Since March of 2008, when Warner Brothers announced that the final installment of the series that has defined a generation would be split into two films, Potter fans have had much about which to speculate. Was the decision to make two films merely an attempt to make more money or an effort to remain true to the book? Will the first film be condensed to the trio’s prolonged hide-out in the woods? Where will the split occur? Now, with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, these worries can finally be set aside. Director David Yates, producer David Heyman, and screenwriter Steve Kloves have produced a beautiful film that has, in my opinion, succeeded in doing right by the fans.
The film immediately proves that it is tremendously different from the previous six installments. Without the trio returning to Hogwarts, which has been nearly the only setting to date, the heart of Part 1 is not the magic of Harry’s world. Instead, the film is more grim and realistic, honing in on the somewhat forced transition into adulthood of the three main characters. As a result, it is less hectic and focused on external action than seen thus far in the Potter series. Plenty of time is taken to pay attention to detail (although, as always, certain aspects of the story have been slightly altered for time), and many movie plot holes that fans have bemoaned in the past have been resolved. While it may be considered a more slowly-paced transition film, there is a delicate balance of action, humor, horror, and drama that works well both in telling this intricate story and keeping the attention of audiences.
Among the trio, Emma Watson’s acting abilities shine. Hermione’s separate allegiances to her best friend and her romantic interest seem to oppose one another, and Watson does a wonderful job of demonstrating her character’s inner turmoil without lapsing into melodramatic angst. One of the highlights of the film is her face-to-face confrontation with Bellatrix Lestrange that is tremendously haunting. Rupert Grint, as Ron Weasley, recovers from an almost ridiculously saccharine monologue with his powerful attempt to destroy one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and his determination to protect Hermione in the most dangerous of times. Daniel Radcliffe, as the title character, has certainly improved, but his chance to really step forward as an actor will no doubt come with the release of Part 2. While the casting of the myriad of supporting characters in the Potter universe has been dominated by arguably the best British actors and actresses of our time, they are given precious little screen time here. The opening scene between Lord Voldemort and his most trusted Death Eaters is chilling, but aside from a few shortened glimpses of Jason Isaacs, as now-humiliated Lucius Malfoy, and Helena Bonham Carter, as deliciously deranged Bellatrix Lestrange, the brilliance of these actors is somewhat wasted. Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the maddeningly ambiguous Professor Snape has yet again been given very little of its necessary development, despite his character’s name routinely and sneakily popping up in dialogue. Regardless, their performances certainly add wonderful depth to this film.
No matter one’s opinion on the editing choices of the production staff, one cannot deny that Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a beautiful cinematic work, arguably the most beautifully-made film in the series. Most of the action is set in some of the most breathtaking landscapes to be found in British scenery, and the stark winter scenes serve as parallels to the darkening of Wizarding Britain rather than mere testaments to their own beauty. Most impressive, however, is the innovated animation sequence that tells the legend of the Deathly Hallows. Shot in a classic but reinvented shadow-puppet style, it serves to bring some of the missing, awe-inspiring magic back into the film.
All in all, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is difficult to view as a stand-alone film. Its powerful and emotional ending certainly does a fabulous job of setting up the story’s continuation. Still, for fans of the books, this film is everything for which they could have hoped, but movie-only fans may be left wanting more, slightly confused by the new and quickly-introduced characters and concepts. However, there is little doubt that, when viewed alongside Part 2, the Deathly Hallows experience will be the epic finale the Potter series deserves.