Warning! Lots of spoilers lie ahead for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1!
The past week hasn’t exactly seen a vacuum of opinion on the successes and failures of the new Harry Potter film. Reviewers have been wagging their fingers at saggy pacing, whilst oohing and aahing over a selection of stunning sequences. Cinemagoers have found the amputated plot both a frustration and a blessed relief. We must have heard every possible variation as to whether one, some, or none of its three young leads can actually act yet.
Add to this endless replays of a tedious debate about whether the act of splitting the book into two films stems from narrative necessity or outrageous commercial greed (final verdict? six of one, half a dozen of the other), and you could be forgiven for experiencing a touch of wizard fatigue.
But like the teen trio hunting down those nasty horcruxes, one last job remains to be done.
As other reviews, including our own, have kindly tiptoed their way around anything that could be considered a spoiler, we thought we’d put this to bed by doing the exact opposite. So here it is – a final, fully spoiler-packed look at the penultimate film in the Potter franchise.
First things first, how does this one end?
This first instalment of the final story whips through about two thirds of the novel (presumably so director David Yates can dedicate a generous portion of the next film to what promises to be an epic Battle of Hogwarts third act), to close with Voldemort seizing the Elder Wand.
As He Who Must Not Be Named leans into Dumbledore’s cracked tomb and prises the wand of power from the former headmaster’s dead but well preserved hands, a military theme rises from Alexandre Desplat’s otherwise gorgeously languid score, so we’re left in no doubt that the wizarding world is now in a state of war.
The film’s final seconds show Voldemort unleashing the wand’s awesome power in a scene that bears an unfortunate similarity to the current BT Infinity ads. Still, I suppose we all knew on some level that Kris Marshall must have been in league with the ultimate evil…
Moments beforehand, the camera had left Harry and friends on a beach mourning the sad passing of Dobby the elf. Whether or not you well up at this part seems to rely largely on your ability to separate the character of Dobby from a mental image of a half-naked Vladimir Putin. Best of luck.
Fair enough. So what’s been changed from the book?
Understandably, a fair few things have been streamlined: Viktor Krum is absent from the wedding, Lupin doesn’t try to abandon his wife and child, Hedwig dies trying to protect Harry rather than as a casualty of war, there’s no talk of Fred and George’s pirate radio station, the details of Dumbledore’s troubled adolescence have most likely been shunted to the next film and Harry isn’t disguised with polyjuice at the wedding, or during the Godric’s Hollow visit, for obvious practicality reasons.
A few elements have also been added that weren’t in the book, including a brief scene where Death Eaters storm the Hogwart’s Express in search of Undesirable No 1 (presumably to remind the audience where everyone else was while all that camping was going on).
One very welcome addition to the original story does turns up in the form of a wordless scene between Radcliffe and Watson who, temporarily alone after Grint’s disappearing act, dance to a Nick Cave song playing on the radio. I urge all those who’ve dismissed this sequence as a pointless ‘will they won’t they moment’ to take another look. Not only is it nothing of the sort, it’s also the best acting I’ve seen yet from these two.
Free of dialogue and free of the need to lock his lower jaw and come across all tortured, Daniel Radcliffe is suddenly, momentarily, very likeable. The pair’s silent understanding manages to make them appear both young and old at the same time, and conveys the comfort afforded by genuine friendship. In a few minutes they give the most human performance in two and a half hours of screen time and it was just lovely.
Okay, so we’ll look out for that bit. But is the film really as dark as everyone says it is?
Well, it is saying something when the cheeriest part of a movie is soundtracked by Nick Cave…
The heavy insistence from all involved that Deathly Hallows is a dark film full of, you know, dark happenings proves to be pretty much on the money. At its heart, this is a film about feeling powerless against a vast and insidious evil.
Those who read holocaust or Ku Klux Klan subtexts into the books aren’t overstating the case one bit: Rowling’s stories are clear allegories for real world atrocities and intolerance. But it is Yates, the director of films five to seven, who has realised Rowling’s message by using the imagery of twentieth century fascism.
Yates’ rendering of the Ministry of Magic has not been called Orwellian for nothing. Drawing strongly on the stuff of fascist propaganda, the Deathly Hallows iteration of the ministry is a fearfully dark place and has been so since Yates first took the helm for Order of the Phoenix.
The opening lines of this film, spoken by Bill Nighy as Minister for Magic, announce that in these dark and menacing times, the ministry will stop at nothing to defend the liberty of its citizens. Yates isn’t nodding at 1930s politics here, this is modern rhetoric and yes, it is dark stuff.
The film is also dark in less metaphorical terms. Eduardo Serra’s photography paints the forest scenes with an eerie blue silver pallor that’s perfect for a world of magic. The fated visit to Godric’s Hollow makes particularly good use of the contrast between light and dark, as a fight sends the characters crashing from the shadowy, medieval-looking wizarding world into the brightly lit muggle bedroom next door, as Yates reminds us of the duality at the heart of Rowling’s original creation.
Umm, okay. So who dies in this one?
In order, Charity Burbage (recipient of a killing curse from Voldemort then eaten by his pet snake), Mad-Eye Moody (dispatched by a Death Eater while transporting Harry to safety at the beginning of the film), Hedwig the owl (ditto), Gregorovitch the wand maker (another killing curse from the Dark Lord) and Dobby the Elf (knife through the chest thrown by Bellatrix Lestrange after he heroically rescues Harry and co from the Malfoy dungeon).
I’m telling you, though, the body count will take a significant hike in the next one.
Sounds serious. Anyway, what was the best bit?
Apart from the extra bounce in Alan Rickman’s hairdo, there were three really great elements: the special effects, the sound design, and the retelling of the Story of the Three Brothers.
The smoke-like effect of the Death Eaters’ flight and the tar-like substance that seeps out from the locket before it’s destroyed were undoubtedly digital wonders, but the real star has to be the sound design. From the high pitched scratching whirr of the horcrux just audible underneath Desplat’s accomplished score, to the faint buzzing of flies around the reanimated corpse of Bathilda Bagshot and the penetration of invisible magical barriers, the sound was masterfully handled.
The Three Brothers animation, retold during the trio’s visit to Xenophilius Lovegood deserves all the praise being heaped upon it. Created by Swiss director Ben Hibon (also commissioned by Sony to produce a series of animations based on the PS3 game Heavenly Sword), it’s the most beautiful thing in the film by a long shot. Reminiscent of Jan Pienkowski’s children’s illustrations, which took their inspiration from Lotte Reiniger’s 1930s fairy tale animations, the three minute sequence does more than its fair share for the film’s artistry.
Is it really mostly camping?
About an hour or so is mostly camping, yeah.
Alright, thanks. One last question. Is it better than the Twilight movies?
God yes. A million times yes.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is out now.
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