Friday, February 14, 2014

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010, Movie Review)

      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter book series, however, that novel was so long and so full, that director David Yates decided to split its movie counterpart into two movies. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” would premier in 2010, while the follow-up titled “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” would be released in 2011. I think this was a very smart decision that paid off very well, and it was also a nice treat to get one more installment in the Harry Potter series then we were expecting. However, while I really like that they split this book into two movies, I think they could have done a better job with “Part 1” of “the Deathly Hallows”. Actually, this film gave me the exact opposite reaction I had with the last HP movie. In my review of “The Half-Blood Prince”, I described how I hated that film when I first saw it in the theater, but then I grew to like it more and more with repeated viewings. Now I think it’s pretty good, unfortunately, I had the opposite effect with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”. When I saw this movie in the theater, I loved it and praised it, but then after several home viewings, I find myself liking this one less and less every time I watch it. Now it’s come to the point where I think it’s a good movie, but only at the very low end of good.

     (Spoilers) In the last movie titled “Half-Blood Prince”, Harry Potter learned that his enemy Voldemort could be defeated once and for all by destroying seven items that contain part of his sole. Unfortunately, his head master Dumbledore was killed by Professor Snap, who apparently has allied himself with the enemy. Now Voldemort rules the wizarding world with an iron fist, he has his death eaters running the ministry of magic and he appoints Snap as the new head master of Hogwarts. With nowhere else to go, Harry along with his two best friends Ron and Herminie set off on a quest to find and destroy all seven items in an effort to defeat this tyrant and bring peace back to their world. Along the way they travel to various locations and lots of action scenes happen along the way. On the face of it, this sounds like an awesome premise, our heroes are embarking on an adventure rather than spending another year at school and the stakes are higher than ever. It’s almost like the Percy Jackson books, with lots of exploring and lots of thrilling encounters, except where that group was actually fun to go adventuring with, the Harry Potter characters sadly aren’t as fun in a situation like this.

     I’d go so far as to say that the first thirty minutes of their journey was fantastic, it starts with a lot of energy, they need to get off the streets, find a safe place to stay and the situations they get in are a lot of fun. There’s an especially exciting sequence when our heroes disguise themselves as adult wizards in an effort to sneak into a highly secured building, and retrieve one of the seven items that’s being held by their old foe Dolores Umbridge. This leads to some thrilling action and it makes for a fun, covert, highest scene. Unfortunately, once our hero’s hit the forest and set up camp, things go downhill fast. You’d think this would be where the adventure really starts to liven up, but the characters waist so much time doing very little. The passing also gets really uneven at this point, sometimes the movie rushes through scenes that should be crucial or interesting, then other times it moves at a snail’s pass through moments that feel like time filler. There are several parts that feature our characters just sitting around, not saying anything, not doing anything and the only thing missing are the sounds of crickets going “Chirp Chirp”. Also, nothing feels magical about this experience, I actually find myself forgetting that this film takes place in a magical Kingdome, because for the most, all we see in this film are colorless landscape and the ugly interiors of a grey tent.

    This leads me to the next big problem with this film, the tone is just too cynical, intense and very unpleasant. Now I have no problem with drama or dark material in a movie. In fact, I usually love when dark elements are present in a film, because when your hero’s face intense obstacles and go through hard times, it makes us care a lot more about the situation at hand and it also makes the resolution feel so much stronger. However, there’s usually a balance in the Harry Potter films, and this particular movie isn’t just dark, it’s intensely dark. There’s characters getting killed off left and right, our three heroes have some really heated arguments, the villains murder people without mercy, there’s an especially intense scene where Herminie gets tortured, there’s lots of blood (at least by Harry Potter standards) and just to push this movies adult content, we have a brief seen with two of our main characters naked and getting awfully close. Granted, it’s only a vision sequence and it doesn’t show anything too inappropriate, but still, this film likes it’s dark, intense and adult content way too much.  

