By Jason A. Hill
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, UK / USA, 2010
Directed by David Yates
I’ll admit right away that I have never picked up a Harry Potter novel. By the same token, I have seen every one of the Harry Potter movies. I guess that shows where my loyalties lie, or maybe I’m just too lazy to read anymore. Adaptations are pretty common these days in Hollywood, and with more and more epics being put on the big screen, there may be a problem with sacrificing a little too much for “literary integrity” at the expense of a complete film. Up until now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 has grossed over $400 million at the box office worldwide (the number six opening weekend of all time) and will certainly be among the top films in earnings history, but is this film really that good, or are we just falling victim to “completism”?
Going in, it was no secret that this film is just a prelude to the real final chapter of the Harry Potter story, but I resent the fact that one can’t seem to enjoy this film on its own. Instead, it has to be viewed as just an episode. It’s hard to argue with the success. This is the most successful movie franchise in history under the same production company, Warner Bros, and under the same cast, featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. It also includes a slew of great directors and producers, but I have to be the voice of reason “in these dark times.” Is it possible to make a film to which non-readers of the novels and non-viewers of the previous films are not a crucial part of the experience? I won’t challenge the plot, which is promised to be wrapped up in Part 2 of Hallows. It’s just that I often found myself saying, “Who is that?” and “Where did that come from?” Often during the film, things would drag and just before the film would stall, a story device like a character or an object would present itself. This character or object may have been evident to readers, but it’s not explained in the context of the film, so the viewer really has to just accept that it was part of the plan all along. I’m guessing that it’s all explained in the book, but I paid to see a movie. If it’s really required that I read the book before I see the movie, then the movie is really incomplete, and in two-and-a-half hours, you would think that half a novel could be squeezed in. Perhaps they should have given out companion guides beforehand.
My other point is this: if you take this film on its own and view it apart from the other films, you won’t get any part of it. So what the producers are telling us is that, in order to watch this film, you have to watch the film before it and the one after. Imagine if this becomes the new norm at the theater. Maybe we’ll start seeing films in just acts? Imagine if they did this is in other forms of art; I would find that a little presumptuous and also arrogant. What happens if someone from the cast, god forbid, can’t do the last film? What if the production suffers a series of “bad luck” incidents, in which case it may not be finished at all? Filming ahead supports the idea that they are milking you for money, and insurance can’t always cover it either – just ask AIG.
The beginning of the film is pretty action-packed and kept me involved most of the way, but I noticed many of the shots would just go on too long and many of the sequences, which were all about internal conflict in perilous situations, just went on way too long. These sequences did little to advance the story, if at all, and every time I thought I was seeing a breakthrough or payoff, the characters ended up running and hiding again. For example, when Harry (Radcliffe) kisses the Quidditch ball, it reveals something to him; words appear on the ball (in a lightning-fast cut) and he realizes that Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is trying to give him a message, but apparently it doesn’t mean much right then because he and the other characters continue to run, hide, and ponder afterward. I found the story considerably convoluted, and whenever it seemed to come to a halt, you could always count on Hermione (Watson) to pull something from the “How to Survive the Harry Potter Story” guide so we could keep going. Nothing that occurred in this film made me accept or understand why this needed to be a two-and-a-half hour film; everything that was achieved could have taken about an hour at most. My guess is that they just want to milk this franchise for every dime they can get before giving it up, and the fans are going for it. It’s a real disappointment for me, as one who has only watched the films, which could have been as great as the novels are purported to be, as was the case with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But these films are not great, and unless you read the book, see the previous film, and buy the poster and the Harry Potter action figures (with the Hogwarts cape and wand), you may just miss the point of it all.
Jason A. Hill is the Founder, Owner and Editor In Chief of Movies I Didn’t Get.com. He is a film critic and writer of articles and film reviews covering a variety of genres and film news that have been syndicated to many sites in the film blogosphere. He specializes in independent film in the US and Asia.
For more information please contact Jason at JasonAHill@MoviesIDidn’tGet.com.