Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
The Charlotte Observer
Should one review half of a symphony? The left side of a painting? The meal that ends with soup and never goes on to a main course and dessert? No. But I have to review half a movie – or, to be more accurate, a movie based on half of a looong book – so here goes:
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” is faithful to the beginning of J. K. Rowling’s final novel in the series. It’s grim, funny in one sequence about shapeshifters, vivid in moments of violent action, nearly devoid of plot twists and marked by long patches where Harry, Ron and Hermione camp in the woods or by the sea or near a frozen lake and ponder What It All Means.
Director David Yates has been entrusted with the final four Potter films; writer Steve Kloves has done all eight. And as each picture settles more densely into the Potter mythology, they’ve excluded casual visitors more completely.
Where it was once possible to enter an HP story – say, “The Prisoner of Azkaban” – without having memorized dozens of characters and thousands of pages of activity, that’s no longer true. The great character actor John Hurt peeps out of the darkness, unidentified, to utter one line near the end of “Hallows”; he was last seen six movies and nine years ago as the wand shop owner in “HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
We’re thrown right into the middle of the good-vs.-evil battle from the first scene, as Voldemort tortures a Hogwarts teacher and then feeds her to his snake. From there, Harry and crew try to destroy horcruxes – no explanation of what they are, though readers will know – and we move slowly toward the non-climax at the middle of the novel.
Yates and inventive cinematographer Eduardo Serra, who’s new to the series, dazzle us with a surprise only once: When Hermione tells the story of the three brothers responsible for the Deathly Hallows (a set of accursed and powerful tools), the film depicts this grisly story in spiky animation reminiscent of Asian shadow puppets, which turn out to be more frightening than even Voldemort.
Otherwise, the filmmakers simply summon some of the best special effects money can buy, though too many of those consist of explosions and fireballs and people flung backward like dolls. (I liked Ron’s nightmare, in which naked Harry and Hermione kiss lustily. Of course, fog swirls around their naughty bits.)
As I watched one hair’s-breadth escape after another, I wondered why Warner Bros. hadn’t made one massive, audaciously grand movie out of the book. “The Return of the King,” the final saga in “The Lord of the Rings,” ran 201 minutes and flowed like a river in spring. Surely one huge “Deathly Hallows” could have done the same?
The answer is avarice, as it was with the two-part “Kill Bill” and will be with Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” which will need five hours of screen time to depict one 250-page novel. I can no longer be surprised that greed is the ruling passion in Hollywood, but I still fidget when I feel my pocket being picked.