Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Release Date: November 19, 2011
Director: David Yates
Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
MPAA Rating: PG-13
It’s incredibly difficult to view Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 in a vacuum. It’s the seventh installment in a series of films with one long overarching storyline. On top of that, a decision was made to split the dense storyline from the Deathly Hallows novel into two films, meaning that this film is actually only one half of a complete story.
So Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a film that requires you to watch six previous films and one yet to be released in order to truly enjoy and appreciate it. However, to director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves‘ credit, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 still manages to feel like a complete film – and a very entertaining one at that.
Picking up where Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince left off, the film begins with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) asserting his power over the entire wizard realm. With Dumbledore out of the picture, Voldemort and his Death Eaters have seized control of the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts School and they’ve begun eliminating anyone who stands in their way. Voldemort has become so powerful and evil, in fact, that he even gets to recreate a classic supervillian scene – he and his underlings actually sit around a large rectangular conference table plotting the demise of his nemesis Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).
Since he has control of the Ministry of Magic, Voldemort has Harry declared a wanted fugitive. As a result, Harry is unable to return to Hogwarts and instead spends the entire film on the lam with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The trio set out to find and destroy all of Voldemort’s Horcruxes – magical objects that protect a piece of Voldemort’s soul, making him immortal.
It’s a very dark film. Harry spends most of the film brooding, there is internal strife within his trio of friends and additional beloved characters are killed off. The dark tone is no real surprise though – the films have gotten progressively darker as the story has moved forward. The days of adorable, precocious young Harry presented in the original two Chris Columbus directed Harry Potter films are far behind us now.
However, even with the dark subject matter, Yates and Kloves manage to infuse quite a bit of humor into the story. Yates took over the franchise with Order of the Pheonix and he has done a consistently good job balancing drama and humor in these films, which is essential in order to keep them from becoming unwatchably bleak. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 has a number of truly great comedic moments, including a very bizarre early scene reminiscent of Being John Malkovich in which Polyjuice Potion is used to turn a room full of wizards into Harry Potter doppelgangers.
Yates does a great job building tension in the film, as well. Yates establishes a fast pace from the onset and, for the most part, manages to keep up that pace throughout the film. Being on the lam, Harry Potter is constantly forced to either flee areas or battle foes seeking to bring him in. The movie does start to drag a bit toward the end, but just as it starts to feel a little tedious, Yates again picks up the tempo and delivers an exciting climactic battle.
However, Yates crowning achievement in the film is a beautifully animated sequence late in the film that explains the significance of the Deathly Hallows. Hermione reads a fairytale from a book and Yates chooses to depict the tale as she narrates it using stylized animated silhouettes. It’s a really wonderful and charming effect and the animation is quite gorgeous.
Speaking of CGI, Yates and Kloves also deserve a tremendous amount of credit for somehow making Dobby the elf likeable. Dobby first appeared in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets and in that film he quickly reached a Jar Jar Binks level of CGI sidekick annoyingness. Every time he spoke or did anything in Chamber of Secrets, it felt like nails on a chalkboard. When Dobby first reappeared in Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I actually cringed. Yet somehow, Yates and Kloves managed to redeem the character and make him both entertaining and relatable, which is important since he ends up becoming an important character in this film.
Also impressive is the ending of the film. Considering this is only half of the story presented in J.K. Rowling’s original novel, Yates and Kloves chose their ending wisely. While it still concludes with a cliffhanger finish (which was unavoidable given the circumstances), Deathly Hallows: Part 1 manages to provide an ending that feels satisfying.
So while Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is only a small piece of a larger story, it is still an exceptionally well-crafted piece. The beautifully animated fairy tale sequence, the tense battle scenes and the moments of comic relief all add up to make this one of the strongest installments in this franchise. If you’ve enjoyed the previous Harry Potter films, you definitely want to make sure to see this one on the big screen.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.