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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

SPOILER WARNING: There are minor spoilers in this review for the Harry Potter series, though not, I don’t think, for the particular film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One. Nonetheless, if you’ve never gotten around to reading the Harry Potter books or seeing the prior movies and still, for some reason, want to see this one unspoiled, you’ve been duly forewarned.

Of all the directors who have tackled bringing to life J.K. Rowling’s incredibly popular book series about a boy wizard, David Yates — who took over the series at Book Five, HP and the Order of the Phoenix, when the series takes a considerably darker turn, and has kept on directing since — is my favorite.

While it might have been interesting to see Alfonso Cuaron, who directed HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, return to direct the final book, or perhaps someone more darkly fantastical like Guillermo del Toro, I do like the stylistic consistency of the look and tone of the final films, and the sensibility Yates brings to balancing the intensity of the final books with glimmers of humor and humanity.

I am very much a fan of both the Harry Potter books and the movies, though I generally try to distinguish between the two. The books are one thing: a richly complex tale of a classical boy hero (not, in its way, terribly different structurally than Stephen King and Peter Straub’s awesome fantasy boy hero-journey book The Talisman, or even the Star Wars saga. The movies are good in their own way, but in many ways they by necessity compress the complexity of the books.

One thing Rowling did very well with these books (besides mapping out the skeleton of the entire series before she penned the first novel) was to develop character archetypes that still manage (at least once you get past the first book) to avoid many of the pitfalls of one-dimensionality. By allowing us to watch the characters grow and develop and go through (literally) life or death trials from a young age, she creates a literary situation that draws the characters of Harry, Ron and Hermione into a tightly knotted unit, each of their strengths and weaknesses balancing the whole and allowing Harry, the sometimes reluctant hero, to succeed where alone he might have failed.

In Voldemort, she gives Harry a formidable enemy, and in Dumbledore, an equally formidable, if enigmatic ally. The reasons for Dumbledore’s frequent ambiguity concerning The Boy Who Lived finally come to fruition in the second half of the last book in a way that some readers of the series found rather shocking, as the storyline makes an abrupt segue into a Messiah myth that wasn’t, perhaps, quite what we were expecting. And yet, I found it all rather brilliant.

The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was derided even by some devout Potter fans for being too long and plodding. For me, the extended book sequences of Ron, Harry and Hermione as wanted criminal outcasts, forced to keep on the move, keep hidden, all the while seeking out the mysterious Horcruxes that Dumbledore believed were the key to finally defeating Voldemort once and for all, was a necessary part of establishing their status as lonely outsiders with no adult help to guide them along their way. It’s a coming-of-age quest with world-wide implications if they should fail at their task. Pause to consider the sort of person you were at 17. Would you have been equal to such tasks as these young heroes have faced?

But moviegoers these days want and expect lots of action and special effects in their HP movies. And the way in which Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who’s penned every Harry Potter script save Order of the Phoenix, carefully construct this journey tale, deftly interspersing raucous action at just the right times, was, for my money, spot on in every respect. While the action scenes were intensely and spectacularly shot, one of my favorite moments in the film was an excellent shadow-puppet sequence Yates utilizes in bringing to life the tale of the Three Brothers, which is the literary segue in both the book and the movie from the quest from Horcruxes to the revelation of the Deathly Hallows. (I especially liked the way the shadow puppets stylistically mirror an earlier scene with some suspended bat skeletons in the room of Sirius Black, Harry’s deceased godfather.)

There’s remarkable attention to the setting of tone of both character and setting in the fantastic production design. Yates uses carefully framed shots of remote, isolated settings to establish the complete and total isolation of Harry, Ron and Hermione once they are forced to disappear into the ether to hunt for the Horcruxes, and balances the monotony and desperation they feel with the intensity of being prey.

The setting of the dystopian world the Potter universe has devolved into with Voldemort’s return to power is frightening and oppressive for wizards and Muggles alike, as the new regime relentlessly slaughters Muggles and churns out anti-Muggle propoganda. It’s hard to overlook the obvious allusions to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany in everything from the oppression of a group of people; to the methods implemented by the Nazi regime; to the way in which ordinary people who ought to know better get roped into immoral acts by fear and self-preservation; to Voldemort himself, who, like Hitler, himself bears half the bloodline he seeks to obliterate.