     Usually, the Harry Potter movies have some upbeat and magical elements to help balance out the darkness, but not here, it’s just pathos all the way through. Then when you combine this films joyless tone with its uneven passing, it just makes the whole experience feel dull and even a little depressing. The music is sorely lacking but the cinematography is actually quite impressive. Even though the scenery has little color, the locations themselves are still really cool to look at. Many of the dramatic elements in this film do work and at the very least, there are some really good moments that keep the film from being a complete downer. There’s a nice little scene where Harry visits his parents graves, and this moment dose a good job playing to our emotional sides. The most cheerful scene in the film is a little dance number between Harry and Herminie and while the whole scene ends with no payoff and is mostly pointless, it’s still the only moment that actually gets me to smile. Plus, it’s just genuinely nice to see Harry and Herminie have a positive bonding scene together.

     Even though I like the three main characters a lot, the movie just doesn’t know how to utilizes it’s time with them. This will be their last adventure together, let’s see them talk with each other a little more, let’s see them bond over their past experience and what they should do in the present but there’s only a hand full of scenes with them developing as individuals. It’s also annoying that the movie never bothers to cut to any of the other characters in the series. I think it would have really helped the pass of this movie if we’d get occasional scenes of what other characters like Hagrid, Ginny or Snap are doing, instead, where stuck with the three main characters like their the last people on earth. The climax takes place under the mercy of the wicked witch, Bellatrix Lestrange, played once again by Helena Bonham Carter. Now she’s always been a sinister adversary, but in this film, she goes bat shit crazy, attacking her own goons, torturing people without mercy and even murdering another one of our favorite characters. The final fight itself is short but effective enough, and the ending leaves audiences excited to see what happens next.  

      The action scenes in this movie are hit and miss, some of them go by way to fast and there’s one particular chase in the woods that suffers from way to much shaky camera. But when the action gets good, things can get really exciting. The best action segment by far is the sky battle in the beginning of the film. This started things off on a very high note, as all the characters are flying through the air while under attack by multiple adversaries, there’s vehicle destruction, high speed maneuvering and it easily stands as one of the most exciting battles in the entire series. Another high point of the film involves Ron, as he attempts to destroy one of Voldemorts seven objects. In this scene, Ron battles his personal demons in the form of sinister apparitions of his best friends, it’s intense and the visual effects are really cool. Plus, it’s very satisfying to see Ron finally confront his greatest fears and doubts in a figurative and physical confrontation. 

     Now wait a second, what about those Deathly Hallows that are right there in the title of our movie? Well, they really have nothing to do with the plot, have no connection to Voldemorts seven soul items and aren’t even discussed until the very end of the film. Yet, the Deathly Hallows are actually more interesting than anything else in this film. The series finally takes a moment to explore myths and legends in the Harry Potter universe and I really wish the plot was all about this instead. Where given an incredible backstory of “The Tail of the Peverell Brothers”, which is a story told through stunning animation, impressive visuals that are very reminiscent of Tim Burton’s art work and it’s all livened up with a strong atmosphere and cryptic narration. The scene itself is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series and the concept of the Deathly Hallows has so much potential to elevate this films shallow plot into something really good. We learn that the Deathly Hallows are three magical items that joined together make an individual master of death. Unfortunately, the movie never does anything with this premise, they never collect all three, they never get joined together and they’ll never have any bearing on the plot. So really, why bother making the legend of these Hollows so interesting and so detailed if they won’t amount to anything?

    Despite that, how do I feel about this movie as a whole? Well, there’s no denying that this film has some serious flaws, the passing is a mess, it can be really dull, uneventful and incredibly cynical at times, but I still don’t think it’s a terrible movie, I don’t even think it’s bad. It has exciting sequences that make it worthwhile, I do like the films premise, even if it could have been done better, and there’s still a lot of scenes that I do still enjoy a lot. It certainly isn’t on par with the other really good films in the series but it could have been worse. If you can get past this films constantly intense and down beat tone, then you might still have fun with all the action and technical wizardry that the film provides. 

                                         I give “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” 3 stars out of 5.