Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 1 (2010) movie poster

(2010) director David Yates
viewed: 11/20/10 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

The penultimate Harry Potter movie.  What can I tell you about it that you don’t already know?

Even at the time of this writing, after five days in release, the film has brought in over $125 million dollars, and the majority of the most avid Harry Potter aficionados will have already seen the film.

Besides that, there is a ubiquitousness to Harry Potter now, a franchise much bigger than its prior not-so-humble beginnings.  I don’t know where he stands exactly in the world of popular movie icons, but he’s everywhere and with the growing anticipation of next year’s finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), this is one of the biggest film events of the year.

What’s really interesting about this series of films (and yes, I have now seen them all), is how going back to the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone(2001), they have used, over what will be a ten year span, the same primary actors in all of the roles (with one exception due to an untimely passing).  The primary actors being children, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, makes this all the much more unusual and amazing.  The fact that they cast three children who would be capable enough to make eight films over a decade, grow with the characters over the duration of the film’s narrative time (also about 10 years), is really something of pure casting magic.  None of them were known child actors before this.  Now they have grown over the 10 years in the public eye and on the screen in the roles of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, respectively, and have all gotten better.

It’s really quite something.

But for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which took J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter tome and split the story into two films for narrative management (the thing is close to 800 pages long) and for financial gain, the other rather amazing thing is that the film is actually a better film than most of the rest of the series.  For director David Yates, this is his third Harry Potter film after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince(2009) (he’s also directing the final installment as well), after a range of directors had done the first four films, including Christopher Columbus who did the first two, Mike Newell who did Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire(2005) and Alfonso Cuarón, who up to this point made what I considered to be the best of the films, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).

I would say that most of the films of the series were strong in their casting and general visual design, bringing Rowling’s characters and world to the screen in a way that really seemed to capture her vision.  Of course, now, after a decade or so of these films, it would be hard to even remember what one’s vision of the characters would have been without the likes of Radcliffe and co.  But the films typically also tried to manage Rowling’s rather unwieldy tomes, books often fattened with details and subplots, that really could have used editing in print, much less on the screen.  Boiling down hundreds of pages into two hour or more installments tended to be the major tripping point and often the movies, while capturing the Harry Potter universe, Hogwarts and all, was well done, the overall feeling was not one of great satisfaction.

But oddly enough, I didn’t find myself faulting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowsquite so much in this.  That’s not to say that it’s an amazing film nor to say that it couldn’t have been better.  The story sags significantly in the middle in its long ponderous time in the woods with Harry, Hermione and Ron sniping at each other while they hunt for the fragments of the villainous Voldemort’s soul (called horcruxes).  Borrowing perhaps from J.R.R. Tolkien and not borrowing quite so well.

And for me, who quit reading the books after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire due to fatigue, seeing the story unfold in my original exposure, probably played out more engagingly as well.

My son saw the film with a friend on the same day, so I took Clara to the film, my 6 1/2 year old daughter.  Taking my 6 1/2 year old daughter to a PG-13 film wasn’t something that I did unthinkingly.  She’d seen the more recent films (I’m not sure that she even knows which Harry Potter films she’s seen and which she hasn’t) on DVD, and she had great excitement for this, and she assured me that she wouldn’t be frightened.  Besides jumping at one or two leaping snakes (leftovers perhaps from when this film was going to be released in 3-D, as the finale will be), she did quite well, and she liked it too.

Ultimately, there is next July 15, when the second half of Rowling’s final book is brought to the screen.  When we all get to do this again, re-consider this franchise, the growth in physicality and in talent of the young cast, the management of a big, big, big ten year, seven book, eight film epic, and how many things had to go right to get it to work out this well.

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