Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review

poster from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Since they tended to come out on the third weekend of November, the Harry Potter movies were always like a birthday present to me. That is, until The Prisoner of Azkaban, when they started switching between summer and winter release dates. Now it’s time for the movie of the seventh and final book, Deathly Hallows. It’s being released in two parts, one now in November and the other in the summer blockbuster season. The part I got for my birthday this year goes like this:

After the ministry of magic falls to the Death Eaters, Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes, which contain pieces of the evil Lord Voldemort’s soul.

You may notice, if you’re not already familiar with Harry Potter, that this synopsis makes no sense. This is because there is absolutely no point in you going to see this movie unless you’ve already read or seen parts 1 through 6. And read the seventh book for good measure. So if you haven’t done these things already, go and do it now. Are you back? Okay, now we can proceed with the review.

If you think the synopsis is confusing out of context, wait until you see the whole movie. Even people who haven’t seen/read at least Half Blood Prince within the last few months will be confused. Although director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves tossed in some flashback/dream sequences here and there, they are woefully inadequate to bring people up to speed. Among the things that you are expected to be familiar with right off the bat include R.A.B, a whole range of tertiary characters (Ollivander, Gregorovich, Dobby, Kreacher, etc.), and why Harry keeps staring into a random mirror shard.

Harry stares into the mirror shard from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Hmmm… I’m getting a bit scruffy. Might need a shave.

Even setting aside all that (pretty much everyone going to see this movie is already a Potter fan anyway), this movie suffers from the fact that The Deathly Hallows was the weakest of the seven books, mostly because since the characters don’t go to school, it doesn’t have the same built-in structure and setting that worked so well for the other books. The first half of the book consists largely of Harry, Ron, and Hermione wandering aimlessly through the countryside and the second half is almost entirely dominated by a epic, furious final battle sequence. Combined they could have made one almost-balanced movie, but split they make one boring movie and one crazy intense movie.

Harry reads a book from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

PART 1: La la la la, what a lovely day to sit around and read a book.

PART 2: Yeeeeeaaaargh! Victory or death!

The movie also suffers from the fact that The Deathly Hallows book, especially in the first half, was convoluted, badly plotted, and relied too heavily on coincidence. Ron conveniently finds his way back to his friends even though they’re supposed to be unfindable. Harry conveniently finds the weapon he needs in an icy pond they happen to be camping near (I see the Arthurian connection, but come on). Harry and Hermione conveniently stumble upon the multiple incarnations of a symbol they’ve never seen in their lives before that turns out to be the key to everything.

Xenophilius Lovegood and the Deathly Hallows symbol from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

What, this old thing? Yes, it’s the key to everything. I use it to open soup cans.
(Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood)

Sometimes no explanation is offered for why they happen to stumble upon what they need, but more often they blame it on Dumbledore. You may recall from the last movie that Dumbledore is dead, but this doesn’t prevent him from acting as a magical get-out-of-jail-free card from beyond the grave.

Voldemort and Dumbledore from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

VOLDEMORT: I want one.
KIDS: No, he’s ours. Get your own.

The actioney bits (magical duels, escapes from monsters, etc.) that usually liven up the Harry Potter stories are almost entirely concentrated in the back end of the book (i.e. in the second movie). The ones in Part 1 only last for a minute or two each and there are only about three or four of them. And the movie is two and a half hours long. I love Harry Potter, but I was bored in several places.

Ron and Hermione in the tent from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

What do you mean, we should go and do something? I thought we agreed
we were going to hide in the tent forever and argue with each other.

That’s not to say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is completely without redeeming features. There are two parts that particularly stood out for me that I wanted to mention. The first is an amazing shadow-puppet-like classical animation sequence that Ben Hibon designed for the part when Hermione is reading “The Tale of the Three Brothers” from The Tales of Beedle the Bard while they’re investigating the Deathly Hallows. It was completely unexpected and awesome.

poster for A.D. a film by Ben Hibon

This is not it. I looked for like an hour and I couldn’t find a picture of it.
This is a poster for a movie, also by Ben Hibon, that’s done in the same style

The second part is when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) use polyjuice potion to disguise themselves as other people and sneak into the Ministry of Magic. The three actors playing the commandeered bodies of Albert Runcorn (David O’Hara), Reg Cattermole (Steffan Rhodri), and Mafalda Hopkirk (Sophie Thompson) deserve recognition for their hilariously apt portrayals of the child actors. O’Hara – as Harry – had an odd, halting walk, Rhodri – as Ron – is perpetually slump-shouldered and confused, and Thompson – as Hermione – sports a look of utter terror when faced with a question she doesn’t know the answer to. It just makes you realize how ridiculous people’s quirks are when they’re on someone else.

Mafila Bagshot, Albert Runcorn and Reg Cattermole from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Here they are, unfortunately some of the crew are in the photo too

The sequence where they have to create multiple doubles of Harry to sneak him safely out of the Dursely’s house in the beginning of the film is quite funny too, mostly because of the twins, Fred and George Weasly (James and Oliver Phelps), and Bill Weasly’s wife Fleur (Clemence Poesy).

Copies of Harry from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

“Don’t look at me, Bill, I’m hideous.”

I love Fred, George, Tonks, Lupin, and the gang, so I felt that there were really not enough secondary characters in this movie. Well, there are about a million in the movie, but they’re never around for more than a few seconds. Even Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is barely in it. For the most part secondaries show up in a big crowd at the beginning and then drop of the end of the Earth, even though what they’re doing is probably more interesting than what Harry, Ron, and Hermione are doing. Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and the kids who did go to school are (if I recall correctly from the book) staging an underground resistance. Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and the other Order of the Phoenix members are off trying to keep Death Eaters from murdering people, and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is being manipulated into doing Death Eater work by his dad (Jason Issacs).

Lucius and Draco Malfoy from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Now Draco, make creepy daddy proud and kill the nice man.

They end Part 1 at a dark, “we’re screwed” type moment (even worse than The Empire Strikes Back) so we have to wait for the action-packed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to catch up with these more interesting secondaries in the final, winner-take-all battle between good and evil. I dunno about you, but I’d like to hurry up and get to that part already. Unfortunately, this film is a necessary step in getting there, otherwise I’d tell you not to bother with it.

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5 Responses to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review

Kat; thank you, thank you, thank you! This is EXACTLY what I thought about this movie, and the book itself. I was so surprised that the whole schlepping-around-the-countryside part wasn’t condensed down to about 15 minutes of movie time, just to hit the important bits. I have often been surprised at what the movie-makers pulled out of the books as the supposedly “important” bits, but never more than in this one. Yes, there were some great parts, and the imbalance of the book I’m sure made it difficult to split into two equally engaging movies, but I think it could have been done much better.

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