First Night Flicks: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)

Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Based on: chapters 1 though 23 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality.

It’s an extremely difficult task to review half of a movie. What if, as in the case of Explorers (1985), one half of the film is far superior to the other? How about a film like Three Kings (1999), where the tone of the film shifts drastically? How do you critically look at half of a story? What if you know how the story ends? This is the unenviable position in which I find myself after viewing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. While it’s a very good installment for the franchise, with drama, comedy and some subtle romance, not to mention very real peril for our favorite trio of young wizards, it is, essentially and obviously, only half of the story.

Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermoine (Watson) are all grown up, and the charm of protection that has protected Harry Potter from Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) since his mother sacrificed herself so he could live will break on his 17th birthday. After an exciting and tragic escape from Privet Drive, and a slight diversion from the dark times ahead of them in the form of a wedding at the Burrow, our intrepid young wizards embark on Dumbeldore’s (Michael Gambon) final mission in the quest to destroy Voldemort: hunting down and destroying the horcruxes we learned about in the previous film.

The main issue with hunting for the horcruxes is they could be anything. Not even Dumbledore knew the identity of each, and there are supposedly six of them, since Lord Voldemort professed an interest in splitting his soul into seven pieces (one piece of the soul must, of course, remain with Voldemort in order for him to survive). Two of these items were located and destroyed in prior films: the diary of Tom Riddle (in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and a ring belonging to Voldemort’s grandfather (offscreen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). A third, a locket was presumably located at the end of the previous film, but was discovered to be a fake. Harry, Hermoine and Ron begin their trek by searching for the real locket, which was hidden by the mysterious R.A.B. Of course, finding a horcrux, once you know what you’re looking for, is easy; destroying it without dying is the difficult part.

Warner Brothers has been promoting this film as “Part 1 of the Epic Finale,” and it delivers on that in every way. Even the quiet moments in the film, what few there are, seem to be played out on a much larger stage, to set the tone that, even though we only see a handful of the players in action, this saga is affecting an entire world. The cast is extraordinary, as is to be expected given the wealth of the British acting elite the series has employed in the adult roles. Thankfully, the young actors have grown, not only in age, but in skill over the past ten years, as should be expected when working with such fine mentors. There is some heavy material in this film as themes of jealously, uncertainty and mistrust surround our trio who are on the run and on their own for the majority of the film.

The trick with making a movie in two parts, is to make sure that the first part is interesting enough and ends on a strong enough note that you force your audience to come back for part two. David Yates succeeds on both points. The ending is as chilling a moment as any in the series and brilliantly sets the stage for what’s to come.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 seems to be intended more for fans of the books as it includes items that are not explained or set up in previous films.  I would be interested in hearing the opinion of someone not familiar with the books after the second part has been released next July.