film review: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART ONE

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
November 18, 2010 5:42 AM
5 Comments
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In the old days of Saturday matinee serials, audiences faced with cliffhanger endings took comfort in knowing that the story would be resumed one week later. The same can’t be said for the latest Harry Potter picture, which offers much incident but no resolution: for that, we all have to wait until next year. If you’re a dedicated Potter fan, you’ll have to take what you can from this one—mainly, the pleasure of spending time with its leading characters and the young actors who play them. Following J.K. Rowling’s narrative, there are no scenes at Hogwarts’ Academy. This denies us the opportunity to revel in seeing the finest British actors alive in the vast Potter ensemble; we get only token appearances from Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane and a handful of others, while Maggie Smith, as Professor McGonagall, is absent altogether.

The movie starts out on the right foot, as Harry—now marked for death by the evil Lord Voldemort—is surrounded by his—

—best friends and allies, who vow to protect him. These scenes capture the sense of magic and wonder that characterize the series at its best, but as the story progresses, our heroes (Harry, Hermione and Ron) are left on their own much of the time, and the energy level drops, along with the rousing emotions we feel at the outset.

Deathly Hallows feels more episodic than usual for a Potter film—which is saying a lot. Slow-paced scenes of the protagonists on the lam are punctuated by spurts of action, creating a seesaw effect in terms of pacing. It may be unfair to blame director David Yates, who had to play the cards he was dealt. Unfamiliar character relationships are presented as matter-of-fact, and one notable figure dies off-screen with just a casual line of dialogue to mark his demise.

At this point in the series’ life its major point of interest to many moviegoers is watching its youthful stars mature. After all, it’s been a decade since we first encountered Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, so we’ve watched them all grow up. It’s a testament to the Potter producers who chose them so many years ago that they’ve all fulfilled their promise and retained their commitment to these endearing characters.

I don’t know if the decision to cut Rowling’s final novel in half was strictly commercial, or if the filmmakers (including longtime series screenwriter Steve Kloves) felt they couldn’t squeeze the entire book into one movie. Either way, the result seems less like a full-fledged story than a place-holder, and I can’t say I left feeling satisfied.

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5 Comments

  • jay | March 15, 2011 4:18 AMReply

    I haven't read any of those books, but have seen
    all of the HP-movies. They have all the same problem in my opinion:
    Each one of them is too long and episodic - and a lot of
    things are just stated, but not really told and worked out cinematically.
    Especially because of Rowling's immense influence on the screenwriting.
    The result often seems like filmed dialogue filled with or followed by shindig effects.
    I've received the impression that a lot of people rate these
    movies higher because of having read the novels, which
    seemingly enlivens the characters.

  • Henry Plantagenet | December 20, 2010 6:39 AMReply

    The only reason we need, to split the book into two movies, is the acting. Because they split it in two, we got to see the three lead actors show their brilliance for the first time, in Hallows 1. Before this film, the directors didn't let the three leads actually do their jobs as actors, exploring their characters etc (sometimes they didn't even bother explaining the meaning of the lines to them), and the Big 3 will have scant opportunities in the action-heavy Hallows 2. So this was their one chance, and Watson, in particular, was overwhelming. In scene after scene she was so dazzling that the cast and crew were stunned at what she was doing, and at least twice Yates had to water down her performance to avoid traumatizing the kids. Radcliffe admitted that if Hallows was all jammed into one movie, most of the material to be cut would have been the work we just saw from the three leads. Watson, thankfully, was given an opportunity to show that (a) she is worth a look for Supporting Actress this year, and (b) she has a dazzling career still to come.

  • Nelly | November 22, 2010 2:57 AMReply

    I too am a huge fan and have read all books. I do feel that the film met my expectations. I do not agree that both films could have been squeezed into one. As it is I felt that as in all "book to movie" much is left out. The nice thing about this series is knowing that we must only wait a few months for the conclusion, since the next and final film is scheduled to be released in June. I can't wait!

  • Cindy | November 20, 2010 11:33 AMReply

    I disagree on many counts. I appreciated the slower pace that for once allowed a Potter film to explore the character relationships at a depth that approaches the books.

    Also, now that the kids are grown and more experienced, they are finally ready to hold their own without being propped up by Britain's best adult stars in every scene.

    And since the film was not skipping from one highlight action scene or plot twist to the next in order to fit it all in, the scipt contained much more humor to balance the outstanding special effects and the darker plot elements, making this seem better suited for adults than previous films that were more like teen flicks.

    I also like the fact that the film does not spoonfeed the audience members who have not read the books by explaining every single detail, such as the broken mirror that Harry carries around, or by painstakingly reviewing characters from previous films and their relationships to Harry, such as Mad Eye Moody. This is a film that most richly rewards the serious fan, as it should be.

    And yet because the film is only covering half of the book, it was detailed enough that my friend who has not read the books or seen the other films could get the basics and keep up.

    Those of us who know the story can stand to wait until summer to see the rest. I was satisfied as I have not been since the first film. I will definitely see it again.

  • Ricky | November 20, 2010 10:00 AMReply

    I agree with assetment of the film Mr. Maltin.

    I'm a big fan of the Harry Potter series, although I have not read the books. I've been enjoying the films simply as films and this one just didn't work for me.

    It has nothing to do with the story or acting. As with all the Potter films the production is magnificent on all levels. The biggest problem is the pacing and structure.

    I believe the key moments in this film could have been boiled down to under an hour, so I don't think splitting the final story into two films was really necessary. However since that's the direction the filmmakers decided to go I don't understand why important events were left off screen, while Harry and company are only hearing about them after the fact.

    One could make a terrific film with the narrative cutting between Harry's journey and Voldemort's consolidation of power. The Potter films are at their best when they're working on two levels. The story as seen from Harry's perspective and from the perspective of the adults around him. I wanted to see much more of Voldemort's grip on the adult's world raising the stakes for the next film when Harry must face it head on.

    Ever since the Goblet of Fire, in my opinion the series' best, I've been waiting for the final conflict to begin and here we are three films latter and I'm still waiting.

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