Quint thinks Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is emotional, tense and dark, dark, dark!
Published at: Nov. 16, 2010, 1:56 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here fresh from a press screening of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 and I’m happy to report that it’s just as dark as the book was. Moreso even.
I’d be willing to bet that this generation’s small children will point at this film as one of those that made a huge impression on them. For me it was watching Artax sink into the Swamps of Sadness, that fucking horrible bog witch from Legend and Toht’s face melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark. For them it’ll be moments from this film, particularly the opening.
Some might consider this spoiler material, so you’ve been warned, but one of the very first things we see is Snape showing up to an evil dinner with Voldemort and all the top Death Eaters. In a corner is a woman in obvious pain, floating in mid air facing skywards, back arched. Voldemort explains this is a Hogwarts teacher, a specialist in Muggle studies.
She’s moved over the table and when she sees Snape she begs him to save her. “We’re friends, Severus! Please!” Alan Rickman plays it stone-faced, but there’s something in his eyes that betrays sympathy at a near microscopic level and watches as Voldemort murders her.
As we watch as Voldemort murders her. It’s not so much the killing. It’s not so much the begging (although that is very effective), but there’s a shot of her corpse as it hits the table, a single lifeless tear rolling down her cheek, that signals from the beginning that this isn’t a kid’s movie anymore.
Anybody who has been watching this series (or read the books) knows that as the central three characters mature so does the tone and complexity of the series. That’s the brilliance of JK Rowling’s story and what the movies have more than adequately reflected: the audience is growing with the characters.
The first book is simple, short and filled to the brim with happy wish fulfillment broad characters. The first movie is on a similar level. The second gets a little darker, but is still a kid’s story at heart. The third film and book mark a real course change and then when Cederic is killed in Goblet of Fire we know that this world has real stakes, that people can go and that magic can't fix everything.
In the past Warners has kept the series fresh by bringing in different filmmakers, but in this film we finally get out of Hogwarts and the cycle of storytelling isn’t the same old same old we’ve watched 6 times over. Harry goes to Hogwarts, things happen, Harry solves them with a little help from his friends and then they all eat in the magic hall and go on summer vacation.
Not this time. In fact outside of one moment towards the end of the film we don’t see Hogwarts at all.
This is the dark times. Voldemort has all but won. He controls everything either through fierce loyalty of the evil wizards or fear of the good ones. The Order of the Phoenix has put all their eggs in the Potter basket, but even with that support they essentially are just trying to sneak Potter from safe spot to safe spot and barely getting away with even that.
There’s a sense of hopelessness in this movie that I love. I know that sounds macabre and I swear I’m not a brooding loner that likes to cut myself in candlelight, but what I do love in these kinds of stories is seeing a situation where the heroes aren’t having an easy time overcoming evil.
If I hadn’t read the book I’d have no clue how the hell Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley could possibly succeed. For every victory they suffer two defeats. This is war and they are losing. Their side has no army and all their hope rests in what essentially amounts to a treasure hunt.
Tone wise the film is perfect, the acting is a career best for all the kids and they did a surprisingly good job at keeping the pace up through a ton of exposition. From a filmmaking standpoint I have a few issues, problems that stem from the book, so I can’t really get on too high of a soap box about them, but they still stood out to me.
The biggest one happens early on when a character that has been a part of the series for a long time dies off screen. It’s literally “Hey, (___) is dead. Now where were we?” If my memory isn’t deceiving me it happened very similarly in the book, but a book’s a book and a movie’s a movie. It’s a cinematic moment begging to be included and is just glossed over.
I get it. It’s war, it’s chaos, big things happen in the blink of an eye. But even here there is no blinking because there’s no eye to see it. That moment could have been powerful, but instead it’s just an offhand comment and a sad look for two seconds.
