Although it represents a natural progression in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 will be a slog for those new to the Potter universe.
Seven films in, and we are near the end of the Harry Potter series. No other film franchise has managed to sustain such credible momentum, which is exactly why ...The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is such a hit and miss affair.
Despite its standing as the perennial fantasy series, it is in fact a heavy, brooding drama which fuels this bleakest of adventure tales. Problem is, without a healthy investment into its long and detailed mythology, many character and plot developments will not hit the way they are supposed to, no matter how hard director David Yates tries to persuade Potter virgins otherwise.
This much is clear: dark times have fallen upon the world. Supreme baddie Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) has taken over the Ministry of Magic, making life very difficult for all good and non-sorcerers (aka Mudblood’s) alike.
Forced out of the comfort of Hogwarts is young wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), who along with his best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are hounded by Voldermort’s minions, as they search far and wide for the Horcruxes, objects which contain Voldermort’s soul.
To say their quest is a treacherous one is an understatement. Guilt and death haunt the trio wherever they go, while the weight of Professor Dumbledore’s (mentor and wizard supreme) legacy weighs heavy on Harry’s soul.
A sense of danger is also more palpable, and often disturbing. One scene has Voldemort addressing his minions at a large table, akin to Al Capone and his mobsters in The Untouchables. Hovering in pain is a former employee of the ministry, who at the conclusion of the scene is gulped by one large mother of a snake (not shown, but eluded to).
Of course the films’ technical wizardry is top grade, with fine photography (courtesy of twice Oscar nominated Eduardo Serra) and special / visual effects, the latter especially felt in its thrilling action sequences. Rising Sun Pictures chip in with a nice animated sequence which explains the origins of the films sub-title.
Yet its biggest problem is pacing, with a 2 ½ hour runtime sure to grate the most strident of cinephile.
What really drags the film is the acting of its three leads, neither actor able to convincingly portray the internal conflicts needed to sell its dramatic elements. Lucky for them (and us) they are surrounded by some of Britain’s best character actors, who make up what must be the most impressive cast of the year.
Yet while ...The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a film of many fine moments, they do not combine to make a satisfying whole. Potter fans will embrace in its bleak maturity, while novices will find themselves lost in the dark.