Geoffrey Adams and the Deathly Hallows, part 1

Last night I took in the premier of the penultimate Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1. Amongst my circle of friends there are a number of die hard Harry Potter fans, of whom my dear friend Kim is the undisputed queen. Thus it was that I had access to the very front of the line for last nights’ 7pm showing. It’s good to know the queen 😉

Now the first thing I need to stress here is that I have not read the book. As such I am unqualified to review how faithful the adaptation has been. I can only review this film based on the previous films and books in the series. The Deathly Hallows is the only Harry Potter book I haven’t read, a condition I intend to remedy shortly.

I like Harry Potter a lot, but I’m not what you would call a fanboy. I’ve read each of the books once, I’ve seen each of the movies at least once, although some I’ve seen twice or in some cases 3 times. I have a reasonably good working knowledge of Harry Potter, but there are plenty of small details that either escape my notice or I have forgotten in the intervening time between books and films. For the Harry Potter super fans out there, I apologize, this review might not be for you.

Fair warning, from here on out I’ll be discussing the film and the events contained therein. Spoilers are sure to be revealed. If you have not read the book or seen the film and you wish to save that experience, read no further.

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Okay? Good, let’s begin:

The movie starts with our main characters going underground as it were. It’s a fairly exciting way to start things off, and brings with it a lot of emotional weight too. There’s a particularly affecting and painful scene where Hermione actually erases the memory of herself from her parents lives. The emotional impact of the scene is heavy as the audience sees her fade out of all of the photographs on the mantle while her parents sit in a kind of stunned stupor as the effects of the spell wash over them. It’s a heavy sacrifice and not having read the book I was left wondering if it was a permanent one. Would this be an irreversible step she had taken? Would Hermione ever be able to see her family again as they had been, or had she, for their safety, given them up forever? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s a sobering thought and a highly effective way to set the tone for the movie.

The movie assumes that you are invested in this universe, there’s no explaining things for newcomers. Names, places and events are all tossed around in conversation and if you don’t know that’s too bad. I’m pleased they went this route. Too often in ongoing series like this there’s the conceit that everything must be re-explained for the uninitiated. The earlier films and books in the Harry Potter series were particularly guilty of this. Here though the film is trusting that the audience is there because they are invested in the saga at this stage. At 7 movies in it would feel almost insulting to insert expository scenes explaining things that everyone should already know.

The first act of the movie is very exciting and well paced. The peril is real and the sense of foreboding is palpable. The viewer never feels at ease. The dark forces are real and very menacing. As our heroes are going underground we join them at Harry’s house, the Dursley’s having fled for safety. There’s a great scene where the Order of the Phoenix all take polyjuice potion so that they can all look like Harry, thus improving the chances of Harry’s escape. By this point we all know that Harry is the chosen one, and that he alone can defeat Voldemort. As such, Harry’s safety is paramount. Watching every member of the order, man or woman, morph into Harry is a very funny moment which breaks the tension beautifully before the excitment of the next scene, the escape.

The escape is visually stunning and exciting. Harry rides sidecar with Hagrid, just as he did as a baby. Death Eaters fill the sky and attempt to prevent Harry’s escape but are thwarted. Not without cost though. Hedwig sacrifices himself in defense of Harry while also giving away to the Death Eater’s which Potter is the genuine article. George Weasley is badly injured, I believe he lost his left ear although they are a bit vague on that in the film. More dramatic but sadly less satisfying is the death of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. We are told of Mad-Eye’s death as opposed to having seen it. Maybe that’s how it happened in the book, I really don’t know. Speaking from a purely filmic point of view though it was a thoroughly unsatisfactory way to kill off such an important character.

Now safely at the Weasley’s new home, our heroes have a moment to rest. Harry, predictably, tries to strike out alone in the night but is stopped by Ron who at long last manages to talk some sense into Harry. For too long Harry has had what has bordered on a selfish view of the events. And while his motives aren’t selfish when he tries to head off alone, his reasoning is based on the conceit that all of his friends are putting themselves in danger solely for his own good. Ron, clearly annoyed with this attitude finally gets it through to Harry that it’s not just about him, that it’s something much larger. The Order of the Phoenix aren’t about protecting Harry Potter, they’re about protecting the world from domination by the dark lord. With this realization, Harry returns with Ron to the house.

Heading in to the close of the first Act we see the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour. Great set design and costuming in this and another nice tension breaker before the shit really hits the fan. The reception is interrupted when a strange orb of light, presumably dark magic in origin, arrives in the middle of the party to declare that the Ministry of Magic has fallen and that the Death Eaters are coming for them. Panic erupts and a pitched battle with the dark forces ensues. Harry, Hermione and Ron escape to London by apparating and take refuge in the house of Harry’s dead godfather Sirius Black.

