Dec 23, 2010|
(UK/USA) Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint. Category IIA.
Harry, Harry, Harry. We’ve grown up with you, been to school with you, and now we appear to be in an anti-authoritarian parable with you. If you only liked Harry Potter because you wanted to be at a magical boarding school, then you’re going to be disappointed, as Hogwarts doesn’t appear once in this film—and nor do most of the characters. Instead we get a dark, half-action thriller, half-road movie that locks more deeply onto our three protagonists than we might ever have expected.
This isn’t a film to watch if you haven’t seen the others, as you’ll be lost from the get-go—it doesn’t waste time explaining J.K. Rowling’s universe. To lay it out, Harry, Hermione and Ron have to track down the horcruxes—mystical artifacts which host fragments of baddie Lord Voldemort’s soul—and destroy them. But Voldemort’s Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry of Magic, are producing mugglist propaganda, propagating a wizard-supremacist agenda—and they’re on the hunt.
In Rowling’s book, this meant that Harry spent the better part of two hundred pages bouncing around a forest as evil went to work his friendships—a diversion that got boring after twenty pages, much less two hundred. The movie falls victim to the same problem, but ultimately it comes off better: for one, it’s shorter and better-told. The other reason is that director David Yates relishes not being in locked into Hogwarts, and he visits some of the most stunning landscapes in Britain instead. There is magic in the real world, we might (extremely tritely) infer.
The humor works, for what it is, and there’s a charming scene where Harry and Hermione dance to Nick Cave which seems more indie film than big-budget people-pleaser—but that’s what’s so nice about Yates’ direction. He makes Stuart Craig’s already phenomenal set design really sing, but he’s also happy to break away from the usual Potter formula, at one point bursting into shadow puppet theatre for the sake of exposition, good enough that returning to the real actors is disappointing. Then there are the striking fades-to-black—stark, TV-esque, and very depressing.
It’s fashionable to question the theatrical ability of Radcliffe, Watson and particularly Grint, but they pull it off just fine. Given that Emma Watson’s Hermione spends most of the movie in checked shirts looking into the half-distance, she has the unerring knack of looking like an Abercrombie and Fitch model in every single scene. Her real-life sponsors Burberry should be livid.
You leave the cinema waiting desperately for Part 2 to come out (in July!!!) when everyone’s back for one last magical punch-up. It’s going to be good, but “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” will be seen as the most unusual and interesting of the Potter films. And that can’t be a bad thing.