A few years back when the last Harry Potter book was released I went with my sister to pick up her reserved copy at Borders. Stepping hesitantly into the throngs of Potter devotees I picked a seemingly safe place away from the costumed clusters animatedly discussing their favorite memories from the series and what is to come. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books and all, but when an excited voice snuck up behind me shouting, “You’re a wizard, Harry!” and I turned around to find Dumbledore, Hagrid and a Death Eater laughing at my expression, I was clearly not as fanatical as they come. No matter where you fall on the Potter fan spectrum, you will be pleased to know that they are looking to go out on top with the first half of the 7th book’s adaptation to film.
Those of you who will be running out the theaters to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 can probably spout off the basic storyline of this chunk of the Potter saga, while the rest of you should stick your toes in the water back with the first novel and/or film because at this point drowning is the only way out without previous knowledge. In any case, here’s the nutshelled plot of Part 1: after Dumbledore’s murder at the end of book six and Voldemort’s growing power around the wizarding world, Harry, Ron and Hermione are forced to go on the run in order to find the remaining Horcruxes and put a stop to the Dark Lord’s nefarious plot (see non-fans? I can hear you drowning gurgles).
For those of you frustrated that the final book of the series has been chopped into two films then there is a strong chance that it will still feel like something is missing when leaving the theater. There is obviously no completed story arc on the grand scale, looking back not a whole bunch goes down, and as exciting as it is to end on a climax it really does make the wait all the more frustrating (let’s face it, I don’t need the cliffhanger to convince me to see Part 2). Yet with that said, and as weird as the feeling was of not really feeling like I had seen a completed movie, Part 1 really is a great film that is able to do a lot with the partial story it contains.
Stylistically and tonally The Deathly Hallows is looking to keep with the melancholy feeling of the last film. Mirroring the grimness of the story, a dark presence has moved over the sets and environments, bringing cool colors and dense shadows to create shots that really are beautiful. Think Picasso’s blue period, but less depressing. In other words there is a nice complimenting of the look and tone of the film, but because of the lack of rush to cram one book into 2.5 hours there is time for each shot and moment between the characters to breath, even the little ones that don’t further the main storyline. Though Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in an extremely dangerous and stressful situation, they are still allowed the moments to be teens and enjoy the little things, making a story that can easily be summed up as “the tent phase” of the Potter experience fun, and I was surprised to realize that not once did I have a pouting moment about not stepping foot on the Hogwarts campus. Sure there is still plenty of business to attend to, but these moments and bits of humor thrown in are a relief to what could have easily been a much more depressing (and boring) experience, thanks in large part to the perfected characters created by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.
The choices in filmmaking have also done a lot to keep the film from falling on the less than exciting side of the spectrum. With all of the special effects and CGI work of the Potter films to make this magical word come to life, a comfort level has been found with the formula of these films (not to be confused as a crutch; they just really know what they are doing at this point). However, this time around there are a few noticeable changes to mix it up a bit. As part of the constantly moving lifestyle the core three characters have to deal with, the camera has become an antsy character unto itself, with a lot of skewed angles, sweeps and movements around the sets. For the most part it really helps with the franticness of some of the scenes, but a few times I did notice it more than I should have and was even taken completely out of a scene on one occasion thanks to my easily distracted nature. In addition to the camera work, one of the major changes to what we are used to came in an animated sequence during Hermione’s reading of the story of The Tale of the Three Brothers. It really was a surprising departure from the usual look of the Potter films, and this sequence that could easily be confused with something creating by Tim Burton was by far a highlight of the film.
As much as I wish they would have just put out the two films at the same time with a long intermission to break up the sitting, I am far less disappointed than I expected to be after only getting to see half of the story come to life. At this point in the process the actors and filmmakers really know what they are doing in order to create the best experience in this world of witchcraft and wizardry, and as sad as it is going to be to no longer hear that familiar music as a new teaser is released for the next film, it is good to know that if they stick to what they created with Part 1, Part 2 really will be something that goes out on top.
Final Grade: A-