No more games
IHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, beginning of the end of the boy-wizard epic, rated PG-13, Regal Stadium 14, 3 chiles If you’re a muggle who has been living under a rock since the late 1990s, please don’t buy a ticket for this movie. This installment in the Harry Potter saga — the first of two films based on J.K. Rowling’s final book — requires a nearly encyclopedic recall of the details and characters and doesn’t, strictly speaking, work on its own. That doesn’t mean it’s not good.
Here’s a quick refresher: Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione must leave the comforts of home and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry behind. They have a mission: track down and destroy Horcruxes, dark magical items that hold pieces of the evil Voldemort’s soul and make him immortal. Meanwhile, the wizarding world has become a dangerous place for enemies of the dark lord. He and his Death Eater followers have seized control of the Ministry of Magic and are torturing and imprisoning anyone who dares oppose them.
Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves surely grappled with the same issue that has vexed the creators of every Potter film to date: millions of fans expecting fealty to the well-loved, excruciatingly pored-over text. Because this, the penultimate film in the series, is designed to prepare us for next summer’s climactic, concluding showdown, even less of Rowling’s labyrinthine narrative can be left out. So although the decision to split the novel in two could seem like desperate grab for cash on the part of Warner Brothers, in this case, I think it’s better to include too much story than not enough. And choosing a halfway point must have been tough. Rowling’s novel doesn’t exactly have an entr’acte.
Kloves does a nice job of condensing the crucial elements into gripping, intensely dramatic segments, covering some 480 of the book’s daunting 759 pages. Just when it seems like the gang might be getting a little too chatty — the story requires a good bit of exposition — Kloves and Yates interject fast-paced action sequences (including a Bournetrilogy-lite chase through traffic).
Like their characters, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) are all grown up (Harry is showing signs of a fairly heavy beard — I assume Hermione packs a razor in her magically expansive handbag). They’re comfortable with each other, not to mention practiced professionals, and they give their best performances to date. The rest of the cast list reads like an honor roll of British stars (Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, et al.) who don’t need me to sing their praises.
Cinematographer Eduardo Serra ( Girl With a Pearl Earring) gorgeously captures the wooded glades, rocky cliffs, and pebbly coves where our magical trio camps. The CGI is better than ever — particularly the snake Nagini and house elves Kreacher and Dobby, who look creepily near-human. Yates breaks new ground by using a striking animation sequence to recount the tale of the “deathly hallows” — a trio of powerful magical objects.
That said, the hair and makeup departments went a little overboard. In place of the wild flyaway hair that suited a crazy former prison inmate, Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) is hidden beneath a mass of Shirley Temple-gone-evil curls. Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) typically has a sallow complexion and stringy hair, but for Deathly Hallows, he’s wearing smudgy grayish eye shadow, and his hair has been fluffed and feathered. He looks less like an ominous dark wizard than he does a goth drag queen.
Deathly Hallows deserves its PG-13 rating. It’s darker, more frightening, and grizzlier than its predecessors. Yates lets us know right away that this film’s violence will be messier and more realistic: in the opening scene, Voldemort tortures and kills a Hogwarts professor, and we see her blood and tears up close. You might have to look away when Hermione frantically tries to repair Ron’s “splinched” arm. On the other hand, you might have a hard time looking away from Ron’s Horcruxinduced vision of Harry and Hermione snogging in the nude.
The film serves up political messages, too. Voldemort’s Ministry of Magic looks like a magical Third Reich headquarters, complete with propaganda pamphlets (“When Muggles Attack” and “Mudbloods and the Dangers They Pose,” for example). When Bellatrix carves mudblood into Hermione’s arm, I couldn’t help but think of concentration-camp tattoos. Is this just a message about the mistakes of the past? Arizona’s SB 1070 lingered in the back of my mind — immigration issues seem one step away from debates about “blood purity.”
The refusal to pussyfoot around the book’s darkness becomes part of the film’s problem, though. The lighting is dim, gloomy, and nearly monochromatic — just in case we think tracking down Horcruxes isn’t serious business. Harry, Ron, and Hermione do a lot of thoughtful staring. With very few exceptions, everyone’s clothing is drab, though trendy and impeccably layered. Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s scenes in the woodlands reminded me of something out of an Urban Outfitters catalog.
Obviously, this isn’t a children’s story anymore. Even the score, by Alexandre Desplat, is subtle and sophisticated. We get no more whimsical magic or quidditch matches. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in the real world now, and there’s danger around every corner. Kloves does inject some levity here and there, often courtesy of Ron’s twin brothers (played by James and Oliver Phelps), who provide a welcome dose of snarky banter. Still, I’d caution against taking young children to see this film, unless they’re already Potterheads.
The ending isn’t much of a cliffhanger, at least in conventional terms, but it’s as good and ominous a closer as any. At the end of the film’s 146-minute running time, fanny fatigue notwithstanding, I would eagerly have stayed for Part 2 if the theater had offered to show it.
House-elf party: From left, Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Andy Linden