This brings us into the second act of the film, the search for the horcruxes containing the remaining pieces of Lord Voldemort’s soul. This is where the film gets a bit derailed for me. After a daring raid on the Ministry of Magic to retrieve a Horcrux in the possession of Delores Umbridge the movies comes to a screeching halt and all the momentum built up until this point is lost. Our heroes are now camping in the wilderness for what seems like an eternity and the movie slows to a snail’s pace where nothing truly interesting really happens. This whole sequence feels like a Lord of the Rings clone, right down to the horcrux affecting the mood of the person wearing it in an altogether evil fashion.

A lot of fat could have been trimmed from the second act. Essentially the second act boils down to: We have the horcrux but we don’t know how to destroy it. wait. wait. wait. Hermione is hit with a sudden burst of inspirataion and now we know how to destroy the horcrux, with the sword of Godrick Gryffindor, which we don’t have. wait. wait. wait. We’ve found the sword of Godrick Gryffindor basically by accident in a gross example of Deus Ex Machina. Okay we can now move on to act 3. It may have angered the purists in the crowd, but I think this perhaps would have been a good point to restructure the story in such a way as to keep the pacing and momentum going.

Also during the 2nd act there’s an entirely pointless and tacked on subplot of Ron’s jealousy over a perceived relationship between Hermione and Harry. Perhaps it plays better in the book, but here it just feels tacked on. It was like the filmmakers said “well, we’ve had the Ron/Hermione fighting sequence in every other movie, we need it in this one too”. Ron’s reasoning and the way he returns just feel supremely contrived.

The final act of the film gets things back up to speed. We finally learn what the Deathly Hallows are in a truly interesting bit of exposition delivered through some gorgeous and unique animation. The Deathly Hallows are a trio of magical objects it turns out, supposedly bestowed upon 3 brothers by Death itself. The first item is the Elder Wand, the most powerful magic wand in existence. The Second item is the resurrection stone, which in the animated tale looks remarkably like the stone that was in the ring which was one of Voldemort’s horcuxes, although this is only specualtion on my part. Finally, the invisibility cloak, which of course Harry has possessed since the beginning of the series. Throughout the film Harry has been having dreams/visions through his connection to the Dark Lord’s mind. Through this we know that Voldemort is seeking the Elder Wand.

The film’s climax involves our Heroes being captured by a group of “Snatchers”. This wasn’t actually explained in the movie and could have used some being that this is their first appearance. The snatchers, as far as I could tell, have replaced the Aurors as the police now that the ministry is under the control of the Dark Lord.

There are a couple of problems with the capture sequence: First, the Snatchers are surrounding our heroes when they apparate back to their camp, each of the snatchers and especially their leader, get a pretty decent look at all three of our heroes before they make a run for it. Just before they are captured Hermione casts a sting charm on Harry’s face in the hopes of disguising him, and sure enough the snatchers are unable to recognize him as Harry Potter. My problem with this is that they all got a good look at Harry before they tried to escape. Also, the sting spell didn’t truly disfigure Harry enough to not be recognizable. The second problem is that Hermione casts the sting spell in full view of their pursuers mere seconds before they are captured. There is no way none of them noticed what she had done.

The prisoners are taken to the home of Lucius Malfoy for reasons that are never explained, but Bellatrix, Malfoy and Lucius are surprisingly unable to identify Harry as Harry. I got the impression that Malfoy knew it was Harry but had come to the internal realization that as much as he may dislike Potter, the Dark Lord is infinitely worse. But that might just be me. The boys are tossed in the cellar/dungeon where they find Luna Lovegood (who immediately identifies Harry audibly and within earshot of their captor). Also Mr. Olivander and a goblin from Gringots are imprisoned here as well.

Harry pulls out a piece of broken glass he’s been carrying around for reasons that are never explained and talks to it, imploring it for help. Perhaps this was explained in the book, but in the movie this was pretty weird. I watched Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince the day before seeing this movie and was still clueless as to origin or significance of this piece of glass. Somehow this piece of glass summons Doby the house elf who rescues the prisoners and then returns for Harry Potter and Ron.

Before they can leave they have to save Hermione from Bellatrix. Which they do and make their escape with the aid of Doby. Not before Bellatrix throws a knife at our fleeing heroes which apparates with them during their escape. This proves fatal for Doby who dies in Harry Potter’s arms, having been struck in the chest by Bellatrix’s knife. It’s a moving scene and very well handled. Harry and company bury Doby. Meanwhile, the Dark Lord has learned that the Elder Wand is buried with Dumbledore. The film ends with the Dark Lord holding up the wand in triumph. A great spot to end this first half of the story I think.

All in all I really enjoyed the film, but not so much as I have the 2 previous installments. It was an issue of pacing in the second act that didn’t work for me. I’m really looking forward to the final film though and I have a feeling that viewed together I’ll probably feel more kindly towards the pacing issues I perceived in this film. I guess we shall see.

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~ by Pagz on November 20, 2010.

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