Much of the reaction to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I has fallen into two broad camps:
- How great to see the cast together again in this, the final chapter. Those kids sure have grown up! And oh, it’s dark and scary…
- This movie is too long and unfocused. It’s an exercise in box-office economics. I never really liked HP to begin with…
You could probably support both arguments, though you’ll never get me to agree with the camp than never liked HP to begin with. That argument, I just don’t understand… Anyway, it is a pleasure to watch those young actors who brought HP to the big screen years ago. And yes, the tone of the final two-part film installment, like the book, is decidedly bleak and dark and threatening.
This is, after all, JK Rowling’s version of the final showdown. They aren’t just uncovering old mysteries at Hogwarts anymore, dodging the attempts of the Big V’s minions. No, this is Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort – as sinister a cinematic villain as you could hope for in this, the age of varying shades of evil. This is the Ministry overrun by Voldemort’s forces, Harry and friends scattered into hiding, and a new twist on the quest to destroy the horcruxes that safeguard the big V’s immortality.
The movie is also about isolation, doubt, and loyalty. Like the book, it contains a lengthy sprawling section devoted to Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s attempts to avoid capture while unraveling the riddle of the Deathly Hallows and seeking the Horcruxes. They’re also still dealing with Dumbledore’s untimely demise and a situation in which they cannot depend on any of the other adult’s in their lives. A metaphor for the transition to young adulthood, for striking out on your own? Perhaps.
Yes, this section is too long, could have been edited (in both the book and film) but it also provides the young actors (Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione) space to explore some of these very grown-up themes and questions. And they’re up for it. They’re very good, and you do develop a sense of despair and loneliness and doubt through their performances. Knowing the book, knowing how the first half of a two-part movie would have to unfold, I was worried about this. But I ended up enjoying this cinematic version more than the repetitive wandering of the text.
And interspersed we have no-nonsense wizard battles, a Mission Impossible-style infiltration of the Ministry, and (gasp) frighteningly poignant sexual tension! No, this is not the earlier sense-of-wonder and adventure and let’s ride a griffon or play Quidditch HP.
Another (short) stunningly rendered sequence was the tale of the three brothers and the Deathly Hallows. This animated set-piece rings true with ample Grimm Fairy Tale, er, grimness, adding color and style to what could have been an awkward expository scene. It’s too bad they couldn’t find more for Snape to do, or work in more of Dumbledore’s early life, but no directorial/editorial team is perfect.
If you want to criticize the HP franchise for splitting the final book in two, ringing the box office bell twice to hit the finale, well, that’s your prerogative. Judging from the response at theaters (top opening HP film), their marketing schlubs knew what was up. After a couple of years with no new HP, Harry’s loyal fandom was more than ready for another visit to the wizarding world. I suppose you could make the argument that two Deathly Hallow films diverts resources and audience seats from some other movie that might have been made, some other deserving bit of entertainment. To which I reply – have you seen the kind of crap they run through the theaters lately? Too much HP? Not in Beemsville…