Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Review

After nine years, six films and several billion dollars in production and marketing costs, the Harry Potter franchise has finally entered the home stretch. Very soon, there won’t be any more new films in the series, and millions of distraught Potter-ites will lurch around the streets, staring at bespectacled teenagers in the vein hope they might turn invisible, or swallow a snitch, or argue with Alan Rickman.

Before that apocalyptic vision comes to pass, however, we have the adaptation of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and in what was quite clearly a way of easing our withdrawal symptoms, rather than a cynical ploy to milk the last few shekels out of the series, it’s been split into two separate films. But of course, you knew that already.

Actually, describing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One as a ‘film’ seems somewhat inaccurate. While it may be nearly two and a half hours long, it feels much more like an episode of a serial than any of its predecessors. In storytelling terms, this is one long second act, with almost all the set-up having taken place in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the pay off due in part two.

To some extent this episodic feel is due to HPatDH Part One being just that: part one of a two-part story. Much more though, it’s due to the amount of knowledge the audience is assumed to have at the outset. Without so much as a quick recap, magical powers that appeared only briefly in previous films such as ‘Apparition’ (teleportation) and ‘Obliviation’ (memory wiping), become a pivotal part of the film’s plot. This isn’t massively problematic, and in many ways, the respect it shows for the audience in doing so is actually a pleasant novelty, but it is certain to leave at least a few people scratching their heads, wondering what’s going on.

In spite of the episodic feel, the film is a big step away from others in the franchise. Gone is the familiar opening theme, as is the school term-based structure, and the closest we get to Hogwarts in the entire film is a very brief scene set on the school train.  As a result, many of the regular supporting characters like Neville Longbottom and Gregory Goyle are reduced to brief cameo appearances. Instead, the film is very much the Harry, Hermione and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Ron show, following them as they trek around the English countryside, hunting down Horcruxes and avoiding capture by Snatchers and Death Eaters.

Removing the story from the microcosm of a school certainly ups the stakes somewhat. Without their teachers to protect them, there is a real and constant sense that Harry, Ron and Hermione are will suffer greatly if captured. Unfortunately, it also takes our heroes away from much of the action and intrigue, resulting in much of the film taking place in a tent in the woods. While director, David Yates does a pretty good job at making this work, it’s hard not to think of the film as a missed opportunity to have actually explored the wizarding world away from locations with which we were already familiar.

When we do get to see some action, it, again isn’t quite what we’d expect. In previous films there’s usually been a build up to the action sequences, here they come almost out of the blue, and end just as quickly. Particularly in the early part of the film, we seem to come in half way through a fight, and leave a few moments later. What’s more, the death of a fairly major character towards the beginning of the film is dealt with in a similarly off-hand manner. The cumulative effect of this is to increase the sense of threat and peril we feel still further.

Unfortunately, one thing that will be familiar from previous films is the hit-and-miss acting ability of the film’s star. Having worked with Grint and Watson for so long, Radcliffe’s comic timing, and matey camaraderie is terrific.  Where he has always struggled has been emotional scenes, and here is no different. Sad Radcliffe is just unconvincing. The last couple of films have shown that he can act, but in this film he mostly feels awkward.

The film’s real triumph is how it looks. The landscapes of the English countryside look beautiful, as do Godric’s Hollow, The Burrow and the streets of London. What’s really impressive, however, is the look of the film’s more mundane scenes. Shots comprising nothing more than an empty house or a suburban street look as magical and magnificent as any sweeping vista of ancient village, while  a shot of Harry’s former ‘bedroom’ in the Dursley’s house, comprised almost entirely of a blank wall and a toy soldier is nothing short of stunning, conveying more about Harry’s early childhood in thirty seconds than Chris Columbus managed in two films.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is deeply flawed, and far from the best in the series, but it’s still pretty good. A fun way to spend a few hours, and a worthy addition to the pantheon of Potters, it’s well worth a watch, and may well be the most beautiful film of the year.

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