First of all I am compelled to characterize the characters as adults. Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and the now Pixie-cutted Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) have aged and matured. Whomever casted these three from the beginning has enjoyed an unprecedented masterstroke of good fortune. So much has occurred in their fictional lives that the payoff promises to be nothing short of spectacular. If you read carefully you would have noticed I wrote the payoff will end spectacularly. The Deathly Hallows part I is not the conclusion, it is a story driven prelude, or a dress-rehearsal if you will to the grand finale that I believe will be epic. However, the calm before the storm is full of worry and waiting. The best part of waiting in the eye of a hurricane is the anticipation of what is yet to come.
As the film begins Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is sitting evilly at a conference table surrounded by an assemblage of his finest death eaters. The mood is tense. This is the most “human” and alive we have seen the Dark Lord since his soul embodied a young man protecting a horcrux. Clearly Voldemort has reached the height of his power and is ready to further his plans for domination. Everyone at the table (including Bellatrix Lestrange, and the Malfoy trio) furnishes him with favors and with flattery. Whether this is because they are beholden to him or genuinely believe in his vision, everyone seems subjugated and willing to serve at his beck and call. Enter Severus Snape. Once in doubt of being a turncoat (doubted both by Harry and by Voldemort), Snape offers his master details of the new plans for moving Harry early to avoid detection.
This leads us to a humorous scene in which Harry’s uncle and his surrogate family practically drive away at lightning speed leaving him behind. Before this scene I found it fascinating and revealing when Hermione cast an obliviation spell on her parents to prevent them from remembering they have a daughter. This helps set the tone for this new sort of HP. Harry is greeted by those remaining in Dumbledore’s Army who apparate at his home. Lupin, Mad Eye, the entire Weasley clan, Mundungus, and the Professor have come to spirit him away from harm and into hiding at the Weasley’s. During the action-packed journey the entire army is assaulted by death eaters presumably sent by Snape. One of the Weasley’s suffers a grievous but not fatal facial wound and Mad Eye is killed after being abandoned by the slippery Mundungus.
Once safe at the Weasley’s everyone seems unsettled and frightened but they continue preparing for the wedding. One of the many plot points that upsets me is that in the novel Harry is hideously disguised to avoid detection at the wedding. This transfiguration does not occur until much later in the film and it is made out to be more humorous than life-saving. Such is show business I suppose. At the Weasley’s we are privy to the first glimpse of the sensual romance brewing between Harry and Ginny as he zips-up her dress, but only for a fraction of an instant. The nuances and subtleties are unseen much to my dismay. At the wedding Harry is given his first clue as to how to unwrap the mystery of the horcruxes. While trying to leave quietly, rather than allowing Harry to quietly leave to fulfill his destiny, Hermione and Ron insist on accompanying him. This leads to some brilliant and some dreadful scenes. The distasteful scenes have more of a Twilight feel to them than a traditional Harry Potter nuance.
On their own and completely away from more the more practiced wizarding hands of their parents and mentors, our tripartite alliance begins their quest to end Voldemort’s reign of terror. On their own fights erupt that distract our three brave young wizards from their intimate and formerly unbreakable friendship.
Their first journey is to the Ministry of Magic after the downfall of Rufus Scrimgeour (played by the eminent if not ubiquitous Bill Nighy). All mudbloods (those who are the products of half wizarding/half normal parents) are in the process of being segregated or eliminated and the woman everyone loves to hate has been restored to a position of magnificent power, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). In order to sneak into the Ministry, Ron, Hermione and Harry drink polyjuice potion and disguise themselves as employees. This works brilliantly until the end when their potions wear off and reveal their identities in the middle of the Ministry’s courtroom. They survive this mishap and have a great deal of fun in the process despite the lack of results the visit brings them.
As if their quest could not become any more difficult, it appears that the horcrux Harry is carrying curses its wearer with combativeness and negativity in the extreme. Since brevity is the soul of wit, let me be brief ladies and gentlemen (a lovely “Hamlet” reference). The most exciting moments occur when Harry visits his parents’ graves in search of an article left to him by Dumbledore, the Sword of Griffindor. Harry is attacked in the bitter cold by Voldemort’s anaconda-sized snake. Near the middle of our adventure Ron abandons his friends in a moment of panic and immaturity. This leaves Harry and Hermione alone. Director David Yates gives us the impression they are on the verge of having a passionate affair together. Their mutual misery seems to draw them near a frenzied sexual passion. I do not recall reading anything of this kind in the novel which is why I expressed earlier my discomfort over having the characters participate in a love triangle invented by the director to spice things up a bit. The most thrilling (if anything in Part I can be labeled as such) moments arrive when Harry and his wonderful friend Dobby help Ollivander (John Hurt) and others escape from Voldemort’s manor.
Eventually Harry and his companions discover what the “deathly hallows” are, or more precisely, what they refer to. This causes them to feel a measure of both desperation and fear should Voldemort come to possess one or more of the hallows. Eventually it feels as though the action fizzles more than it flourishes but this is emblematic of milking the public’s purse strings with a two part finale.
Regrettably, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows feels like the exoskeleton of the novel it is based on. The inside of this film is hollow inasmuch as hundreds of details are ignored or are glossed over. I read the novel and actually enjoyed it despite feeling peeved by J.K. Rowling’s incessant use of stolen concepts. During certain portions of the film I almost thought I had been watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Much of the language has been ripped off from the LOTR series and from the film Excalibur. I fully understand the director’s urge to utilize or emulate a proven formula, but please do not insult my intelligence and do so blatantly and verbatim. On the bright side, in this installment (the beginning of the end) the characters experience death and pain in more realistic ways than ever. The series has made its final transition into feeling real and worldly rather than childish and magical. Frankly, I am under the impression the best parts of Harry Potter have always been its innocence and ability to touch our hearts with the goodness Harry’s altruism inspires. The Deathly Hallows is grim and the futures of our heroes and heroines appear to be threadbare. I enjoy this aspect as there is a cogent storyline riddles with the promise of suspense. Overall, I find myself plagued by the film’s imitationist attitude and I for one do not find that to be noble flattery, I find it to be vulgar and unnecessary.
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