REVIEW: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I’

Grade: B+

When adapting a well-loved novel for the screen, a filmmaker must decide how faithful they should be to the source material. If they are not faithful enough to the book, they risk alienating the established fan base. If they are too faithful they risk confusing the casual movie-goer who hasn’t read the source material and losing a large number of potential audience members. The Harry Potter franchise has been one of the few examples of success in this area proving capable of pleasing the innumerable wizard fans of the book and millions of muggles everywhere.

Since director David Yates took over the franchise with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2007 he has found a way to find an excellent balance to the series with the ability to please fans of the books and movies and balance humor and darkness. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I shows Yates taking a few more risks to create his own vision, rather than directly translate the book’s vision and for the most part it pays off, except for the times when he and screenwriter Steve Kloves don’t seem to be on the same page.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I is an adaptation of one half of the last book in the series. Just like every book and film before it this film picks up at the beginning of Harry’s seventh year at Hogwarts; except this year is different than all others because Mr. Potter has no intention of returning to Hogwarts. Instead he will be venturing out with Ron and Hermione to find and destroy the seven Horcruxes that contain pieces of Lord Voldemort’s soul.

The battle between the powers of good and evil is approaching its climax as He Who Should Not Be Named and the Death Eaters have taken control of the Ministry of Magic and fixed all of their efforts on destroying Harry Potter. Meanwhile the Order of the Phoenix is simultaneously trying to make plans to defeat the Dark Lord and maintain some semblance of normal life by hosting a wedding and celebrating birthdays.

The series has gotten consistently darker and more mature since Alfonso Cuaron directed The Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004 and the latest film increases that level significantly as the circumstances become more dire. Director Yates and the returning cast of memorable performers expertly infuse humor into some of the tensest moments of the film. For those audience members who have been with the series from the beginning there is no longer a need for the cast to prove themselves. This allows for excellent bits of comedy such as a cross-dressing Harry Potter which is all the more hilarious because of the previous character development in the early films.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves is one of the few creative constants throughout the series having written the scripts for all eight films. He works under the guise of Potter series creator J.K. Rowling who ensures that her characters are given the right treatment. The result of that relationship is the inclusion in the film of certain scenes, subplots, and characters that do not get fully developed although they are thoroughly explained in the books. Since The Deathly Hallows, Part I is essentially half of one film it feels like there are a lot more underdeveloped moments. One particular instance would be the wedding scene featuring Bill Weasley – a character never before referred to in the films who briefly shows his face only to disappear before the audience can develop any relationship.

While Kloves may not be changing his style of adaptation, director David Yates attempts new and daring technical styles that give a whole new depth to the films. Now that the gang has left Hogwarts the art direction takes a daring and brilliant new direction with a phenomenal set piece based at the home of the Malfoy’s. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra does his first Harry Potter film and draws some obvious inspiration from Orson Welles with sharp camera angles and deep focus. In Citizen Kane Welles often placed the camera below the characters to create the impression that they are larger than life and Serra appropriately employs a similar technique.

As the series has progressed the cast members have been gradually getting older and Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson seem to be reaching their thespian peak with this film. The particular stand out is Watson as Hermione who shines in a moment of absolute terror when she is confronted by Bellatrix Lestrange. Other standouts include Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge who has the power to make an entire theatre cringe with one evil-infused giggle.

The film’s conclusion does exactly what a “Part One” needs to do by providing enough plot to feel temporarily satisfied and enough of a teaser to leave fans thirst for more.

Bottom Line: If you’re a Potter fan you have seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I already. If you’re not, it’s the perfect time to start.

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  • Quinn

    I LOVED IT! My favorite one of the series! I thought it was excellent, and I’m so glad you mentioned the scene where Hermione is being confronted by Bellatrix Lestrange. I thought that scene was fantastic and she was really great in it. I thought she gave the best performance, but Radcliffe, Grint, Bonham Carter, and Staunton (although her character is so 100% similar to one of my teacher, I have theory that she actually played Umbridge). Also my favorite parts would probably be all the battles scenes, the scene when Harry and Hermione were dancing, and the scene hwere Hermione was telling the story of the Three Brothers. One complaint would be the painfully awkward 30 seconds or so when Harry and Hermione were talking about the sword and how it destroys the Horctuzes and then Ron turns off all the lights and starts talking. However that scene became actually really good when him and Harry started talking about why he listens to the radio constantly. But it was only a couple of seconds, so it didnt really affect the movie much.

  • Jose

    Correction, Steve Kloves wrote all the Potter films but Order of the Phoenix, that was Micheal Goldenberg.

    I’m torn with this film a high B or a B+. I too felt that several scenes were underdeveloped. Particularly the last 45 minutes of the film since they felt so rushed. And I’m not a book purist but I would have loved to see Luna’s room, the secret radio channel, Dudley handshaking Harry, the gang finding Dean and other people as fugitives, and the fight that Lupin and Harry had at Grimmauld Place. I though it would have helped the movie if we saw the last four things I mentioned since it would have shown more of the other characters and how its not just the trio thats affected. And if they actually discussed the Hallows.

    But yeah the ending was a true teaser and I’m sure I’d appreciate the film more if I saw this with the last one back to back.

