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Rapid Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

November 20, 2010

The late, great Albus Dumbledore once said:

“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

So it is with our titular hero in the first half of his final film adventure.  He has been a reluctant hero in the past (see: Order of the Phoenix), but has grown to understand with age why he fights.  It is for those around him, most notably Hermione, Ron and Ginny, that Harry accepts his destiny. He is fighting not so much for the lives of his friends as to protect their WAY of life.  If evil wins, it is not with the death of one, or many, but with the death of love in general.  This is unacceptable.

facing danger again

It is a tough tob, too, that director David Yates has in bringing the penultimate film of the series to life.  Fans of the series are merciless in their criticism of the films.  Some of it is deserved, some of it is a bit short-sighted and petty.   By splitting the novel into two parts, fans hoped more of the spirit of the novel (as well as the main events) would be spared the editing ax.

Few film series can boast that they’ve seen the main characters grow up on camera.  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have been playing the three leads for almost half their lives now.  This perhaps strengthens the bond that we, as the audiece, has with them as their characters head into danger trying to finally put an end to the dreaded Voldemort (played ever-menacingly by Ralph Fiennes).  Yates does an excellent job at portraying the peril our three valiant friends are enterting into.  They are finally adults in every sense of the word.

The film itself is a startlingly bleak, but beautifully severe vision.  Yates manages to capture the loneliness and yearning of the characters in their surroundings, and it is by far one of the more visually stunning Potter films.  Beneath that chilling mood is the basic plot of the story, which is by far too complex for a casual viewer to comprehend.

facing the inevitable

This film, more than any of the other Harry Potter films, relies on its audience to have read the books and seen all the movies, therefore rendering obsolete the need for characters to awkwardly “explain” past events to the casual moviegoer.  Thank goodness.   It’s a refreshing change that relationship dynamics and vital plot history do not need to be “re-tread”.  Instead, Yates sticks remarkably well to the overall events of the book, with a few interesting visual twists.

For those who are “milder” HP fans, here’s a quick summation:

In order to finally defeat the dastardly Voldemort, Harry and his pals Hermione and Ron must track down and destroy the remaining horcruxes, which contain pieces of V’s soul.  Only when all of them are destroyed can Voldy be defeated, therefore saving the universe.  There’s a twist, of course:  Harry may have to die in the process.

This stuff is not for sissies, as I would say to my students.  With adult responsibilities come adult emotions and consequences, and Harry and friends run the gamut of these in this movie – which makes it all the more powerful and sincere.

As usual, there are some incredible performances by the supporting actors, including Julie Walters as the Weasley matriarch,  the ever-fabulous Alan Rickman as the complex and powerful Severus Snape, Rhys Ifans as the charismatic and bizarre Mr. Lovegood, and Potter newbie Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour.  But the success of the movie lies in the hands of its wonderful and surprisingly able young leads. Their performances propel the film from successful sequel to fantastic film.

The movie ends at a point where both the audience and the characters are at their most emotionally vulnerable (there was not a dry eye in the house), which is a bit of genius.  It leaves a long wait until summer, when Part II hits the theaters.

Yates’s film is a powerful gateway to the final chapter of a beloved franchise.

Overall Grade: A

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