Correction: The Cruciatus curse was originally wrongly named as the “Crutacious curse.”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”
At Quality 16 and Rave
“This is too scary for me,” whispered a woman seated at a matinee screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” as Dementors rushed our heroes within the chambers of the Ministry of Magic. Her statement may have referred to the film’s thunderous levels of suspense, but for a student newspaper film critic, it also alluded to the prospect of writing an acceptable assessment of a “Harry Potter” movie. After all, the current undergraduate student body is considered the “Harry Potter Generation” — those who matured alongside Harry & Friends — and will undoubtedly read a review with intense scrutiny, making composing a successful one a daunting prospect.
But with the force of a bludger cracking the cranium, the realization occurs that the filmmakers were probably experiencing the exact same fear — the fear of disappointing the hordes of Potterheads who have devoted so much of their life reading, re-reading, watching and re-watching the books and movies; knowing that they deserve to be satisfied, as their passion is what made Potter a phenomenon.
So the decision to split the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” into two films was definitely a positive one for fans who were tired of seeing their favorite subplots and crucial character developments excised from the film — most notably the pensieve trips in “Half-Blood Prince” that examined the transformation of Tom Riddle into Lord Voldemort. As the final entry in the “Harry Potter” journey, the filmmakers understandably wanted to send the fans off with the grandest experience they could possibly muster.
And “Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” at least for the first half, is tremendously grand. The film quickly establishes the somber tone that pervaded the book, leading to a succession of intensely entertaining, surprisingly violent action sequences and an infiltration of the Ministry of Magic that’s equally tense and comical.
Director David Yates, who has helmed the series since “Order of the Phoenix,” began teasing his talent for staging spectacular wand duels with the marvelous battle at the climax of “Phoenix.” A few short battles popped up in “Half-Blood Prince,” but in “Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” Yates Hulks out, unleashing his directorial expertise and technical wizardry (ha!) at full force with several fierce, exciting set pieces within the first act alone.
All is well until the infamous “camping in the woods” segment, an unrelenting barrage of teen angst and plot stagnation that’s the entertainment equivalent of a Cruciatus curse. The sequence of Harry, Ron and Hermione hiding out in the woods was one of the most mundane parts of the book, if not the entire series, and is equally dull in the film — which exposes the issue of dividing the book into two movies.
If “Deathly Hallows” were a single movie, such lengthy, kind-of-unnecessary sequences would have been trimmed out. But by following the plot of the book very closely and minimizing cuts from the story, the film also inherits the flaws of the book, such as the aforementioned camping sequence and narrative non sequitors that feel uncomfortably out of place — in particular, the events that transpire at Godric’s Hollow.
Aside from that, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” brings back all the little things that have made the Harry Potter movies so enjoyable. The cast, made up of the cream-of-the-crop of British actors, is as great as ever and even brings Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”) along for the ride as the new Minister of Magic. The film’s really dark subject matter is nicely matched by the cinematography — it’s as if a Deluminator sucked the light out of every scene — but there’s an appropriate amount of humor delivered as always by Ron (Rupert Grint) and the Weasley twins. Lastly Dobby (Toby Jones), once the Jar Jar Binks of the “Harry Potter” films, rips out the best role in the movie as the heroic, hilarious house elf who saves the day — like a G6.
Perhaps the most understated quality of the films has been the evolution of the chemistry between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson). As the characters they played grew up together, so did Radcliffe, Grint and Watson — their interactions in “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” are extremely organic, and it’s wondrous to see the love they have for each other and their bond that transcends friendship. It’s these quiet characterizations that have helped us in the Harry Potter Generation mature ourselves. That’s why, for us, “Harry Potter” is not just a book or a movie. It is part of who we are.