  • Avritti

    Alex, I am so glad you started this review by addressing the eternal dilemma that any film that works off of a literary adaptation faces – how critical is it to maintain the sanctity of the inspiration, than it is to interpret that inspiration successfully into a something else with a broader appeal. I have read the entire Potter series twice (at the age of 31, no less), and I thoroughly enjoyed watching “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I”. Granted, the movie had some glaring omissions that die hard Potter fans are not likely to forgive (e.g. – Dumbledore’s funeral). The dark and relentless mood of the movie made me feel like I was truly a part of the lonely, unprotected, and dangerous journey that Harry, Ron and Hermione were forced to embark upon outside of the benign comforts of Hogwarts. For me, this movie belongs more to Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, than it belongs to Harry, Hermione and Ron, and I can’t wait to see what these three talented actors blossom into in the years to come. While the “Deathly Hallows, Part I” does not give Potter fans a fair dose of Severus Snape and Voldermort in this thrilling, patient, and riveting “beginning of the end” installment of the last Potter film, it certainly makes one wish July 2011 would come sooner the Christmas of 2010.

  • @Jose – I also thought the last 45 minutes were rushed and as a result I didn’t feel the importance of the Elder Wand. There was definitely something ominous about Voldemort getting a hold of it, but the stakes didn’t feel high enough for it to truly matter.

    I also neglected to mention in my review the bit about the radio in the background during several scenes. It kind of reminded me of Theatre of Cruelty as the radio never clearly sets on an audible frequency. David Yates has done a fantastic job with the series and I can not wait for July!

  • Andrew R.

    As an adaptation: A+-most faithful one yet
    As a film: B+-3rd best after Half-Blood Prince and Prisoner of Azkaban

    My favorite book in the series gets off to a great start.

    Best Line: “Dobby did not mean to kill! Dobby meant to maim, or seriously injure!”
    And the animation sequence for the Tale of the Three Brothers…wow.

  • Going to see it this afternoon. Looking forward…

  • Quinn

    LMAO That quote….

  • Jose

    The Tale of the Three Brothers in in my opinion the most beutiful animated sequence I’ve seen all year.

    That quote was awesome.

    And wow I really can’t wait.

  • Wonderful. My third favorite film so far, next to the first two. I loved the wide-open feel, and the three lead actors pretty much own these roles after so many years. I particularly loved the bond that formed between Harry and Hermione after Ron left: that dancing scene was truly lovely.

    A couple of scenes felt truncated: particularly the Malfoy Manor stuff. As great as Bonham-Carter is, the scene had a much more powerful, visceral impact in the book. Here, it’s over in five minutes. Also, the Ministry of Magic break-in was overlong and dull. Otherwise, few complaints. My review will be up tomorrow (probably), for anyone who’s interested.

    Also, I actually liked how the Hallows were pretty much ignored (though that animated sequence was awesome). I always felt they were the weakest part of the 7th book, along with the Dumbledore backstory (which was also mostly omitted). So, they made good choices as to what to cut… in my opinon.

  • I was impressed. It’s the third best behind the first and second (I seem to be the only one who didn’t like the 3rd and 6th). Most of the important scenes were well executed. I still think the three of them aren’t good actors though. I will be interested to see what movies they’ll be in after the series is over.

  • Jose

    G, I’m pretty sure the Hallows will be discussed in the opening of Part 2, along with other stuff.

  • I have not seen the film nor am I in any hurry to despite the fact that I have read all the books and seen all the movies (number 3 about 10 times). It’s just not THAT important to me.

    But my question for all of you is, what did you think of Alexandre Desplat’s score?

  • Jose

    The soundtrack by itself is marvelous.
    Hearing it with the movie though I personally didn’t think it worked. I was dissapointed. Especially since I was looking forward to hearing it in theaters.

    Mr. Desplat has The King’s Speech next week though so that I have to look forward too. And The Tree of Life in May and Deathly Hallows Part 2.

  • The score wasn’t that impressive, but I think that’s largely because the Sound Mixers didn’t do it justice. It was drowned out by the fuzzy radio or the hisses of Voldemort.

  • I personally felt that so much about this film was done right. It seems a bit slow the first time through, but upon repeat viewings, it’s a lot more fast paced than I remembered and it flows pretty well. It’s definitely an enduring film, and I think that the naysayers who were frustrated with it the first time through will grow to think of it as the best of the franchise so far. It’s like how many loved “Order of the Phoenix” at first, but then grew to realize that it’s the worst of the series.

  • Duncan, are you referring to the “OOTP” book or movie? Although in truth your words would apply to both (although I personally liked the movie quite a bit).

  • I am referring to the film, and I do admit that there were some good parts to it, mostly confined to the final battle in the ministry, but on the whole, it just felt rather poorly written, and it didn’t fit with the rest of the series. It’s very easy to just look over and forget about.

  • Jose

    I really don’t think thats true.
    Iremember when the film first came out a lot of people hated it and still do. It’s still persoanlly my second favorite of the series though.

  • I whole-heartedly agree with you Duncan. I thought the film (number 5) was an excellent adaptation of a mediorcre book. But after seeing it a second time, I could hardly stand it. You can literally feelthe difference in the writers styles. And the closing line abut having somthing worth fighting for is hideously, cringe-worthy.

  • Jason

    You really can’t judge the film till you watch Part 2 since it is the 1st half of one LONG movie.

    But as a film by itself: A-

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