Eye For Film >> Movies >> Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part I (2010) Film Review
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part I
Reviewed by: Jeff Robson
And now, the end is near – after 10 years, a lot of publicity and a shed-load of cash at the box office, the most successful film franchise in history is drawing to a close.
It’s been hard at times to step back from the hype and the statistics to assess how well the films actually hold up but now’s as good a time as any. For my money, Part Seven is not just the best so far in a series that’s got it right more often than not, but stands comparison with the finest examples of the fantasy/action genre over the past few decades – and yes, that does include Lord Of The Rings.
Like Peter Jackson, David Yates and Steve Kloves have taken a much-loved series of books (that, while perhaps not great literature, are certainly magnificent storytelling), spotted what’s best about them cinematically and put it on screen with a lot of care and just the right amount of respect.
They’ve also learnt from what’s gone before – and those who think that adapting a phenomenally successful book franchise to the screen is the movie equivalent of falling off a log should note the troubled fortunes of the Narnia franchise or take another look at the frustratingly botched damp squib that was The Golden Compass.
There were ups and downs in Parts One to Six – Order Of The Phoenix was as overlong and confused as its source novel and Chamber Of Secrets displayed disturbingly early signs of formula fatigue – but none of them could be described as a complete dud. My one worry was that the changes of director from film to film would result in too uneven a tone, especially as the films, like the books, move from being ‘kids’ stuff’ to something darker and more complex.
Yates has undoubtedly grown into the job. He’s taken on board the narrative propulsion skills of Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron’s acute eye for the Grim Fairy Tale elements of the mythos and Mike Newell’s feel for the essential Britishness of the whole thing. But he’s also brought a sense of realism and genuine peril when the story arc demanded it – Deathly Hallows may seem a long way from the gritty TV dramas State Of Play and Sex Traffic that made his name but they share a sense of high-stakes outcomes and an emphasis on character that lifts them above the formula framework.
He’s also got as much flair for a set-piece as any action director I’ve ever seen. This time around, you’ve barely settled in your seat before a convoy of disguised Harrys being transported to safety is attacked by a posse of the vampiric Death Eaters, led by Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) himself. The result is a white-knuckle ride as good as anything in Bond or the Matrix trilogy.
Our hero escapes – but Yates continues to conjure up a succession of ‘follow-that’ face-offs which equal the opening salvo for edge-of-the-seat bravura. He borrows from sources as diverse as Godfather II (a supposedly safe-haven systematically shredded) to Last Of The Mohicans (a frantic jump-cut pursuit through a forest) but still manages to imbue them with plenty of original touches.
There’s a danger, of course that the plot and characters get lost in all this, but he largely keeps it at bay. The story is bound up with all that’s gone before and this really isn’t the best place for new arrivals to come on board but Yates and Kloves keep the essentials clear - Harry needs to find the seven Horcruxes, objects that contain fragments of Voldemort’s soul and whose destruction would render him vulnerable to a fatal spell.
Essentially a collection of magical Macguffins, they’re scattered all over the place, he doesn’t even know what some of them are and every obstacle imaginable stands in the way of his finding them. Voldemort’s puppets have taken control of the Ministry of Magic, setting the entire infrastructure of the wizarding world against Harry and his stalwart chums Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Hermione Watson).
This means he has to work without the adult mentors who’ve helped up to now and outside of the environment that has sheltered and sustained him – this is the film where Hogwarts School gets left behind. It’s a necessary step in the coming of age theme that dominates Rowling’s final book but might disappoint those who’ve revelled in the atmosphere and incidental details of the series so far.
Yates seems to find it all quite liberating, however, fashioning a straight-ahead thriller that also has elements of a road movie - the trio move around the wilds of Britain hunted at every step but also find their friendship tested by close proximity. There’s a nod or two to the Bond films as well, that other very British franchise that Harry’s recently overtaken in the money stakes. And, of course, the image of the young hero facing tough moral choices as well as physical danger is at the heart of the Star Wars saga - still the daddy if you take inflation into account and still one of the benchmarks for any fantasy blockbuster.
It’s a tribute to Yates that he conjures up moments that equal either of those sagas for cinematic magic as well as adding some original touches. An animated sequence retelling a wizarding fairy tale that explains what the Deathly Hallows are and why they may be even more important in the struggle with Voldemort has echoes of Rackham classic storybook illustrations. And the climactic scenes bring out the novel’s Arthurian elements to stunning visual effect. He gets a genuine frisson of terror into the Ministry’s Orwellian transformation, too, using the natural beauty of the British countryside as a visual contrast, symbolising the freedom Harry and his allies are fighting for.
As always there’s a veritable Equity Yearbook of Brit-thesp talent in support, with plenty of returning favourites as well as some new recruits (notably Peter Mullan as a Ministry enforcer and Rhys Ifans as the eccentric editor of a Private Eye-style underground newspaper) though they tend to get a little lost sometimes. Despite only having half a book to fillet down and doing it pretty well, the film is occasionally confusing and exposition-heavy.
But where it most matters the acting’s still solid gold – in Daniel Radcliffe, Grint and Watson. It’s hard to think of another set of child actors who’ve had to cope with such an intense, consistently demanding work schedule, coupled with a fair degree of growing up in public. Yet over the whole series they’ve managed to bring flair and variety to roles that could become two-dimensional.
And they’re on good form again here. Radcliffe’s all you could want in a hero while still being believably sullen, impetuous and generally teenage. Grint has more to do than usual, increasingly jealous of the bond between Harry and Hermione and starting to wonder if he’s happy with being the eternal sidekick. And Watson radiates screen presence as the voice of reason (and cleverness) in the trio.
It will be fascinating to see what they do next as actors – but meanwhile there’s the grand finale, of course. Formula fatigue can strike at any time and last instalments have sometimes been the weakest – Bourne and the Matrix spring to mind. But on the evidence displayed here, in all departments, I think we’re in pretty good hands.Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2010