But that’s a nitpick. I totally admit that. It is indicative of a flaw of the movies and that’s the reliance on the audience to be read up on the material. There always seems to be one thing in every movie I find myself having to explain to someone, whether it’s why it isn’t bullshit that Gryffindor won the house cup in the first movie or why specifically the Marauder’s Map means a lot to Harry (his parents, Wormtail and Sirius created it, an emotional revelation we never get in the film that is one of the biggest oversights in the otherwise brilliant film from Alfonso Cuaron).
My nitpick isn’t so much relying on me to explain something, but a general feeling that the audience knows the book already and either won’t accept a shift in focus or will understand the value of a moment that is simply not dwelled upon in the finished film.
Other than that moment and one towards the end of the film where it feels like a re-introduction scene to a character we haven’t seen in nearly a decade was just lopped off, I find no fault in David Yate’s direction. In fact, he overcame a huge cinematic hurdle with the story of The Deathly Hallows themselves, a fairy tale that is crucial to understanding the MacGuffin of the finale of the series.
He very smartly uses an animated sequence, narrated by Hermione, and makes it feel as Grimm’s Fairy Tale as possible. He took one vital bit of exposition and made it visual, employing a stylized Gothic look that fits perfectly with the tone of the rest of the film.
And hell, he even throws a little jab at Twilight, which absolutely didn’t go unnoticed by me or my friends.
I mentioned earlier that this film is a career best for the leads and I wasn’t lying. Emma Watson is outstanding, having learned how to stop acting with her eyebrows a movie or two ago. She really is a standout with a movie star quality that forces you to watch her when she’s on screen. I know that probably reads creepy, but I don’t mean it in a perverted way, believe it or not. There’s a depth to her performance, starting from the beginning of the film where she essentially erases herself out of her parent’s heads as a means to protect them from the evil that’s spreading in the world.
Hermione is a haunted figure who seems to be relying on her burgeoning love of Ron and the friendship she has with both Ron and Harry to keep her sanity.
One of the core messages of the films and books is that true friendship can overcome any obstacle and it rings truer in this film than any other.
Daniel Radcliffe is in his element and is totally comfortable holding this massive film (and even more massive franchise) on his shoulders. I really hope he survives this series. As iconic as he is in the role, I think there’s a real talent there that I’d hate to see get squashed by typecasting.
And Rupert Grint is just as dependable as ever. His comic timing and sincerity make Ron the friend we all hope to have. There’s bickering, sure, but when the chips are down Ron’s always dependable.
The chemistry between these three has impressed me from the first film, but it wasn’t until last year’s THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE where I got the impression that their off-screen familiarity was fully caught on camera. The glimpse you get in the Gryffindor common room is now more fully formed in their characters. Every scene radiates that comfort and warmth, making that friendship the one glowing light of hope in another wise hopeless situation.
Rowling has said this is her favorite movie of the series so far and I understand why. It takes a lot of stuff from the book that could have been dull (the wandering around in the woods looking for a Horcrux segment, for instance) and made them very cinematic and by virtue of cutting the massive book into two movies they were able to spend more time building character. So this film is the least offensive in terms of cutting huge moments out. It almost makes me wish they’d been doing this for each book since Goblet of Fire.
Also, this film almost retroactively helps some of the weaker moments of the early films, mostly in the form of Dobby, the House Elf. If you don’t love Dobby by the time the credits roll then there’s something wrong with you, something I wouldn’t have said about The Chamber of Secrets. And it’s not just in the better effects that bring him to life, but his actions and the moments Yates decides to focus on.
Part 1 of The Deathly Hallows is incredibly strong, incredibly tense and incredibly emotional. Having read the book, I’m so excited to see the next film it’s not even funny. If they were able to get me with this part, what could be considered the boring part of this particular book, I can’t imagine what we’re in for during the final, epic confrontation.
If Yates doesn’t put it together on a level similar to the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers I’m going to be incredibly disappointed. The whole thing builds to this final 2 ½-ish hours that we’ll see next summer. I was anxious before seeing this film and now that I’ve seen and loved it I’m more excited than anything. I have a feeling Yates is going to stick the landing and I can’t wait to witness it.
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