Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I aka how nice it is to have a Harry Potter film which is not all action

I have finally managed to get my Harry Potter review to an almost coherent state (although I suppose that’s debatable ;-P it is still way too long *sigh*).
And I’ve done even more tweaking to my review format :] Yes, yes I know - I should stop now, but I like tweaking…

{FILM DIARY}

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (USA/UK, 2010)

Seen: Friday, 19th November 2010 (cinema)
Rating: +2 (Adored It).
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Matthew Lewis, Bill Nighy, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright, Clémence Poésy, Jason Isaacs, John Hurt, Miranda Richardson, Warwick Davis, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Timothy Spall, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton, Fiona Shaw, Natalia Tena, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Richard Griffiths, Mark Williams, Harry Melling, Frances de la Tour, Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara, Steffan Rhodri
Plot: Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to do what Dumbledore left to them - destroy all of Voldemort’s horcruxes, so that he becomes mortal again.

Video

Or see the trailer.

The part of the plot that I love the most in the book is when Harry, Ron and Hermione are completely on their own, camping out in the woods, with only Dumbledore’s cryptic messages to go by. I love all the arguments, frustrations and how basically nothing happens for chapters and chapters. Nothing can happen because they have no clue how they’re supposed to accomplish the task that was left to them.
In that sense, I got what I wanted :) A lot of the film’s focus is on that part of the story, which gave it an unusual feel - emotional conflicts take the place of what would usually be fast-paced action.
It’s also the first time the film relies quite so heavily on Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. While the Potter films are famous for using lots of big-named British actors for what are essentially cameos, they kind of outdid themselves in this one. There are only four significant characters in the film - Harry, Ron, Hermione and Voldemort. Nobody else has more than two scenes or so. And even Voldemort has very limited screen time (he’s probably in the film for less than 10 minutes total).
Rupert Grint was awesome *grin* Totally my favourite performance of the film. He’s still the comic relief in a way, but the emotional range is much broader and even a lot of his humorous moments are much heavier. I think what’s so wonderful about the performance is the warmth about him and how clearly you can feel Ron’s attachment to all the people in his life. All three of them sacrifice their relationships to go on the horcrux hunt, but Ron has the hardest time dealing with this. And it’s that conflict inside of Ron that makes Rupert Grint so exciting to watch. Well that and he’s the funniest ;) (all three of them did very well on the comedy though).
Emma Watson was excellent too. I particularly loved her in the opening of the film. It begins with the three main characters saying a sort of silent goodbye to their homes, knowing they might never come back. It’s an excellent and very effective sequence - beautifully shot and edited (it happens simultaneously in three places) and it’s almost completely without dialogue. It’s a very unusual opening for a Hollywood film.
Hermione’s “goodbye” in that sequence is particularly disturbing - she makes her Muggle parents forget that she ever existed, hoping that will keep them safe. You can see her disappearing from all the family photographs. It’s sort of the defining moment of the film for Hermione and it clearly keeps haunting her, even though it’s not mentioned outright again.
Daniel Radcliffe is always the one I have the most reservations about and this has not changed ;) But I enjoyed him a lot as well. While I tend to like him when he’s all angsty and intense (no exceptions here - liked him even more than usual), I often find him quite dull in smaller scenes. This time round, he kept my interest even throughout the more mundane stuff.
But I suppose the best thing about the three of them together is the chemistry they have. There’s a scene in which Harry, Ron and Hermione spend their first night at Grimmauld Place. They’re crammed into one room, Hermione and Harry on two couches and Ron on a matress on the floor between them. The scene doesn’t last more than 30 seconds (it’s literally just one shot and has no dialogue) and yet the intimacy and closeness between the three characters gets conveyed so easily. And I love the romantic chemistry between Emma Watson and Rupert Grint despite how incestuous they keep making it sound ;)
A rather unexpected highlight of the film is the retelling of the story of the Deathly Hallows. Characters retelling stories to other characters tend to be dull scenes, so I was surprised how good the scene was. Not only did they get some comedy out of it (I loved the Twilight reference *grin*), but the animated sequence totally thrilled me, which is a new experience to me - as anybody who reads this blog regularly knows, I don’t usually appreciate animation for its own sake ;)
Another thing I was extremely impressed with was how the actors that played the transformed versions of Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Ministry of Magic (Sophie Thompson, David O’Hara and Steffan Rhodri) managed to really feel like Harry, Ron and Hermione. They must have had Radcliffe, Watson and Grint do the scene in rehearsal and then have the adult actors imitate them. The body language was perfect and the way they interacted with each other was so in character. I particularly loved how they huddled together in the lift - that was hilarious *grin* I’ve very rarely felt that sort of continuity when more than one actor plays the same character.
