A film review by Craig J. Koban December 8, 2010
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY
HALLOWS: PART 1
2010, PG-13, 146 mins.
2010, PG-13, 146 mins.
Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe / Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint / Hermione
Granger: Emma Watson / Bellatrix Lestrange: Helena Bonham Carter /
Rubeus Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane / Lord Voldemort: Ralph Fiennes
/ Professor Albus Dumbledore: Michael Gambon / Alastor "Mad
Eye" Moody: Brendan Gleeson / Vernon Dursley: Richard
Griffiths / Ollivander: John Hurt / Xenophilius Lovegood: Rhys
Ifans / Lucius Malfoy: Jason Isaacs / Rufus Scrimgeour: Bill
Nighy / Professor Severus Snape: Alan Rickman / Petunia Dursley: Fiona
Shaw / Wormtail: Timothy Spall / Dolores Umbridge: Imelda
Staunton / Remus Lupin: David Thewlis
Sigh. Is it really too much to ask for the HARRY POTTER film series to at long last get down to what we all want to see - the climatic wizard-on-wizard battle between the ever-maturing title character and the vile Lord Voldemort?
POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART ONE - based on the seventh and
last of J.K. Rowling’s gargantuan best selling book series – has been
advertised as providing for the long (and I do sincerely mean long)
awaited final confrontation between hero and villain, but all it seems to
do is go through the repetitive narrative motions of its antecedents.
It builds and builds and builds with a promise of some sort
of cathartic payoff, but in the end it lacks a sense of a satisfying conclusion.
That’s the problem that I
have been having with this series over the years: a sense of redundant
sameness tarnishes it and holds it back from becoming a truly transcending
and memorable fantasy series. Yes,
of course, these are films engineered and made for Potter-ite
fundamentalists and no one else, so on those levels of faithfulness I
guess I will concede that this series appeases those die hards.
But what of the agnostic POTTER filmgoer?
The makers of these films forget to make them accessible to
everyone, not just those that slavishly scrutinize Rowling’s sacred
texts. As a result, the last
several entries in this long franchise have left me feeling like a lonely
outsider (or should I say “muggle”). They simply push me away instead of inviting me in.
More than any other of the six
POTTER entries, THE DEATHLY HALLOWS keeps the more virginal filmgoer to
Rowling’s literary source at an excruciating distance to this material.
I have seen all of the film adaptations, to be sure, but there were
times during the events in DEATHLY HALLOWS when even I was scratching my
head to make sense of everything. It’s
almost as if the film should have come with a pop-up video trivia track to
remind us of characters, past events, and references that now seem
incomprehensibly murky. Worse
yet is that, like some of the films that led up to it, DEATHLY HOLLOWS
does very little to progress the characters and themes: Harry Potter and
company seem like they are in the same hairy (no pun intended) predicament
as they were at the beginning of the near 150 minute film and, moreover,
there seems to be an awful lot of chit-chat about Voldemort and the
long-gestating “final battle” between him and Harry.
There is something to be said
about building a juicy and wondrously evil antagonist with a slow
precision, but we are now going seven films and 14-plus hours into the
POTTER universe and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, under heavy makeup and some
CGI enhancements) remains as much of an exasperating enigma and puzzling
abstraction as he ever has been. He’s
the killer of Potter’s parents, he haunts the subconscious of Harry,
and he lurks in and out of the narratives of all of these films, yet he
nonetheless does not manage to be a serious entity in them.
Imagine, if you will, the entire six film STAR
WARS saga and we did
not get to see Darth Vader fully and tangibly emerge until the sixth film.
See what I mean? The
frustration of DEATHLY HALLOWS is that - for cryin' out loud - we still
don’t get to see Harry and Voldemort go mano-a-mano; we just another
irritating pledge of that to come.
At nearly two and a half
hours, there is surprisingly very little going on in terms of the story in
THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: it’s more or less a road flick of Harry (Daniel
Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) trying to evade
Voldemort and his minions. The
action takes place shortly after THE
HALF-BLOOD PRINCE and the teenage sorcerer triumvirate has been
dealt a brutal blow of Dumbledore’s death and are now on the run to find
the remaining six Horcruxes (which Wikipedia lists as "dark magical
objects used to achieve immortality) needed to render Voldemort vulnerable to
attack. Unfortunately for the
young heroes, an early attempt to get Harry to safety is nearly a mortal
failure when a Voldemort trap is sprung that almost leads to Harry
During all of this mayhem the
Minster of Magic shows up (the great Bill Nighy, rounded off the series’
superlative British supporting cast) to read off Dumbledore’s will to
Harry and to inform him of a few surprises.
Harry and company also attend a wedding of a few characters that,
frankly, I could not really remember that entirely well from previous films
that is disrupted by Death Eaters (think the smoke monster from LOST and
you get the idea). Afterwards,
the heroes do find one Horcrux that they are unable to destroy and, if
worn, makes them very, very hot tempered (that combined with their
raging hormones makes for a vile mixture indeed).
