(Three and a Half Torches out of Five)
How much you like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 will probably depend on how much you like the first half of the book it’s based on. As a filmed version of that part of the book, it’s pretty successful.
But as a “movie,” much-less as stand-alone entertainment that exists apart from the books? It has some significant problems.
First, the good news. The thing looks terrific. The way they tell that all-important story of The Three Brothers is breathtakingly beautiful — frankly, worthy of a short film Oscar.
The movie also has lots of action, and some touching emotional moments. I defy anyone not to be moved by the scene in which Hermione wipes her parents’ memories clean of her, in order to protect them.
There’s less humor than in previous movies, but the jokes that are there are pretty funny (including a hilarious dig at Daniel Radcliffe’s height early in the film).
Best of all, the film gives lots and lots of screen-time to its three terrific leads, Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint.
They’re sensational. And can I just say? I owe J.K. Rowling something of an apology. In the first few books (and movies), I was annoyed that the female protagonist was such a know-it-all stick-in-the-mud. The boys were always breaking the rules and having adventures, and she was off … studying (and reprimanding them for breaking the rules). It seemed vaguely stereotypical.
But by the end of the series, that stereotype has been subverted. Hermione is now clearly the acknowledged “leader” of the group: the smart, sensible, even-tempered, and responsible one — qualities you absolutely need when you’re trying to save the world from Great Evil and when your two other heroes are a hothead and a bumbler, respectively.
Finally, there’s the film’s ending, which isn’t a cliff-hanger exactly, but it’s quite a great cut-off point.
So what’s my problem with the film?
With two full two-and-a-half hour movies to fill, the producers have given themselves the luxury to film almost everything the book. Unfortunately, this means they include most of the book’s flaws.
When the characters strike off in search of the Sword of Gryffindor, but with no idea where to look, the movie really starts to bog down, just as the book did. The stars are as charming as actors get, but when it comes to angsty conversations about saving the world and Ron-Hermione jealousies, boy, have we already been there, done that.
When even your characters are complaining that nothing is happening in the story, you know you have a problem. Much of this could’ve been cut out had the producers choose to make this one movie.
Even worse, when the plot does move, it happens far too often as a result of contrivance: they just happen to notice an important symbol; Dobby just happens to appear in the nick of time (with the ability to save them); they just happen to get the help they need to find a certain item; when Ron becomes separated from the others, he just happens to have the perfect way to get back to them.
Yes, yes, these things are all eventually “explained,” but they usually have to be explained by the addition of yet another plot element — and these elements often feel forced or included only so they can resolve some piece of the plot.
I’ve had this argument with Potter fans before, about what I see as plot-weaknesses in Rowling’s writing. I know many folks disagree with me, which is all well and good, but, well, I’m the one writing this review.
The real point is, if none of these things bothered you about the books, if it was all reading pleasure, then they won’t bother you about the movie either. You’ll probably love it.
But if you’re a reader like me, and you sometimes got frustrated by that aimlessness in the woods, and by the sometimes-convoluted nature of Rowling’s plotting, you’ll probably be at least a little frustrated with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 as well.