By: Chris Osterndorf
I love Harry Potter. It’s hard to think of a series that has meant more to me in my lifetime. I was 11 when I first started reading the books, just like Harry, and I was 17 when I finished, again, just like Harry. The movies got off to a rocky start, but eventually they hit their stride. Now, with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, a major landmark in the lives of those affected by Rowling’s wondrous story is occurring. Granted, it’s not nearly as much of a landmark as reading the last book was. Still, after the movies have finished, the story will be over once again. Although none of us will ever be truly finished with Harry, we will get a fitting coda to an amazing journey.
That being said, let me just go ahead and tell you right now that you shouldn’t go into “The Deathly Hallows” imagining it’ll be the same journey that the book was. This news might sound distressing for hardcore Potter fans, but let us not fear. By this point, if anything should be clear about the Potter movies it’s that they’re best when they don’t adhere too closely to the books. It’s still the same story, but it has room to breathe, unlike, say, Zack Snyder’s version of Watchmen, a film trying to please die-hard fans of the comic so desperately that much of it was strangled by a lack of originality, and could never really be its own entity. Something like Harry Potter has to be adapted with a reverence for the books, but also with a certain distance, otherwise the films would never have any magic of their own. Now on his third installment in the Potter series, director David Yates gives us that magic.
Deathly Hallows is a little slow to start, and one particularly useless sequence where Harry and Hagrid fly through a tunnel on Hagrid’s motorbike doesn’t help. It’s a very Chris Columbus-esque moment, and it feels out of place in what is a largely non-kid friendly film. Occasionally the movie has problems with tone, and Yates gets dangerously close to George Lucasing things up, going from tragic to comic in light speed time, just like (shudder) Episode I had a tendency to do.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a more consistent film, but Deathly Hallows just has too many amazing moments to ignore. Stylistically it’s a bit all over the place, switching from shaky cam to long, expansive shots of the landscape in the course of a scene. But let it be noted that it is the most lovely to look at of all the films. Half-Blood Prince was visually stunning, but its relentlessly dark look is dropped in this film with great success. Certain scenes where the characters do nothing but talk are the most beautiful in the whole movie.
The middle of the movie is quite slow but somehow never drags. I think perhaps some critics haven’t been as kind to it because it feels like a lot of setup, which it is. However, that setup is necessary for the next film, and there’s a lot of wonderful things done with the characters as it’s going on. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all have amazing chemistry together at this point. The three leads have truly come into their own, and their ability to make you laugh is only matched by their ability to make you cry.
Despite the fact that much of the movie is rather pensive and understated, most of the action is spot on. There’s one scene towards the end where Harry, Ron and Hermione are being chased by snatchers that’s particularly great; it’s hard to believe it’s even in the same movie as the tunnel scene from earlier. As I said already, this truly isn’t a kids’ movie, and although there are many highly entertaining uses of magic in the film, just as often it’s quite the somber affair. Both the brooding character driven moments and the action scenes are very intense.
Once again, the movie also changes certain things from the book that fans may have mixed feelings about. Some moments are dealt with differently than I expected them to be, at least in an artistic sense. Other things are implied which really aren’t in the book at all. I’ll let you find out what I’m talking about for yourself, but let’s just say that there are a few things that might surprise you in this movie. For my money though, I thought they were all pretty clever, and made sense in the film. Of course, even in a movie as long as this (146 minutes in all), there are also beautiful moments in the book that, regrettably, get left out.
But in the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I is a pretty wonderful film. David Yates has created a work of art that stays true to the heart of the source material, while existing as a complete story on its own. Like I said, a little room to breathe equals a lot of magic.