Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
is -- as I believe Hermione Granger would put it -- a perfectly adequate film.
Director David Yates, who directed the two previous films (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), gives loyal fans a faithful adaptation of J. K. Rowling’s last book in her series of seven. Although it is divided into two parts, it was shot as one film for continuity. By its very nature, the first part of a series is going to feel, well, incomplete. The only suspense is at which point the director chooses to end Part I. Of course, it’s a cliffhanger with ominous foreboding.
Most people who will see this film are fans of the books and previous movies. In fact, most will have already read the book -- probably more than once. This is not a “stand alone” film. If you aren’t familiar with the books and haven’t seen the first six films, you won’t have a clue as to what’s going on. So, Potter devotees will be checking to see if Yates has left anything out. He hasn’t. Part I is 146 minutes long, meaning that few details have been omitted. Yates maintains the dark tone of the book as Harry prepares for his final confrontation with the evil Lord Voldemort -- a confrontation from which only one will emerge alive. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) have literally grown up in these roles, and their performances have also matured. As always, Ralph Fiennes is chilling and sinister as Voldemort – the stuff nightmares are made of. The rest of the cast, which seems to be just about every working actor in the UK, remains consistent and engaging. The cast, along with the sweeping landscapes of England and Wales, are the true strength of the film.
Yates has described the film as a “road movie” because Harry and his two friends are on the run since Voldemort and his minions have killed Dumbledore and taken over Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic. Harry, the “chosen one,” must be protected by his former professors and classmates, but in the end, you know that he will face Voldemort alone. Radcliffe is positioned alone in a number of stark settings to foreshadow the event and does a good job of portraying Harry’s emotional pain and isolation. Cinematically, there are many long, sweeping shots of cold, rocky, and isolated but beautiful landscapes. However, in scenes when the three friends are being chased, hand-held cameras made for a somewhat jarring effect. Even though this technique is meant to create immediacy and suspense, I found it a little disorienting and visually confusing. I already knew that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were terrified; I didn’t need shaky camera work to remind me.
Potter fans will love this film, and there were plenty of them in the preview screening. A number of them were in costume, and there was applause at several points during the film. For the less manic viewer, it goes on just a bit too long, and the cold-dark-alienation thing seemed excessive. Dramatically, however, the film works.