Saturday 20 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) - David Yates

(NB. I will keep this spoiler free for anyone not familiar with the plot)

Watching the Potter films as a fan of the books is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, fans are more forgiving of the series' faults, whilst simultaneously criticising the lack of detail in comparison to the books.  Finally, with the penultimate film, a Potter film has arrived that fans can be proud of, though Potter haters will be more alienated than ever.

As has been persistently said, this is the darkest Potter yet; the bleak tone set before the titles even appear.  The extension to two parts has allowed for more detail for the audience to be immersed in.  There is even time for extra scenes such as that at the beginning with Hermione and her parents.  In terms of fan service, this is the most detailed Potter film yet, covering all plot points of the books almost to the letter.  Fans will relish another chance to fall in love with Rowling's magical world. 

However, problems arise from the change to two parts and stem from problems with the book itself.  Some characters and plot points are glossed over here - characters cut in the earlier films suddenly grow in importance this late in the story, but are given little to no introduction.  Whilst this is fine for fans, those unfamililar with the books may find the story difficult to follow.  Also, by splitting the film into two parts, the story too has been split in half.  The pacing of this part is a little slow as most of the exciting set-pieces occur in the second half of the book - the film to come.  As such, this film is a little unsatisfying and will leave the audience wanting more.  This is probably intentional, but it's frustrating nevertheless.

Further, I had a personal gripe with the book's plot which still rings true here.  One of my favourtie parts has always been Hogwarts itself - its history, its teachers and lessons and, most importantly, its MAGIC.  In this film, as Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run in search for horcruxes, Hogwarts is nowhere to be seen.  Although the first six stories do become somewhat formulaic, I found each book reassuringly familiar.  For the series finale, the break in formula fits with the darker themes, but sometimes I feel the book (and, by extension, the film) takes itself a little too seriously and loses some of the charm, sense of wonder and magic of the earlier stories.  However dark the stories may become, they are still essentially children's tales.

The special effects are fantastic, the Burton-esque animation of the Deathly Hallows story is particularly well done.  There's also a slightly racy moment I won't spoil - it was unexpected but boundary pushing is welcome.  Performances are as expected across the board - some great English talent does a fine job.  But with the focus on the central three children, most of the peripheral characters are criminally given little to no screen time.  And though Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have improved with each film, the more tender moments between them are awkward and fall flat (Harry dancing anyone?!).  The soundtrack is very good, though is used sparsely to enhance the empty sense of dread.

Overall, this is a brilliant entry in the film series that fans will love, despite effectively serving as an appetiser in preparation for the next film.  I just look forward to the time I can watch both films back-to-back as intended, instead of two halves.  The poster's tagline should be taken as a warning: "The end begins".

And do yourselves a favour, whether for the first, tenth or millionth time - READ THE BOOK FIRST!