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Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

15th November 2010

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The first part of the seventh and final instalment of the pan-global cultural phenomenon that is Harry Potter is finally here! If you've been waiting for it, that is. For the legions of die hard fans out there, this review won't mean a lot you're pretty much guaranteed to go see this no matter what but this review is written specifically from the casual viewer's perspective, and the news is pretty much as you'd expect.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
While rabid Potter-ites will no doubt enjoy seeing the wrist-breakingly fat seventh volume rendered lavishly on screen in all its glory, for those with no emotional attachment to the characters and little grounding in the full story it's tough going. The ambling plot suffers from sticking too closely to the page and, as has been the case for the previous Potter films, is wearyingly episodic.

Deathly Hallows sees the heroic triumvirate of Harry, Hermione and Ron on the run and in search of the remaining Horcruxes, the Macguffins that contain pieces of The Big Bad Voldemort's soul and thus grant him immortality. Destroying them means that they can eventually destroy him and save the world from evil. Meanwhile, Voldemort (He's got no nose! How does he smell? Terrible!) is on the hunt for his own Macguffin which will give him the power to kill Harry three magical gifts that collectively form the titular Deathly Hallows. There's also some other business with the evil magicians taking over the Ministry of Magic and setting up a fascist regime of purebloods and embarking on witch hunts (pun possibly intended) to find and do away with "mudbloods", which is probably a bad thing, too. Anyway, so Harry and his friends have one of these Horcruxes, only it's not the real Horcrux, so they have to find the real one, then they find the real one, only they can't destroy it, so they have to find something to destroy it. And while they do they spend a helluva lot of time transporting from scenic vista to scenic vista to hide out in a tent, doing a little investigating and a ton of exposition along the way. Then it ends.

First off, there is no way this final volume had to be split into two films. It all smacks of studio heads doing their best to squeeze as much money-spinning milk from this particular cash cow as possible (Thank goodness the planned 3D conversion was scrapped due to time constraints). As impressively bible-sized as the book was, the golden rule of literary adaptation is to strip things down to a more cinematic structure, where the plot keeps moving and stakes are continually raised. Had that been the main concern, a lot of fat could be trimmed here to keep things whistling along while still drawing on much of the abundant source material.

For fans, this is no doubt an important part of the whole experience, enriching and deepening knowledge of the Potter universe and the mysteries of the complicated character backgrounds therein. The rest of us are simply left wondering when something might actually happen, and when it does it's all too brief; a succession of jarring bursts of noise with no build of tension, no palpable sense of peril, and after it's over nothing seems to have been gained from the experience (For the characters, that is. The audience have gained a faint ringing in the ears).

In the film's defence, when the action's done right, it's done very well. A frenetic broom-chase kicks things off in fine style, and a cafe wand-fight scene is novel and exciting, plus the effects are AMAZING the whizz-bang wizardry is almost taken for granted, while the fully CG house-elf characters look tangibly real. But the fact that these things can be counted on one hand speaks volumes, and overhanging all is the cloud of that ubiquitous artistic anathema: Filmmaking By Committee. One imagines director David Yates puppeted by a coven of WB producers insisting on grey filters (Ooh, dark! Very dark…), characters dying (Ooh, gritty! Very gritty. Gritty and dark. Very dark…), shaky cam (Ooh, exciting! Very exciting and gritty. Exciting and gritty and dark. Very dark…). Too much time has been devoted to the look that audiences respond to and not enough on actual story-telling and emotional depth. Indeed a veritable who's who of acting talent accumulated over six previous films are shoe-horned in only to be given nothing to really do, and the main character sub-plot of jealousy dividing our three heroes is given the shortest of shrifts, as Ron storms off for half the film only to return later in the nick of time, and both events are met with little more than a shrug.

Established fans, with their in-depth knowledge of the Potter-verse, may well enjoy it, but even they won't be fully blind to its shortcomings. For everyone else, the truly stunning effects and impressive cast list are simply the polish on a two-and-a-half-hour-long turd. Overlong, overloud, emotionally shallow, it will do nothing to win you over. Plus, after all that, there's not even a proper ending!

Deathly Hallows? Daftly Hollow more like.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is released on 17th November

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