Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part I,
directed by David Yates
(Warner Bros., 2010)

Harry Potter has come a long way from chocolate frogs and feral cars.

Me, I miss the old Harry.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part I is an overwrought, overburdened hash that no longer seems to know where it's going. Or, perhaps, the audience doesn't know where it's going unless they've studied up on all the books in J.K. Rowling's immensely popular series. Frankly, I stopped reading the series several books ago, and I resent the idea that there's a prerequisite reading assignment in order to enjoy the film on its own terms.


The material here is dark and heavy, with torture and shades of Nazism, but the actors still seem to be hiding giggles behind their sleeves, expecting at every turn another cute Potter moment or bit of magical wonder that defined earlier films in the series. But the chuckles and grins are hard to swallow when, for instance, a Hogwarts professor is tortured before our eyes before being killed and served to a massive pet snake for snacks. Or when Harry and Hermione suddenly appear in a jealousy-inducing vision, wrapped in a nude embrace. (This series is still for kids, right?) Or when Ron has a temper tantrum and storms off but comes through for his friends in the end.

Oh, wait. Some things don't change.

Deathly Hallows certainly lives up to its name, although my daughter, who's been a fan from the beginning (dear god, was she only 4 when this series began??) came into the theater full of grins because, she'd heard, star Daniel Radcliffe was going to have his shirt off twice in this movie. Woohoo!

But the film begins with Harry Potter (Radcliffe) in peril (again), and all his friends are disguising themselves like him to help convey him to safety. One multiplicity of Harrys (and another death) later, things get violent as the evil, snake-faced Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) sets every resource at his disposal to tracking Harry down.

Harry's friends pay the price for protecting him. One dies, another is gravely wounded -- and this is still one of the opening scenes. And yet, even as we're given evidence of life-threatening dread, we have silly scenes with fat old Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) carrying Harry on a motorbike as they drive upside-down through a tunnel, and Harry jogs along the top of a double-decker bus. Ha ha ha! Oh wait, people are dying. Um.

Soon enough, we have the graphic and disturbing moment when Hermione (Emma Watson) kneels over an injured Ron (Rupert Grint) with haunted eyes and bloody hands.

As Voldemort's forces take over both the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts through intimidation and murder, the Nazi elements come into play as Muggles (non-magical humans) are demonized through propaganda and jack-booted thugs enforce their leaders' will in the streets. Harry, Hermione and Ron infiltrate the ministry in a silly scene where they take on the shapes of employees there and flush themselves down toilets, where wackiness ensues. Ha ha ha! Oh wait, Nazis. Um.

The movie is certainly exciting -- there's action, death and danger at every turn, mingled with scenes of wilderness camping -- and I can't fault the actors' performances. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint most assuredly have grown into their roles, and the film boasts a veritable army of top talent -- most of whom make brief appearances at best, leaving the spotlight solely to the three young heroes.

Among the stars who appear briefly are Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Miranda Richardson, Bill Nighy, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Rhys Ifans and Warwick Davis. Special effects are also top-notch, and the score by Alexandre Desplat is an apt followup to John Williams' work in earlier films.

But, personally, I cannot get past the fact that 1) this movie doesn't stand on its own, relying on a knowledge of the book to get by, and 2) the witty, goofy scenes that have been a part of Harry Potter from the beginning no longer gel when placed side by side with scenes of terror and death.

review by
Tom Knapp

27 November 2010

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