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 hasnâ€™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 bookâ€™s vision and for the most part it pays off, except for the times when he and screenwriter Steve Kloves donâ€™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 Harryâ€™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 Voldemortâ€™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 â€“ 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 Malfoyâ€™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 filmâ€™s conclusion does exactly what a â€œPart Oneâ€ 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 youâ€™re a Potter fan you have seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I already. If youâ€™re not, itâ€™s the perfect time to start.