By JP Chapman | November 19, 2010
Director: David Yates
Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Kicking off the 2010 holiday season after a summer of so-so films with big promise is Part 1 in the finale of the Harry Potter franchise: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ten years later, the world is waiting to see if the film series wraps as satisfyingly as the books they were based on did for fans three years ago. If you haven’t already guessed from that summation of the opinions of Potter fans, you should know that I too am a big Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books, as well as seen the films multiple times. While I’m least prone to re-watch the first two of the series, I think every film since David Yates took the helm has been both stylistically and technically awesome. However; due to my familiarity with J.K. Rowling’s books, I’ve always felt like something was missing from each film. With Deathly Hallows, Yates surprisingly bucks this trend. It’s seldom that I walk out of a movie based on a book feeling more impressed with the film than I was with the book. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is not only one of those rare exceptions, but may also be the best film to date in the Potter canon.
Deathly Hallows: Part 1 picks up right where Half Blood Prince left off. Professor Dumbledore has been betrayed and murdered by Snape and Draco, leaving Harry and team reeling from their loss. While the wizarding world is in a state of chaos and fear, Harry is determined to act on the information Dumbledore imparted to him right before his death-that Voldemort has split pieces of his soul into physical objects called horcruxes. Before Voldemort can be defeated, each horcrux must be found and destroyed. Operating simultaneously to Potter’s quest, Lord Voldemort is on a quest of his own. With a revitalized army of followers, he quickly gains control of the ministry of magic and is determined to reinstate his old agenda of doing away with all mudbloods; those wizards/witches of mixed magical and human blood. At the same time, he and his followers are closing in on Harry and the remnants of the Order of the Phoenix.
Quickly realizing that his presence in only bringing danger to the Order, Harry plans to set out on his own in his horcrux-seeking journey. True to form, Hermione and Ron refuse to let Harry take this task on alone, and embark with him. I’ll intentionally leave most plot details outside of this out, but anyone that read the book that Deathly Hallows is based on knows that a huge portion of what has become Part 1, is spent with the Potter team doing nothing in multiple locations as Rowling allows tension and suspense to build. While effective and entertaining in the concept of a book, I had my doubts as to whether or not this could hold my attention over the course of a movie. To my surprise, Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves masterfully wrap huge portions of this pacing into a few scenes. Not only that, but they somehow make the waiting exciting. Connected to this pacing, one of my other big fears around the film version of Deathly Hallows lied in the fact the film was being split into two parts. In reading the book version of Deathly Hallows, I knew there was a lot of ground to cover in the context of one film, but I had a big worry that Hollywood was only bringing in the split as part of a money grab. While this is undoubtedly partially the case, Yates and Kloves again surprised me by using this extra screen time to make up for details and plot elements left out of previous films, all the while making a more cohesive story. Shockingly, this wasn’t just filler, but somehow made both Deathly Hallows, as well as the Potter films that came before it more fun to watch.
If you can’t guess by now, I’ve been excitedly anticipating Deathly Hallows for a LONG time. And not just due to my fandom of the series as a whole. As the film was being developed, talk of people like Guillermo Del Toro possibly being given a shot at the finale let me know that the studio was going to treat this film right. The Potter films have all grown progressively darker as the story has matured. While the books took similar turns, this move seemed much more intentional and needed in the context of the film series. Sitting through Deathly Hallows, it’s hard to imagine that this started as what was supposed to be a “kids series”. These films, their subtleties, and the acting present within have graduated to the big leagues, with the dark tone Yates has introduced only serving to reinforce their strength of delivery. It’s particularly amazing to see how naturally the once-child actors easily fit in this more menacing context that’s been established. Any modicum of their inexperience has vanished, and they (along with the all-star adult cast present) deliver a world class finish to this finale.
Guess what…I like this movie. A lot. I don’t recall the last time I was in a theater for a movie, where I was both completely caught up in the action, while smiling widely the whole time. Believe the hype. Don’t listen to haters (*cough* Don Simpson *cough*). Go see this movie. This is an amazing start to what I know will be an even more amazing finale. Till that film arrives, this one takes the win as the best Potter film to date. A must-see.