and striking out on their own has both merits and consequences.

Voldemort’s introduction comes as he sits at the head of a table surrounded by his faithful Death Eaters and his snake, Nagini, all eager to carry out his bidding. The tension and fear amongst Voldemort’s followers is quickly apparent and wends its way throughout the film. Even when there are small moments of respite, the overall tone is one of pressure and anxiety – not typical for your average teen movie. But the Harry Potter movies have never been content to stick to one category or demographic. The wide appeal of the series is precisely that these characters and their larger story have grown and shifted into more than just kid’s stuff. This seventh film is the most concrete proof so far that this is a serious movie series, and should be treated as such.

Aside from the overwhelming sense of foreboding that hangs over the movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 Harry, Hermione, and Ron are also alone in a way that they have not been before. At the beginning of the movie they are aided by allies such as Hagrid, Mad Eye Moody, Lupin, Tonks and the Weasley family. Soon, though, the three are cut off from all those they love and trust, creating even more doubt and uncertainty amongst the three. There is no mistaking that the series’ end is fast approaching and their isolation is leading toward a grand showdown, yet director David Yates is unafraid to take the time necessary to really drive home this separation and worry, emphasizing the real emotional stakes.

The darkness of the film is not only obvious in tone, but also in appearance. The film is filled with dark rooms and passages, as well as a seemingly constant overcast sky. The overall atmosphere is ominous and one that speaks to the insecurity felt by the principle characters. There’s a much more adult sensibility to their relationships and the larger stakes involved in stopping Voldemort, lending the film more weight than any of the previous chapters.

There are moments that stand out in general, but also specifically from other movies in the Harry Potter franchise, most notably the animated sequence illustrating the story of the Deathly Hallows. It’s a beautifully rendered scene that stands out as unique in the context of these films, yet it’s seamlessly integrated so as not to feel out of place or jarring. As this film and the previous two have also increasingly shown, there is real danger in the world of Harry Potter. Gone are the early days of school age antics and difficult, yet oftentimes fun challenges, instead Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 takes place in a scary, threatening world of more adult concerns and motivations and oddly enough, the animation does an excellent job of emphasizing this.

Despite all the bleakness in the film, there are still light moments and even humor that remind the viewer how charming and engaging these characters really are. There are times, such as when they sneak into the Ministry of Magic, that offer an amusing break from the responsibility that looms over everything else. There is also a scene at the beginning that involves six different characters transforming into Harry. The technical achievement of the effects combined with Radcliffe’s mimicry of his fellow actors makes for a very funny and well executed scene. Radcliffe even says: “It is the film equivalent of actually doing a magic trick” and it’s an apt description.

Finally, there is another moment that should be highlighted as it is completely original to the movie, yet it fits in perfectly. After Ron has separated from the group, Harry and Hermione are despondent, and it is here that Harry invites Hermione to dance. It’s a lovely moment among friends that interrupts their wallowing and serves as a welcome relief for the characters and viewer, as well.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is a fitting penultimate chapter in the series and one that has taken great care to stay true to the story and all it represents. It’s an emotional journey for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and it definitely feels like the end is near. That journey is sure to be just as emotional for the scores of fans so invested in this world.

As with all the Harry Potter DVD releases, this one comes loaded with extras, such as deleted scenes, featurettes, and an option to view the film in Maximum Movie Mode a kind of commentary in overdrive. It includes standard commentary, as well as breaks in the movie to illustrate a point by showing scenes from previous movies or to insert information from cast and crew.

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