Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

A Cinematic Snooze Button

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Written by Robert Patrick

About now, as this post goes live, millions of muggles will be littering the isles of their local theater. And if you haven’t heard, things are pretty dour for Harry, Ron and Hermione. The trinity of magicians not only have to deal with Voldemort’s serpentine advances, but they also, more modernly, have been reaching into their own personal coffers of teenage angst – as if handling the problem of young love wasn’t the ultimate Horcrux in the first place. In the seventh film, director David Yates, who has fleshed out author J.K. Rowling’s world for the last few installments, returns with part one of a two part finale. This particular episode, however, seems more moribund and sleepy than the first six films. The tongues of Harry and the gang are slicked with introspective fugue. Where “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” was inoculated with Dawson’s Creek sensibilities, despite the overtly melodramatic finale, part one of “The Deathly Hallows” is more of a bloated aria than a chipper adventure with dark undertones.

The cinematography is particularly languid. As Harry, Ron and Hermione skulk about various terrain en route to destroying the remaining Horcruxes, the camera seems to be about as active as a wallflower pinned to the interior of a high school dance. Perhaps Yates thinks that, because there have been six well received movies to build upon the characters’ personalities, he doesn’t have to do more than tend to a flame that has already been stoked. No matter. Stuart Craig, who has designed all of the wonderful sets in the film adaptations Rowling’s books, returns, more physically than creatively, to assist Yates with “The Deathly Hallows.” When I say assist, I mean scout the location of a forest, two mountains, and a beach. I have seen more set variation in an elementary school play. To me, this first part of “The Deathly Hallows” serves, theatrically, as a filler for fans of the book that want more literary representation of their beloved series. This is fine. Whatever. My problem is that, as a working feature of light and magic, roughly 40 percent of the material in part one is more expendable than it is adroit – at least cinematically.

I will say that the first twenty-minutes are brandished with whizzing theatrics that are some of the best in the series. The computer animation is top notch and fueled with furious understanding of tension.  The luminous action in the opening moments of the picture is an explication to showing what the franchise is capable of. The underachieving girth of the second half, however, is also a compass for how dull some of this material can be. Yates isn’t a bad director by any means, and he finds a great way of bridging the whimsical nature of Chris Columbus with the brooding nature of Alfonso Cuaron to create an uneasy but accessible landscape for the finale.

There are a lot of problems with part one of “The Deathly Hallows”, but the unparalleled chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson is indisputable. The comedic timing of Watson and Grint, in particular, saves the film from becoming a comatose mess. If not for these two – and Radcliffe in parts – I would have climbed into the booth, knocked over anyone in the way, and attempted to give the projector CPR. Other supporting players do their best to help bolster the film; It’s always fun to see Alan Rickman playing Trent Reznor meets Ian Asbury. And, of course, Ralph Fiennes is always filthily amusing as the distastefully malevolent Voldemort. The biggest hiccup in the cast, though, is Helena Bonham Carter; the actress, once again, has her hair puffed up taller than a seven-tiered wedding cake. She looks like The Cure’s Robert Smith mixed with Edward Scissorhands. The obligatory seething and wily mannerisms, showcased so regularly in her work of late, predates her “Harry Potter” work and goes back to “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”. She always has so much make-up on these days that I feel like she’s less of a character actor and more of a spirited employee at a seasonal Halloween store.

Aside from a few scattered moments of humor and action, the newest “Harry Potter” feels like it serves only as a semicolon between two sentences; it really has nothing to offer, content wise, other than it needs to exist for the sake of something bigger. I suppose “Harry Potter” purists will forgive the misdeeds in “The Deathly Hallows”, but I will fail to do so. I will leave the empathy for someone else, thank you.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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