Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I've had mixed feelings about the Harry Potter franchise for a long time, especially the films, and this one was no different. I do think it's David Yates' best work yet for the series, and the best movie since the third. And even cutting as much as possible, getting everything important from the book into a single movie without seriously compromising the story (The third movie is the only other one that really works on its own partly because they hacked off enough that it feels like a story rather than a visual CliffsNotes) might have ended up taking well over three hours, and I can see why creatively they wouldn't want to do that, even before considering that splitting it into two means double the ticket, merchandise, and home video sales. But making the seventh book into the seventh and eighth movies does damage each of them a little bit, just because on its own this one felt incomplete. Put together the two halves might actually make the best work yet for WB in this series, but as it is it's just the first half of an ending.

Deathly Hallows Part 1 immediately feels very different from the rest of the series, as it's clear from the beginning that bad stuff is going down, and we see nothing resembling the fairytale the first couple movies portrayed. Starting with the third movie (there it is again) the series changed a bit, showing more maturity as its central actors got better at their jobs and the story got darker. It's completely different here though; we don't see the school at all and get basically a single glimpse of any students besides the main three and their relatives. The entire acting population of Great Britain all come back to their roles here, though mostly only get a scene or two to remind us they exist before the movie pushes forward again. After an exciting if slightly silly action sequence establishes how high the stakes are by killing off a couple minor characters, Part 1 basically turns into a road movie with heist elements, as Harry, Hermione, and Ron search for the doodads that will let them stop the bad guy, brood out in the wilderness, and eventually have some catharsis in their various relationships before the climax, which does its job but just feels minor compared to the ends of previous movies.

The film is very well shot, with a dark and somber look that matches the dreary mood of what the world has turned into. There's still moments of comedy generally revolving around the fact that people casting spells all the time can be kind of silly, but for the most part there's a lot of doom and gloom. One of my favorite bits was a small action scene where the gang gets attacked in a coffee shop; the simple brutality of the damage done and the whole tone of the scene made it feel like a shootout from a mob movie, and I thought it got across the intended feeling of the film as well as anything. The section of the story where the kids are all camping out away from society trying to figure out their next move is already pretty infamous from the book, and it sticks out even more here when it dominates the second half of the whole thing. No single scene sticks out as terrible, but in general these parts feel repetitive and just sort of drag the momentum they'd built to a halt. The characters do learn important things here, but it just seems like they could have handled it a bit more gracefully and quickly. They probably could have found twenty minutes here and chopped them off the make the whole thing a flat two hours. Despite this problem, I do think it's one of the best movies in the series, and while it's the first one I didn't see in the theater, I'm glad I didn't see it until now, because it will be fresh in my mind when the final chapter comes out next month.

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