Monday, November 22, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I *** ½
Directed by:
David Yates.
Written By: Steve Kloves based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Bill Nighy (Rufus Scrimgeour), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Timothy Spall (Wormtail), Peter Mullan (Yaxley), Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Brendan Gleeson (Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Rhys Ifans (Xenophilius Lovegood), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), Toby Jones (Dobby).

At this point, we pretty much know what to expect from a Harry Potter movie. They all follow pretty much the same formula as the rest of them, but of course, have become much darker as the series has progressed. Now in the first of two installments of the last chapter in the series, the Harry Potter franchise has, perhaps for the first time, pleased both purists of the books and regular film fans – that is if they can get over the fact that they have to wait seven months to see the end of the movie. This is the most faithful to the books of any of the movies since The Chamber of Secrets (the second movie) because director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves had a bigger canvas to play with – a much more expansive running time. My only real complaint about the film is that I couldn’t watch the second part right after it.

You should know the story by now. Harry Potter is now a direct collision course with the evil Lord Voldemort, with no one to protect him now that Dumbledore was killed at the end of the last movie. Harry needs to find Voldemort’s “horcruxes” little pieces of Voldemort’s soul that he has scattered around in the hopes that it will make him immortal. When he finds them, he needs to destroy them. So, there is no going back to Hogwarts, that magical school, for Harry or his friends Hermione and Ron. The problem is they really do not know what they are doing – and are stuck wandering around the forests having no clue where to look. Meanwhile, Voldemort has gained more power, more followers and has taken over the Ministry of Magic and started on his campaign to get rid of the “Mudbloods” – wizards who are not pure, but have been mixed with Muggles. The film lays on the Nazi symbolism pretty heavily in places, but it works. But what Voldemort really wants is to kill Harry Potter.

I appreciate what the Harry Potter books and movies have done. Essentially, the have grown up with their characters, as well as their audience. The innocence and brightness of the first two installments, has gotten gradually darker, scarier and more dangerous. Death now hangs over the movie – and in this first installment we are dealt some real blows as characters we have come to love are cut down (this film ends with a truly heartbreaking one – where I had to fight back tears, just like I had to when I was reading the book). Director David Yates may not be the visionary director Alfonso Cuaron was when he took the reins from Chris Columbus for the third movie (The Prisoner of Azkaban) – but I think he has followed in his footsteps admirably. Despite the fact that Cuaron has only directed one of what will become eight films – I think he may have had the biggest impact on it. There was a definite tonal shift from the first two movies to the third, and it made the Harry Potter franchise mature and become better as a result.

I now admit I am at a loss as to what else to say about the movie. If you read the books, or even if you haven’t, you most likely know the story. And if you’ve seen the other six movies, you know what to expect in terms of performances. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have all grown into very good, young actors who navigate the difficult material well. Ralph Fiennes continues to be one of the more iconic screen villains in recent years, and Alan Rickman remains thoroughly unreadable as Snape, in another great role. The rest of the cast fills out the background fine – I especially love the over the top theatrics of Helena Bonham Carter and Evanna Lynch never fails to bring a smile to my face when her Luna Lovegood shows up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I does pretty much exactly what you would expect it to do. I for one, highly enjoyed it, and will looking forward to seeing what should be a great finale. But why do I have to wait until June?

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