The tone Yates carries throughout Part One of Deathly Hallows is less intense than where we left things with Order of the Phoenix, and this is due to the design of the story. Things are looking bleak. Dumbledore is dead, the Ministry has been infiltrated by the Death Eaters, Hogwarts has been turned into an institution of indoctrination toward the Dark Arts. Muggles are the enemy, to be crushed by the mighty boothell of the wizarding world, and as a result wizards and witches from Muggle bloodlines are being duly rounded up — for what? Well, you can be sure not to be gifted with vacation homes at the shore.

It’s true the series has always been blessed with a spectacularly well-pedigreed adult cast that’s a Who’s Who of Brit acting royalty (I’m not going to list them all here, you know who they are by now). But I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the three young leads — Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Emma Watson as book smart, brave Hermione Granger (one of the strongest young female characters in modern young adult literature, in my opinion), and Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, who could be a hero himself if only he can step out of his best friend’s shadow — grow through the years as their characters have grown.

Go back and watch all three of them in the first installment, HP and the Sorceror’s Stone, and then look at where they are now. These are layered, mature, believable performances by teenagers who, to an extent because the films have so dominated their young lives, must have to a certain extent both become their respective characters and imbued Harry, Ron and Hermione with aspects of themselves. They more than hold their own against the storied adult cast, and they have to a large degree been responsible for the success of the films. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a mention of Tom Felton, who’s carried the not-especially-enviable task of portraying bad seed Draco Malfoy, one of the series’ most complex characters, with style and subtlety, particularly these last couple films.

The first half of the book — and, by extension, Part One of the two-part series finale — serves the literary purpose of setting up the final battle between Good and Evil. It’s pacing, then, is perhaps best appreciated by those very familiar with the book, because to know what’s coming is to understand why Yates is setting things up with such deliberation. Ultimately, the two parts will play best in a back-to-back viewing, but Yates cuts things off at just the right point, with the shift in focus from Horcruxes to Deathly Hallows, and the decision Harry must make of which to pursue. There can only be one right answer, and the fate of the entire world rests on this 17-year-old hero-cum-Messiah figure’s shoulders. It’s heavy stuff.

If you haven’t read the last book in the Harry Potter series, you have until July to get around to it before the final film comes our way. I recommend it, because the second half of this book builds to a spectacular climax that brings our hero to what, we learn, was always his destiny. And suddenly, we understand so much, and it’s utterly heartbreaking. I expect Yates to do the final half of the final book spectacular justice, and I can’t wait to see it on the screen. But for now, well done.

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8 Responses to “Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One”

  1. C.G says:

    Agree. I love your review. Well done to the movie and well done to you. 🙂

  2. Katrina says:

    I completely agree with you on every point. I also LOVED the animation sequence.

  3. Keil Shults says:

    Am I alone in thinking that second paragraph/run-on sentence seems incomplete? I stopped reading at that point.

  4. Kim Voynar says:

    Keil, you are not alone, and thanks so much for pointing that out. The server glitched when I pushed the review out and it ended up pushing out an earlier version, and I somehow missed that on numerous read-throughs. Fixed now.

    I’m normally a diligent over-perfectionist, but was working last night through pneumonia and a fever and that slipped by me. But mea culpa, and thanks very much for the polite catch.

  5. Keil Shults says:

    Sorry if I sounded like a jerk. I’ve had a rough week and am ready for the holidays.

    I think with the advent of blogging and Twitter, it’s easy for all of us who write to sometimes unleash our latest thoughts on something without very carefully proofreading it first. In other words, I understand how these things can happen.

  6. Keil Shults says:

    Also, I had read a couple of other things on other movie blogs this morning that had similarly incomplete passages, and I think I just took it out on you.

  7. Kim Voynar says:

    God, Keil, no worries, nor apology necessary. We all have our days. Honestly, I was more annoyed with myself for letting it slip by me than anything.

    You do make a good point, though, about the impact of blogging and Twitter on people unleashing and behaving in generally reprehensible ways on the internet. People attack in ways they would never attack someone face-to-face. The vitriol and the all-out crazy, honestly, just sickens me.

    Not talking about you at ALL, btw … just been catching up over on The Hot Blog and remembering why I stopped commenting over there (for the most part) months ago. Life is too short to deal with that kind of vitriol. I’m just not engaging in it anymore.

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