To my delight (and I think to a lot of other people’s delight as well ;)), this is by far the most sexually explicit of the films so far. That still means there’s less sexual references than in Twilight ;) But, er, there’s quite a lot. You get two bare female backs, multiple opportunities to see Daniel Radcliffe taking his clothes off (one of which involves seeing him in female lingerie *grin*) and three make out scenes (one involving Rupert Grint and a woman about 15 years older than him *grin*). I think that’s quite a lot considering this started out as a children’s franchise ;)
In terms of disappointments, it wasn’t that bad actually.
The film drags a little bit in the second half. After Ron and Harry’s fallout, Ron disappears from the story for a while and it’s around that time when the audience gets a bit restless. It picks up again once he returns, but it never gets quite as involving as beforehand (at least not for me).
Largely, this is the book’s fault IMO - it’s when the story starts running into problems. This is when Harry does a lot of things for no other reason than “because he feels like it”, the Malfoy Manor prisoners are conveniently not under any paralysing spells and so on. The film actually does a good job of correcting many of the most annoying occurrences, but they could only do so much - they still had to get Harry and his friends through the main events of Godric’s Hollow and Malfoy Manor.
But the other reason it starts dragging at that moment IMO is that Rupert Grint is off screen. He brings a huuuuge amount into this film and once his warmth and humour goes missing, you can really feel the loss.
Besides that, removing Ron from the story takes the emotional conflict away. Harry and Hermione are at peace with each other really. It’s Ron who brings in all the conflict. And with the plot getting weaker and the emotional conflict no longer there, it’s much harder to keep people involved to the same degree.
The drag wasn’t horrible by any means (I seriously much preferred that to the insane pace of some of the other films). I certainly wasn’t bored, but there was definitely a moment where I started feeling less involved in the film.
But IMO the biggest screw up is not the slight drag of the second half, but that [MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD!] (select text to view) Dobby’s death scene is so crappy. Daniel Radcliffe and Evanna Lynch do a great job on the dialogue and facial expressions, but the way they designed Dobby and the actor doing Dobby’s voice was so dreadful that it killed the scene. The way they did Bellatrix’s knife throwing was very effective though. [END OF SPOILER] I had very low expectations for that scene anyway (I didn’t like the way Dobby was done in the films previously and I didn’t much care for the scene in the book either). So even though I feel this was a major screw up, I wasn’t that disgruntled ;)
The bit that ended up annoying me the most was the seven Potter chase sequence. It was done for special effects and drama rather than to fit in with the reality. I can’t see how letting lots of Muggles see magic or how having to deal with the dangers of traffic on top of an entourage of Death Eaters was helpful in the circumstances. But then that’s the only point in the movie where special effects take precedence over telling the story, so I’m rather happy it wasn’t worse! ;)
In terms of what they cut out of the book, IMO there were no egregious omissions. I mean probably every Harry Potter book fan has at least one scene they wished was kept. Mine is the ghoul in the Burrow *grin* I think it would have been nice to see not only Hermione’s attempt at keeping her family safe, but also Ron’s (especially as Ron’s had some comedic value), but I think I get why they cut it and fair enough.
I could go on and on, but this review is long as it is and it seems to me that adding anything more to it will just make it more difficult to read, so I’ll stop now despite the huge temptation to write a separate paragraph on every listed cast member ;)

Who should see it?
Harry Potter fans obviously *grin* Or at least the ones that enjoy the movies, anyway. This is also a must-see for anybody who likes Rupert Grint - it’s a really special performance and I’ll be surprised if he tops that any time soon. But having said that, I think all three of them give their best performances to date, so it’s definitely a must-see for Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe fans as well :)
For fans of other cast members - they’re in this so little that if you don’t have other compelling reasons to see it, it’s probably not worth it. The whole cast is very strong, but they really don’t get more than about two scenes per person. Ralph Fiennes gets a bit more attention, but he’s still hardly in it.
For those, who aren’t into Harry Potter, this will probably be tough going. I’ve actually never met anybody who hasn’t read (and enjoyed) the books and yet was able to enjoy the films. I mean, AFAIK such people exist, but I have no idea how that works ;) I’d think some of the action would be difficult to follow without all the background the books provide.
Finally - those, who watch the Potter films just for the special effects, action and all that, are going to be disappointed with this one. The beginning and end of the film provide the whole Hollywood fast-paced special effect experience, but the middle bit is all character development.

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