Then there is talk about how Voldemort’s wand cannot be used
against Harry, which requires him to find another one to engage him in combat.
There is also a kidnapping of a character, the re-appearance of one
of the series’ most annoying characters (sorry, Dobby-apologists, but
he's always been a low-rent looking Yoda), the obligatory sexual tension between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and, yes,
much discussion about Voldemort battling Harry that, as mentioned, the
film never reaches. Sigh.
On an upbeat, this is a darker and drearier POTTER film than perhaps any other and, for once, we
are taking out of the confines of Hogwarts and into the real world, which
is a refreshing change of pace. I
liked the drab and foreboding cinematography by Eduardo Serra that keeps
the visual sheen of the film always engaging.
The film was once again is directed with proficiency and polish by
Peter Yates, who helmed the last two, and he certainly seems equal to the
task of carrying on the series’ tradition for being attractively mounted
visual odysseys. One thing
that I will remember most about POTTER films is that they have all been
bravura technical accomplishments and each one seems to be the better of
what followed. THE DEATHLY
HALLOWS is as consummately made and terrific looking as any other escapist
fantasy I’ve seen lately.
Yet, for all of the film’s
lush and provocative imagery, THE DEATHLY HALLOWS remains as hollow as any
recent POTTER film for the amount of monotonous build up it engages in
with no concrete payoff. The
script is rough, meandering, and lacks a substantial beginning, middle,
and ending. And speaking of climaxes, this entry teases and teases and then ends with a thud midstream
instead of just concluding the story as it should have.
There are just too many detours that were left in to appease the
obsessive-compulsives Rowling book lovers: what we should have had was a lean,
sparse, and fever pitched final episode that discarded unnecessary
subplots and deviations that brought us to Voldemort/Potter showdown we all
want to see. It’s
astonishing that a film this long still has not brought us to this
I know...I know…this is
DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 and the final part and cap to this series will be
released next year. A Warner
Brothers executive has apparently stated that the real reason for the
splitting up of the final book adaptation into two films was both out of love
for POTTER fans and to be artistically faithful to the source material.
That’s a superficial and somewhat disingenuous explanation at
best. The only real motive
seems financial more than artistic: releasing two films means that
will have two $300 million box office grossers instead of one, perhaps
more for the second half which will apparently be retrofitted into 3D (and
considering the dark palette of Part One, Part Two will be borderline
incomprehensible in the dull and murky multi-dimensional upconvert).
One thing is certain; Rowling and the studio are real Merlins when
it comes to not-so-subtle art of the cash-grab.
Beyond “appeasing” the book’s staunchly dedicated fan base,
there is no beneficial reason for THE DEATHLY HALLOWS to exist as two
parts. This is a story that could have been truncated and easily
wrapped up in one entry.
People I have talked to
believe that I have it in for poor Harry and his film world.
I don’t hate the HARRY POTTER films as much as I am disappointed
by how there are so needlessly longwinded. I tolerate
them. THE DEATHLY HALLOWS has
its obvious merits and a few compelling scenes, like a sweet and quietly
rendered moment – done with no dialogue and just radio music – when Harry
tries to comfort Hermione and a cool and nifty animated sequence that
explains what the Deathly Hollows are and their purpose in Harry's quest.
I also enjoyed an opening sequence where Voldemort has all of his
faithful followers at a dinner table to plot their revenge.
The supporting cast of British heavyweights – far too many
to name here – remains jubilantly game and enjoyable to watch.
And, for as much as I have criticized that Daniel Radcliffe is as
dull and stiff as his magic wand portraying his boy/teen wizard, it's a
real testament and accomplishment that he, Watson, and Grint have
sacrificed their formative years – and a future of wretched typecasting
– to appear in eight films portraying the same characters. That's
not a feat that too many other franchises have duplicated.
Here’s what needs to happen: THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART DEUX needs to deliver and stop promising to deliver. It has to. It’s the final chapter and it has nothing else to do but deliver. I am inordinately tired of waiting for the POTTER franchise to rise above its literary fan-placating tediousness and become the robustly enthralling, compelling, thrilling, and exuberant escapist fantasy that the first two films promised they would be. We need less talk about chosen ones, dark lords, lifelong prophecies, Horcruxes, death eaters, and, yes, climatic showdowns between good and evil and more action.
Potter has definitely physically matured, but it’s a shame that his stories
have not grown up with him.
Harry Potter and the PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004) 1/2
Harry Potter and the GOBLET OF FIRE (2005) 1/2
And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of HARRY POTTER films:
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002) 1/2
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STORE
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STORE
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (2011)
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
5. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005) 1/2
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007)
7. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE (2009)
8. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 (2010)