Film Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” the best Potter film since Azkaban

Jordan Wilson

Staff Writer

“These are dark times; there is no denying,” Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) says, as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” opens. Indeed, the forces of darkness are stronger than ever this time around, and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his companions Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) must accept Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a mere memory.

They are now on the run from Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters, who seek to destroy them and the impure muggle (non-magic) world.  Now that Dumbledore is no longer in the picture, they have taken over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Because Harry shares a unique, clairvoyant connection with Voldemort, he is the one and only hope for good to prevail over evil. He and his friends face certain doom around every corner, and must constantly seek sanctuary in the woods where they can gather their thoughts and decide what best course of action is next.

Out in the woods, the young wizards take shelter in a tent where they hear over the radio the endless list of muggles who have died or been executed. Ron begins to grow jealous and feels left out when Harry and Hermione spend so much time together, and he storms off, leaving them alone for quite a long portion of the film in which there is complete silence. The two of them seem lost without their companion there to provide some comic relief, as he usually does. These are disturbing and dark passages in the film, and it highlights the loss of hope that these characters have experienced.

Meanwhile, Harry frequently dreams about Voldemort searching for something. He can’t seem to figure out what until they travel to the home of Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans), where they learn about the Deathly Hallows, which are the powerful Elder Wand, the invisibility cloak and the resurrection stone. Voldemort is searching for the wand so that he can finally kill Harry, and thus begins Harry’s journey to destroy all of the horcruxes (pieces of Voldemort’s soul) and defeat evil once and for all.

It is difficult to write about such things. There is an entirely foreign language from English embedded within “Harry Potter” that is pure to “non-Potter-Heads.” What really must be said of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is that although it only part of the story, it flows nicely. The end does not feel like a premature slicing of Rowling’s tale. What director David Yates and his team have done is to allow enough time for the ending to feel complete without cutting it in half too abruptly, as if for a eight-month commercial break.

Many critics of the two-part concept believe that it is a ploy by the studio to make more money and milk the franchise for all it is worth. It could be partially true, but it is also hard to say whether one film could have done Rowling’s work justice. Fans have previously cried out that in previous entries, too much material has been scrapped in the adaptation process. Their cries have been heard, and close to 90 percent of what Rowling wrote in the first two thirds of the book are on the screen and has been adapted wonderfully.

Thanks to cinematographer Eduardo Serra, this is the best-looking Potter film yet. There is also brilliantly crafted shadow-animation shown during the telling of the Tale of the Three Brothers, where Harry learns of the Deathly Hallows. The visual effects are all top-notch as well, as a wizard battle in the sky and the transformation of seven people into seven Harry Potters are exhilarating and amusing, respectively.

It has been exciting to see Radcliffe, Grint and Watson grow up and to see what strong actors they have become. Each carries his or her own weight very well and will hopefully be offered many more projects after this series is finished.

Aside from the young leads, this series has also managed to gather together what could arguably be called the most impressive cast of British actors in history. We have seen: Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branagh, Jim Broadbent, Julie Christie, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis and Emma Thompson, just to name a few. Bravo to the casting directors on all of these films.

Seven books and six and-a-half movies later, “Harry Potter” has become the most successful film franchise of its length ever, a remarkable achievement. J.K. Rowling, who has terrific storytelling ability, wrote the books, and although they undeniably grow darker as they progress, Rowling thankfully never discarded the spirit and the heart that lie at the core of the series.

The films, on the other hand, up to this point seem to have fumbled that spirit while getting lost in the darkness. After the third installment, the series took a sharp turn toward dreariness and couldn’t quite manage to balance it with the adventurousness the way that the books had. The fifth movie, “Order of the Phoenix,” was just plain tedious.

Fortunately, “Harry Potter” fans have been faithful enough to stick around for this first part of the final chapter of the story, and director David Yates has delivered an exceptionally filmed prelude to the final hours of our journey with the boy who lived.

Grade: B+

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