Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a faithful and adequate rendering of the first half or so of J.K. Rowling's faithful and adequate final book. Yeah, I'm a big Harry Potter fan, have read all the books and seen all the movies. Having read the final installment, which I found fulfilling if a little uninspiring, I was worried that it would be hard to make an involving movie of its stripped-down, existential story, so unlike each of the other Potter books.
I mean, to be faithful, most of the film would feature Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and friends living in a magical charm-bubble in the English countryside, figuring things out, trying to maneuver against the ultimate evil attack of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters without a lot of actual room to maneuver.
Can we really do that? Make a two-and-a-half hour movie of stands of brush blowing in the wind on the naked heath? I simultaneously wished for it and dreaded it, but put my trust in stalwart director Yates.
Yates has been the most expressionistic of the Potter interpreters, and it has served him and the audience well. One problem with this latest one is that we've seen it all before. There are few new wonders to be spotted or angles taken, it's consolidation time. And it feels a bit forced and underwhelming.
One has to focus on the kids in the countryside. And it's not all boring. In fact, it's all put together right. But some things that have bothered others about the previous films started to bug me in this one.
Dobby the former house elf (voice by Toby Jones) is a major character. He was shown using better effects previously, however, and his major storyline here suffers for it. He was always bordering on being the official Jar Jar Binks of this franchise--annoying, poorly rendered, weird and borderline offensive to somebody, surely--except for the fact that Dobby as a CGI character interacting with humans was previously integrated more successfully, even became kind of likable. I didn't like Dobby much here, and with a big dose.
And it's the second Yates film to be a bit too shorthand with the plot. Characters pop up in the right place, but mostly just to swell crowds. Some intricate plot developments hinge on whether you read a headline that snipped by the camera like Forrest Gump's feather. As things build and come together in the plot, you think, well, I'd know better what's going on if I'd read the book. Oh, yeah, I already did. Maybe if I read it again. I probably will anyway. But opportunities to tease out some elements, themes, characters and images which could have unified this story more, and tied it more strongly symbolically and emotionally to the previous films are sadly missed.
Still, I'm a fan. And the major story, among Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) on the moors, works and builds from the previous films effectively. The film stops in the right place, too, so much so that everybody groans, then laughs at themselves as they recognize a well-timed cliffhanger.
This review will stop no one from seeing this movie, and that's certainly not its goal. But you know how some people (not me) were greatly disappointed with the final couple of Dragon Tattoo movies, feeling they were kind of rote or anti-climactic? I felt that way about this film. (I feel a bit that way about the book it's based on, too.) It's my least favorite movie of the series so far. And yet, I will pony up for the last Yates film and keep hoping it's the best finale ever. Hey, what's up in Narnia?
Follows Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
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