REVIEWED: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1
November 19, 2010 Leave a comment
With expectations already set sky-high for the final Harry Potter installment next July, director David Yates is tasked with the challenging duty of somehow heightening them even further with his adaptation of the first part of the final book, The Deathly Hallows. Speaking as someone cold to the source material, I can only assume that all the sizzle comes in the second half, because The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 is the dullest and most frustrating iteration of the usually reliable Potter franchise to date. A reminder of a lot of the bad and not a whole lot of the good that these stories offer, there is the sincere hope that this is just that awkward bridging episode leading up to the hopefully epic conclusion.
Picking up where The Half-Blood Prince left us, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) must now attempt to destroy the trinkets that hold the key to the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)’s immortality before he and his legion of Death Eaters can catch up to them.
Though the performances and reverence for the source material are as considered as ever, Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 marks the series low-point; dark but also dull and dreary, while also undone by some sketchy plotting and awkward moments of silly comic relief, it is an exhaustingly painstaking effort of storytelling that I imagine will bemuse as many casual fans as it thrills hardcores. The hokiness of the narrative – always a difficult nut to crack with logic-starved fantasy fare – is the most abundant it has ever been, though this is ostensibly more a problem with Rowling’s writing than the film itself, for director David Yates, a series veteran, stages the production with his usual stately presentation.
Beginning well – a brief scene in which Hermione erases herself from the lives of her parents is genuinely affecting – and also ending with a bang – via a rushed but surprise-filled climax – the film’s undeniable problem is that filled-out middle section, suggesting a two-part climax was hardly necessary, and a three-hour one-shot would probably have suited things better (but since when was it an artistic decision?). Packed with dull scenes of various characters mugging pensively into the lens while peppering their dialogue with enough pauses that a toilet break is not only permissable but advisable, Harry and co. are left with little to do for two hours; of the half-dozen Horcruxes they have to find, here they discover only one, and the rest of the time is spent on what has been mistakenly referred to as “character development”, as the gang land-hop in what is essentially a magic road movie.
Exhileration abounds through some occasional set-pieces and clever late-day use of an animated sequence, but Deathly Hallows is a mostly moribund effort that simply never picks up momentum. Various gimmicks and fantastical flourishes, even ones mentioned in previous installments, are increasingly more frustrating in their laziness here; the fact that Harry has a malevolent trace on him until he turns 18 feels perfunctory and magic-by-numbers, and several other such facts are fielded out intermittently and come off as circumscribed (perhaps they were more clearly defined in the books?).
Still, these could be overlooked if the film were actually fun or exciting, which it most frequently is not; the comic relief is that shoddy type of goofiness that similarly derailed Spider-Man 3, while some more-fitting gallows humour is nowhere to be found. The serious-minded quest-based plot lacks any authentic sense of threat, simply because there is so much downtime between the action, and because our plucky protagonists spend so much time doing so little.
Relief does arrive as the film nears its close, however; a striking sequence explaining the Deathly Hallows is especially memorable, while the grim reality of their quest is finally realised, and will surely be emotional for the series’ avid readers. That this arc is shockingly rushed – re-introducing an old friend who inevitably sacrifices himself – is a testament to the poor editorial process that the script went through, for so much time is devoted to the murky, sluggish mid-section that nowhere near enough is devoted to ensuring that the third act packs a stronger emotional punch.
It is lazy simply to say that fans will enjoy it, but this entry’s sub-par workmanship will likely do little to deter its fan appeal or box office success. Hardly bad but simply a testament to the generally robust quality of the output thus far, there is the genuine hope that Yates can reign in a satisfying and hopefully better-paced last outing.