December 17, 2010
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (2010) **
Directed by David Yates
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (2010)- As an autonomous entity, this unpleasant film's narrative is bankrupt. ** out of 5
Perhaps the most impressive sequence in this seventh installment of one of the most financially profitable films series of all time occurs when the first end credits roll. The list of actors is enough to literally leave a movie lover speechless. One great British thespian after another scrolls across the screen, and this is even more significant considering that Dame Maggie Smith is nowhere to be found in this installment. The cast is so good that Oscar nominee Julie Walters, who plays Ron Weasley's mother, is relegated to having to be grouped alongside the second tier of actors who aren't worthy enough, I suppose, to have their names appear alone on screen.
This level of talent that includes Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltraine, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Imelda Staunton and Miranda Richardson certainly says a lot about the series, not only in terms of its profit margins, but also in terms of its quality. The Harry Potter film series is one of the best of all time, and it's also one of my very favorites. I've pretty much loved the first six entries. Even the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, really worked for me even though I went in determined to watch the film with a more critical eye than I had with the first five. Yes, I did see problems with that film, but I still absolutely loved it. This time around, I similarly was on guard against blindly allowing myself to love this seventh film even before it began simply because it had the Harry Potter moniker in its title.
Even if I went in determined to call this film the greatest ever made, I still would have walked out unbelievably disappointed and unabashedly angry over a singularly dour installment in a series that prides itself on its magical whimsy. In terms of plot, things are really grim in the wizarding world of England. Dumbledore is dead, and Voldemort has reunited a dangerous and unwashed group of Dark Wizards. No muggles or muggle-sympathizers are safe as the Ministry of Magic is also going through a pureblood purification of sorts. By the way, if a few of these words don't make sense to you, don't worry about it--or perhaps you might want to read the books or watch the previous films.
Of course, the prophecy that Harry must sacrifice himself in order to kill Voldemort weighs heavy on his mood. Add to this the grave danger he is in since Voldemort wants nothing more than to kill the Boy Wizard who Lived, and as a result Harry isn't the easiest person to be around. A dangerous escape to ensure Harry's safety maims Ron Weasley's brother. A troubled Harry thus decides that no one else is going to be hurt because of him after death eaters attack another Weasley brother's wedding. Ron, Hermoine and Harry go into hiding armed with magical spells that will protect them from their enemies.
Amid the stress and the dangers, the trio must deal with jealousies and annoyances stemming from the fact that they must rely only on each other for company. Harry and Hermoine become especially close in their singular dedication to the mission, which miffs the relatively daft Ron. Their irritations aren't helped by the magical depressants found in a horcrux necklace which one of them must wear around the clock for protection. Sure, their specific mission is ultimately about analyzing a children story to find another of seven horcruxes, but this takes a back seat when we see things like Ron imagining Harry and Hermoine in a situation that's as far removed from the PG rating of the first installment of the film series as one can imagine.
I am under the firm belief that each and every movie, even those adapted from some of the most successful and iconic books in modern history, should be judged completely autonomously. That being said, I do think the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows itself might help me articulate why, as an autonomous film, this "Part One" of what will be two films based on that book completely misses the mark.
One of the aspects of the books that the movies can't capture is the amazing prose that Rowling employs. It's just as exciting as the creativity which went into the world of magic and wizardry that came from Rowling's rich imagination. The final book in the Harry Potter series, which is an excellent read, takes us down into the depths of Harry's suffering and angst, but ultimately, it provides an exciting ending of good triumphing over evil. This film stops somewhere within the doldrums of Harry's emotional agony and fear. As such, when looking at Part One alone, we're not provided with the ultimate payoff that was intended by this material.
This leads me to ask, "What's the point?" Other than the fact that this is a utilitarian gateway into the final film, Deathly Hallows Part One has no reason for existing and also no reason to be so damn ugly and sadistic. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One belongs alongside such unapologetically bleak movies as The Road and The White Ribbon. There's no Quidditch or Triwizard competitions or school dances to allow us to revel in the mirth of the world of witchcraft and wizardry. Harry Potter simply shouldn't merit being appropriately uttered in the same sentence as anything having to do with Cormac McCarthy or Michael Haneke. Also, it's not just that the material is unrelenting, but Yates ratchets up the savagery with the most blatantly ugly cinematography and brutal suspense which makes the admittedly naive and childish joy of the first few Harry Potter movies completely unrecognizable as precursors to this story.
Rowling never intended this half of the final chapter to be told on its own. I'm not advocating that the film be six hours long so we can achieve the catharsis alongside the brutality. To be honest, I don't have a solution concerning how this movie may have worked. All I know is that the final sequence involving a CGI character from previous films is among the worst endings of any film in recent memory. The character has only one brief scene this time around before he reappears to die. He's barely a character until he instantly becomes the pivotal emotional center. That right there is a perfect example of lazy storytelling. Rowling could have ended a book with this story, making the series eight entries long, but she's way too smart a writer to allow this kind of manipulative idiocy to be the final word.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One will only prove a valuable entry as part of the sure to be released eight-volume Harry Potter movie box set. If one decides to spend a weekend watching all eight films in a row, then the seventh film might make sense as part of the whole. That being said, completely on its own, this seventh film is awfully trivial. That simply can't be said about any of the first six films, and knowing where the story is going, I will bet money that the final entry will treat us to the glorious payoff so dearly lacking in what is, for now, a complete waste of time.