Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One
Sitting in the Cineworld Fulham Road I found myself in a difficult position. I’m a diehard fan of both the books and the films; I take joy in even the smallest moments of magic or the tiniest relations to the books. But I’m not a conservative fan of the books either. I appreciate the film making process and, as a result, understand the need to change and omit in order to keep the pace in the film. So I went into this film knowing, deep down, that I was going to love it. And, despite what you might have read in other reviews, I did.
I read a review of the film in the London Evening Standard that must rank amongst the worst pieces of film journalism I’ve ever read. The reviewer argued that they had so many ‘real life’ interests that they weren’t interested in fantasy and gave the film two stars. That’s not exactly a very even judgement to start watching a Harry Potter film with. But I face the same (albeit reversed) problem. Perhaps I’m too enamoured with the series and struggle to find faults (except with the disappointing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). This seventh movie in the series presents the most interesting challenge to a reviewer and it’s one that I leap at.
The first thing that will strike you (cinematically) is that this is being shot in a very different way from previous films. Gone are the fixed cameras and beautiful dolly and cranes around Hogwarts, enter handheld cameras, even when Harry is sitting in his bedroom. I would like to take this movie and show it to amateur filmmakers (who are such enthusiastic supporters of handheld cameras) so that they can learn that using handhelds doesn’t have to be nauseating. But the change in style is pretty much limited to these techniques: the colours and special effects still pop out, after all this is a movie whose target demographic is between 8 and 18.
In the past I have been slightly critical about the acting from the younger members of the cast, particularly Radcliffe. It’s not that he’s a terrible actor; it’s just that his limitations are very apparent and once again they are highlighted. On the flip side Rupert Grint finally gets something to do any and makes a good hash of it. The sexual tension between Ron and Hermione is there (much more explicitly than the books, as always) but strangely the film makers have opted to make it look like Harry and Hermione are on the verge of making out the entire time. But this movie is very much focused on the ‘trio’ and they do a much better job with the added focus than they have in the past. Maturing is a word better applied to whiskey, but it’s also apt.
The rest of the cast don’t get a lot to do. Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter are wonderfully malevolent when onscreen, but Alan Rickman only gets one scene to ply his (now familiar) trade as Snape. The climactic opening sequence with the Seven Potters is a wonderfully exhibition of how strong the Order of the Phoenix cast is and how much fun you can have with whooshing spells and flying motorbikes. Perhaps the stand out sequence of the entire film is the last one, set on a beach, which shows how CGI can be integrated into real filmmaking in a beautifully understated way. It’s also Radcliffe’s finest scene of the series (indeed it may well be the whole series’ finest scene).
The problem is that they’ve had to cut the book in half and so there is no natural three act story arc for the producers to work with. They’ve fashioned a rudimentary climax out of the Malfoy Manor sequence, but the two biggest sequences (Gringotts and The Battle of Hogwarts) come in part two. As such there’s a great deal more exposition than action, especially in the ‘road trip’ part of the movie where they wander, seemingly helplessly, from starkly beautiful location to starkly beautiful location. Without Hogwarts to anchor the film it struggles to display the magic so apparent in previous movies, but what it ultimately manages to do is set up the second film. As Voldemort thrusts a beam of light into the air and the credits start to roll I heard an eight year old child behind me ask ‘Can we see Part Two today, please?’
The difficult first half has been pulled off with the requisite amount of aplomb. It’s a difficult movie and may not be to the taste of the uninitiated but it sparkles when allowed to and is a genuinely intelligent way of making a film which is primarily about the difficulties of staying alive. An accomplished translation.