Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Director David Yates succeeds in delivering an emotional movie that resonates with the same sense of wonder and anguish that the final book’s first-half held for its readers.

It is not as much a surprise that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a good movie, as much as how good it is. With all the Harry Potter books having been released, the filmmakers had a clearer idea of where the story and characters were eventually headed, and hence had the advantage of foresight in this movie that was lacking in the past installments. As the penultimate movie, Deathly Hallows 1 does require the audience to have an in-depth knowledge of the characters and some important back-stories to follow the plot completely. Even so, director David Yates succeeds in delivering an emotional movie that resonates with the same sense of wonder and anguish that the final book’s first-half held for its readers.

With Dumbledore dead and the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having taken over the Ministry of Magic, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is now “Undesirable No. 1”. Propaganda posters and pamphlets attempt to reassure witches and wizards of the better controlled society that the wizarding world now purportedly is. Harry has skipped his last year at school and is on the run with his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), in search of five “Horcruxes”, each of which contains a fragment of Voldemort’s soul. The plan is to find and destroy these horcruxes, making the Dark Lord vulnerable and, therefore, defeatable. The problem is, they have no idea what or where these are. As days go by and with no direction or clues, doubt, jealousy and fear of failure creeps into their friendship, all the while Voldemort grows more powerful in his goal to defeat and kill Harry Potter, the boy who survived.

With all previous six movies set within Hogwarts, the story of Deathly Hallows 1 takes place away from the school of magic, taking the franchise to a new direction. Harry Potter and his friends have experienced enough tasks and adventures to think they know what needs to be done. As most seventeen-year-olds, they believe they have grown up and are ready to face the world. It does not take them long to see the fallacy in their quest. The movie starts on an ominous note, and a foreboding threat hangs in the air as the story progresses. There is hardly a bright scene, and humor creeps in via awkward situations rather than funny sequences. Hand-held shots bring the audience closer to the characters and their threat. The background score is minimal, emphasizing the trio’s disconnect with their world. Yates employs many such techniques to firmly implant the seriousness of the situation that the wizarding world in general, and the lead trio in particular find themselves in.

Even though the book has been split into two movies, each does not give the filmmakers enough screen time to cover the numerous and detailed sub-plots of the book. Revelations by the author in the final book also require citations to past events that were left out by previous filmmakers, unaware of the events’ significance then. The movie therefore, is littered with references to the entire Harry Potter saga, most inserted as nods and quick lines that can probably only be understood by fans of the books. This also means that it cannot be coherently viewed as a stand-alone movie. This is as much a failure of this film, as much as it is of the past movies and the studio, who rushed into making these movies before the story was all out.

If it was the intention of David Yates to change the tone of the franchise, he has achieved what he set out to do. With Deathly Hallows 1, his third successive Harry Potter movie, Yates seems to have developed the series to the respectable level that it deserves. This further raises the expectations with his next film and the grand finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, expected to be out in July 2011.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.