A film review by Craig J. Koban December 8, 2010


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

Directed by David Yates / Screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling

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?  


HARRY 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 being captured.   

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 point…yet. 

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 Warner Brothers 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.

Harry Potter has definitely physically matured, but it’s a shame that his stories have not grown up with him.


CrAiGeR's other



Harry Potter and the PRISONER OF AZKABAN  (2004) jj1/2

Harry Potter and the GOBLET OF FIRE  (2005) jj1/2

  Harry Potter and the ORDER OF THE PHOENIX  (2007)  jj

Harry Potter and the half blood prince  (2009) jj

Harry Potter and the DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2  (2011) jjj

And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of HARRY POTTER films:














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