By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Question: Has the final Harry Potter book been halved for the movie screen for commercial reasons or artistic ones? Answer: Yes.
Its blockbuster status virtually assured in advance — this is, after all, the highest-grossing international franchise in movie history — but its faithfulness to the lengthy source material also on gratifying display for aficionados, the epic fantasy-adventure Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 arrives as the beginning of the end of this cherished series of adaptations.
So here we are, having enjoyed the first six Harry Potter and the… installments — Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Chamber of Secrets (2002), Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Goblet of Fire (2005), Order of the Phoenix (2007), and Half-Blood Prince (2009) — awaiting the two-part conclusion of the series.
To be followed by Part 2 next July, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the first of two scoops of not terribly sweet cinematic ice cream based on the fastest-selling book in history, the last of JK Rowling’s seven novels about the Boy Who Lived.
Although fans will surely continue to disagree about which episodes have stood out and which have not, few would dispute that, despite turning over the reins to four different directors, the series has maintained an admirably and consistently high level of quality.
So, with the bar raised high by its six engrossing, well-made predecessors, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 surfaces with the pressure of making us want to see how it all turns out while delivering a standalone entertainment.
Does it perform its primary function: making us need to see Part 2? Absolutely. And does it also stand alone as a full-fledged story? Not really.
Is it better than the six previous outings? No. Is it worse? Not appreciably.
It’s in the ball park, which is good news, given the ball park, but it doesn’t provide any kind of closure. That is, it’s a well-made movie on its way to another movie, one that we hope will actually provide a payoff.
Think of the tandem as “Harry Potter and the Lucrative Cleaving.”
Soon after Part 1 begins (with the words, “These are dark times…”), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are off on a perilous quest. They leave the comfort, safety, and familiarity of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and go on the run from the villain Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters, who want to rid the world of both Harry and all the Muggles (non-wizards), and have taken over and now run England’s Ministry of Magic.
The youthful (although a lot less youthful than when they started this gig) triumvirate search for the remaining horcruxes, objects which hold the key to Lord Voltemort’s soul as the Dark Lord bids for immortality while our heroes attempt to do away with him.
David Yates, who also directed Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, delivers a tense and moody film noirish thriller, bleak with bursts of magic compliments of expert special effects, moments of poignancy with characters we’ve watched grow up, three assured performances by the leads, and a handful of out-of-the-blue shock scares that render the movie too frightening for sensitive youngsters.
He also brings back many of the supporting players from the previous films for virtual curtain calls (including Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Jason Isaacs, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleeson, John Hurt, and Robbie Coltrane) while displaying several new characters (including Bill Nighy’s Magic Minister, Rufus Scrimgeour; Peter Mullan’s Voldemort sidekick, Yaxley; and Rhys Ifans’ Xenophilius Lovegood, Luna’s dad). But the central trio holds center stage.
Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who also scripted Part 2 and all but one of the previous installments, doesn’t even try for a legitimately self-contained narrative. He knows this is essentially and exclusively an appetite-whetting prelude to the showdown to come. But a handsome and absorbing one at that, despite the ultimate climactic letdown.
Parents should know that, following the last episode, which was rated PG, this penultimate Harry Potter flick arrives with a rating of PG-13 for “action violence, frightening images, and brief sensuality,” and clocks in at just under 2½ hours.
So we’ll bewitch 3 stars out of 4 for the darkly diverting but stubbornly incomplete Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Seven down and one to go, dear Muggles, but next July must seem quite a way off.