[From the archives, I wrote this when the film came out in 2010]
It’s the beginning of the end as Harry, Ron and Hermione etc return in Part 1 of the big-screen adaptation of J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The penultimate instalment of the Harry Potter franchise sees the chosen one and his chosen sidekicks break away from Hogwarts in order to search for horcruxes; the destruction of which will allow Harry to kill Voldemort (the inevitable conclusion of seven books and what will be eight films). I will not patronise further by detailing any more of the plot of a story so well-known by our generation.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (despite its somewhat clumsy title), made 61.2 million dollars on the release day alone, so is well on the way to becoming the most lucrative movie of all time. This is a problematic statistic due to the concept of inflation, but I still felt lucky to finally gain that Wonka-esque elusive ticket and walk through a door headed with ‘HARRY POTTER AND THE DEA’ in red LEDs. Being all too aware that Harry Potter films are infamously long, I had made a last trip to toilet (I wouldn’t want to miss a second of wand-waving antics) so settled into my seat and waited for the film to begin.
Twenty minutes later, it did. (If I’d wanted to see a Peugeot advert I would have stayed home and switched on ITV1).
Deathly Hallows Part 1 – there is no convenient abbreviation – opens with a cameo role for Bill Nighy. He plays the Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, first seen in an extreme (and rather uncomfortable) close-up. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered what Bill Nighy has done to deserve this honour.
In spite of this surprising start the story quickly grabbed hold of the audience who were just waiting to be captivated. It had previously been noted that the Potter films have become progressively darker, and HP7 is no exception to this arc. Voldemort (AKA He Who Must Not Be Named, AKA You Know Who) gets more screen time than ever. The effect of this is that viewers can truly appreciate how much work he seems to have had done on his nose; it has almost disappeared.
As Voldemort gains screen time it is inevitable that other characters are now hardly seen at all – perhaps to the disappointment of die-hard fans. A particularly noticeable example is Neville Longbottom, who appears for less than a minute. However, this is long enough for him to come face to face with a motley crew of death eaters and quickly term them ‘losers’. It’s an age old debate; is Neville surprisingly brave or just very, very stupid?
Witty one-liners are scattered sporadically throughout the screenplay (supplied by Steve Kloves). One such utterance which raised an especially appreciative giggle was Ron’s euphemistic description of a wand: ’10 inches – nothing special’.
The words ‘nothing special’ aptly describe Voldemort’s nails – long and gnarly, they are barely a step up from the lurid green fake plastic fingers I wore at Halloween during the late ‘90s. Several costumes, however, are decidedly more creative. Elphias Doge, loyal friend to the deceased Dumbledore, attends Bill and Fleur’s wedding wearing approximately eight button-up shirts layered with collars of successive sizes meticulously folded within each other. A scarier wardrobe choice is Luna Lovegood’s father and his beige thermal leggings. As for Harry, he is more indie kid than ever, frequently sporting double denim or corduroy blazers.
Another key difference between this film and any of its predecessors is the amount of nudity; beginning with no-shirt shots and culminating with Ron’s vision of nude Harry and Hermione ‘getting it on’. In the words of Daniel Radcliffe this indicates that fans are ‘growing up with the films’. On a more technical level, it’s a bizarre special effect as the shiny, ghostly forms of Harry and Hermione look like they are made out of wax.
I am usually impatient with special effects, believing that they are often used so film makers can show off what is possible, regardless of whether it brings anything to the film. But even I cannot deny that films of the fantasy genre call for state-of-the-art visual effects. In Deathly Hallows 1 it seems that call has been answered, though there is nothing to rival the destruction of the millennium bridge in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
An effect which failed to impress was an animation sequence created as Hermione tells Beedle the Bard’s (the wizarding world’s answer to Shakespeare) tale of the three brothers. Elongated black stick figures on an orange background make this section of the film look more like a deleted scene from Disney’s Mulan; it is simply out of place.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a highly enjoyable film, but for me there are several glaring flaws. Maybe this is pedantic (okay, it is), but if Hermione erases herself from her parents’ memories before leaving home why do they not think ‘who is this strange girl in our house’? And even worse, in a magical world why do Ministry officials feel the need to chase Harry, Ron and Hermione through the Ministry for Magic lobby on foot? Nice one, Warner Brothers.
Forgetting these grumbles, the successes of this film far outweigh its downfalls. A personal highlight was when half of those left in the Order of the Phoenix turn into Harry. Daniel Radcliffe’s best comic acting is found in this scene; he perfectly copies the mannerisms of the characters who transform into Harry.
Another success of Deathly Hallows 1 is its social and political commentary. Firstly, a bored muggle waitress is oblivious to the sounds of Harry, Ron and Hermione battling death eaters behind her back because of earphones firmly pushed into her ears. It makes for an interesting observation of real life cleverly embedded into a fantasy film. In terms of political history, interrogations over magical heritage and pure-bloodedness at the corrupt Ministry are reminiscent of McCarthyism.
Already some have remarked that Deathly Hallows 1 is unnecessarily long. I have to say there is a lot which could have been edited out. There are several beautiful panoramic shots of places Harry&Co camp on the nomadic hunt for horcruxes. But do we really need ten seconds of footage of the outside of a tent, or fifteen seconds focused on one of Bellatrix Lestrange’s crazy hairs falling on Hermione? (Ew).
I found the final disappointment of this wonderfully executed film to be Dumbledore’s tomb. In design it is somewhere between an ancient sacrificial stone table and a dreadful marble sculpture (see the Tate Modern).
The decision to split the last Harry Potter novel into two films seemed to be taken well by fans, however, some were not happy about where film makers chose to split the book in two. In an act which seems almost blasphemous, Voldemort cracks open Dumbledore’s grave and steals the elder wand. This is the final frame. On leaving the screen room I heard the words ‘rubbish cop-out ending’ growled angrily. But it is not the end, not until July 2011, when the finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 will be released.