Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I - Review

Posted on May 29, 2011 by
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I - Review

Review by Hannah Beeman

The first part of the final installment in the Harry Potter franchise begins much differently than the others. Instead of checking up on our plucky, beloved title character, we are instead faced with a very close-up, very terrified Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour (played by Bill Nighy in a role so short it could almost be considered a cameo). Scrimgeour addresses the audience directly as he explains the awful circumstances that have befallen the magical community since the last movie. In short, the most evil man to have ever existed has returned and regained nearly all of his former power, casting the wizarding world into an emotional climate comparable only to the real-world mood during the rise of Hitler before World War II. But Hitler, in this scenario, is represented by the infamous Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). This introduction sets the tone for the entire film, which is one considerably darker than that of the others in the series.

As far as basic plot is concerned, the story follows our three heroes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), as they embark on their journey to find and destroy the Horcruxes, a concept introduced to us in the previous movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Armed only with the knowledge that each Horcrux contains a piece of Voldemort's soul and that destroying them is vital in defeating him, our heroes leave their families and friends behind to search for them, some making bigger sacrifices than others. Along the way, the protagonists also learn about another set of magical items, namely the Deathly Hallows (hence the title). Together, the three objects would supposedly grant complete immortality (a person who possesses them all is said to be a "Master of Death"). The film cuts off about two-thirds through the story in the book, just after Voldemort recovers the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows, which is known to be the most powerful wand in existence.

The mood of the film is honestly the most remarkable thing about it, when we consider that this is a PG-13 movie in a franchise that began with one rated only PG. This is the film in which we see a definitive shift in maturity from the characters, not because they have had the time and normal teenage experiences necessary to do so, but because they have been forced into adulthood by eminent war. This movie also marks the largest death toll thus far in the franchise, both in terms of major characters and in terms of the populous (both magic and muggle).

The frame of mind here recalls a time such as the Holocaust or the Red Scare, times in which the lineage of the public was suddenly called into question, and people of whatever undesirable background of the moment were dealt with in unjust and often violent ways. Not only are our heroes fighting for their lives in every battle, but they have had to sever their connections with their friends and families in order to ensure their protection as well. Arguably one of the most heartbreaking scenes occurs in the beginning when, in order to protect them, Hermione erases her parents memories concerning her and leaves, literally going out into the world alone. Similar (but far less awful) situations befall Ron and Harry, and eventually the movie just follows the three of them through the wilderness as they simultaneously try to figure out how to destroy the Horcruxes and balance their constantly shifting emotions in what has essentially become a dystopian, war-torn version of their former world.

The interesting thing about this film is that the characters are constantly reminded that, every day they haven't destroyed the Horcruxes is another day that more innocent people are being victimized and killed under the order of Lord Voldemort. They are also very often reminded that they are more or less alone, maybe not in the larger fight against Voldemort, but certainly in this quest for the Horcruxes (essentially, the only tools that exist that can significantly weaken him). These three characters are literally the only ones in the story with the necessary information to do what needs to be done. The attention paid to the emotions of the individual characters in this film is impressive- in the midst of such horrible times, we still see personal issues that have to do with issues much more vital to character development.

If the movie were to be summarized with a single scene, I would not hesitate in choosing the "Three Brothers Scene". A massive departure from any scene in any other movie in the series, this scene is clearly more concerned with art and plot support than it is with carrying the franchise. It is extremely visually striking as it is both entirely animated and also restricted to a three-color profile, using only black white and gold. It also demonstrates a subtlety that is rarely seen in this particular series in terms of concise storytelling. In just a three-minute scene, we are introduced to the major characters and learn their motivations, which are all driven by very strong emotions that make us invested in their future in the small amount of time they are on screen.

But what makes this film a good one is that this scene's qualities extend into other moments as well. The film didn't rely on its usual staples, such as their trademark music, for popularity. Instead, it is clear that the filmmakers focused on creating a good movie, as opposed to a decent part of a franchise. And the same type of subtlety seen in the animated tale can be seen in both sound and visual details throughout the film, most notably in the introduction of Bathilda Bagshot, in which we hear a fly buzzing (signifying to us that she is actually dead). It is in details such as this, and others, that we see the type of filmmaking maturity that has not been seen in the franchise before.

But as much as this franchise has grown, the films was still missing scenes that gave the characters just a bit more depth in the books. The scene of Dobby's burial meant so much more in the book because it represented Harry's journey through the world of magic. To put it simply, an adversity or wrong is done to Harry and his loved ones, and he must at first face the situation without magic, finally finishing it with magical aid. This is in direct reference to his struggle with Voldemort, which began when he was a baby with no magical powers, and which will inevitably end in a magical duel. The movie lacks this depth because the magical part of the burial rite is not performed (in the book, Harry manually digs the hole, but Dobby is actually buried using magic, and his headstone is carved in a likewise manner).

Also missing from the film was the scene in which Harry and his tormentor cousin Dudley reconcile with each other, before the Dursleys' departure. This scene succeeds in humanizing the family both to Harry and to the audience, and to have it missing from the movie is, in my opinion a gross oversight. Luckily, it is included in the additional scenes of the movie, which means that it was lost only in editing, rather than in shooting. The additional scenes also contain a moment in the heroes' campsite where they discuss Horcruxes in more depth, including the sensation they all get from them that they are somehow "alive". This concept lends a much more eerie mood to the entire idea of destroying them, and while it may not have been essential, its exclusion is extremely interesting to note.

Overall, though, the film receives a mostly positive response from this reviewer. The filmmakers managed to create something that could stand as a well-executed piece of art on its own, without relying on the strength of the franchise to support it.

Rating: 8.0