Nov 29, 2010

[Movies] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I (2010)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I (2010)It’s somewhat strange to think that it’s been 13 years since Harry Potter first became a household name. Since then, a whole fandom has been created around the works of J.K. Rowling that has spanned seven books (plus additional supplementary titles) and is now on its seventh movie out of eight.

I doubt anyone could have predicted how far things were going to go, and this isn't even considering the impact her books had on other young adult authors who have followed in her footsteps. Just consider other book franchises that have experience success after the Harry Potter books such as the Eragon, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl and The Edge Chronicles series of books. More and more of them seem to be created year after year, much to the delight and horror of readers everywhere, depending on your perspective on things.

Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsImage via WikipediaThe recently released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie is only the first half of the final chapter of Harry’s story with the second and final installment coming out July of next year. And still Potter-heads and curious movie-goers alike have flocked to theaters to see what David Yates has managed to do with Rowling’s opus.

The movie sets the stage for a magical world secretly at war. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters roam the lands freely as they strike terror in the hearts of those with muggle (human) blood. The Ministry of Magic seems almost helpless in the face of such evil and the only individuals who have a clue as to how to defeat him are three young teens and their guardians. More or less.

But this is not the nearly formulaic tale we’ve encountered six times before. There is no train ride to Hogwarts nor secret plot afoot in the school while the students deal with the normal challenges of academic life. Instead we have Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) on the run and away from all the comforts of home and Hogwarts as they try to track down the last of the seven Horcruxes that are the key to defeating the dark lord. What to do with these Horcruxes once found remains a mystery, one that the trio scarcely have time to figure out.

While we’ll never officially know why it was decided to cut this book into two separate movies ($$$), clearly it wasn’t done for purely artistic purposes. Many viewers, especially those who didn’t read the book, complained about the pacing being slower than expected or somewhat dragging in other parts of the movie.. Yes, the movie does feel slow given most of it involves Harry, Hermione and Ron out in the wilderness as they share a tent. At one point, it even feels that the need to remove all joy and comic relief overrode the plot entirely and had Ron temporarily leaving the trio. Thus the movie gets bogged down with the need to be overly serious and somber in these dark, dark times, which is a major difference here compared to the past films.

But that’s not necessarily a fault of the director. Yates did a pretty tremendous job of bringing the book to life and his attention to detail is quite impressive. However the first half of the book itself was somewhat slower compared to the previous books and that clearly carried over to the movie as part of Yates efforts to be faithful to the source material. For the fans, it was expected. For the casual movie-goer, I can understand how the movie is rather hard to follow. Plus there are no recaps of what has been going on before beyond quick montages featuring scenes and images that only make sense to the die-hard Harry Potter trivia fan. The one moment of elegant brilliance is the animated sequence done for the Tale of the Three Brothers by Ben Hibon. That alone is worth your overpriced popcorn.

This is not “just” another Harry Potter movie. This is the setup for the official end of the franchise (so far). That means tying up loose ends and making sure plot threads get resolved. As is the way of multi-book franchises, it also means a lot of last-minute reveals that the author felt needed to be brought in at the last moment. It’s the treasure hunt of mentions and small facts that enamors some readers and yet probably annoys others. But this same level of detail is not celebrated in the same way on the silver screen, especially to the casual movie-goer, thus leaving a big part of the audience scratching their heads.

Should you go see the movie? Yes, of course - don’t you want to know how it ends? Should you rush out to see it now? Maybe not. The movie doesn’t stand well on its own and it clearly needs the second half to make sense and to be more fulfilling. As I keep stressing (as did the director apparently), the movie is very dark and depressing, as it is meant to be. That’s because the rewards come much later in the second movie. This movie ends up lacking all of those rewards and small victories and all you get are three teens being miserable in the wilderness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I is still a valuable movie to see, especially if you've followed the series thus far. You won't survive if you haven't seen all the other movies though - there's no getting around that. It gets 3 amazing abilities revealed by Dobby at the last minute out of a possible 5.
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