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Film Review: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1' (2010)

As our Harry Potter retrospective nears its completion, today we look at the seventh and penultimate installment.

Half-Blood Prince sure left things off on an exciting note, and this film only keeps the momentum going. We get our first look at Malfoy Manor, a suitably gloomy and foreboding place, where Voldemort meets with his army of loyal Death Eaters and plots to take down The Boy Who Lived. But Harry has his own band of people who are loyal to him, who all meet together at 4 Privet Drive to plot a daring escape so that Harry might live to fight another day.

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After an exciting chase and a couple of heartbreaking losses, the characters find a momentary reprieve at the Burrow, whereupon they attend Bill & Fleur's wedding. But it doesn't take long before danger strikes again, and with it comes the terrible news that Voldemort has completely taken over the Ministry of Magic. Soon, Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves all on their own, completely cut off from everyone around them. It's from that point on that the three of them embark on a very long and lonely journey to hunt down Voldemort's Horcruxes...

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Art of an Adaptation

It's interesting that, despite Deathly Hallows being adapted into two separate films, it's still somewhat compressed from the novel. As with many other background details, the novel went into far more depth about Dumbledore's tragic backstory. We learn all about his father's imprisonment in Azkaban, his affiliation with the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, and his sister's death and subsequent falling out with his brother. Whereas the film only gives us some intriguing snippets, but never the full picture.

Not only that, but in the novel we see the devastating impact this has on Harry. Still grieving over Dumbledore's murder, he slowly comes to realize that his idol and mentor had a dark side. The man who Harry once thought the world of is revealed to be such a deeply flawed person with an abundance of sinister secrets. This gives us a moving character arc as it causes an already-grieving Harry to grow bitter and disillusioned, and he spends much of the book depressed and convinced that Dumbledore never truly cared about him. Of all the things the film adaptations cut from the books, this is what I most wish had been kept in.

On the other hand, it does lead to a touching moment in Deathly Hallows: Part 2 when Harry meets Aberforth, Dumbledore's brother, who still clearly holds a grudge. Harry simply tells Aberforth, "I'm not interested in what happened between you and your brother. I don't care that you've given up. I trusted the man I knew."

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Nitpicks aside, the movie that we got is still fantastic. This is probably tied with Order of the Phoenix as my second-favourite in the series. I noted in my Half-Blood Prince review how that film is more of a character drama than any of the others. In turn, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is more of an action movie than any of the others. There are a lot of great action scenes here.

Between all the action, however, there are many great subdued moments as well. We get one right at the beginning when Harry looks at his Cupboard Under the Stairs one last time.

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It's a short yet powerful moment. Despite how horrible the Dursleys were to Harry, there's still a sense of sadness at how Harry is leaving this part of his life behind for good, and how so many aspects of his world will never be the same again.

There's another short yet significant moment early on in the film, one which doesn't happen in the book. While staying at the Burrow, shortly before the wedding, Harry has another disturbing vision of Voldemort. He then decides to leave in the middle of the night without telling anyone, eager to start searching for the Horcruxes by himself and determined that no-one else is going to die for him. Ron, however, notices Harry leaving and manages to talk him out of it.

I wonder how much different things would've turned out if Harry had gone Horcrux-hunting without Ron or Hermione. Still, Ron almost certainly made the right call by convincing Harry to wait.

"Tonight's not the night, mate. You'll only be doing him a favour."

"Tonight's not the night, mate. You'll only be doing him a favour."

This film is unique compared to the rest of the series. It's a road trip adventure story, and there's a pervading sense of isolation as the Trio is continually on the run. It's really the polar opposite of the previous installments that all largely took place at one central location. And Hogwarts itself had such an energetic and welcoming feel to it, full of lively characters. Here, the school year structure is gone, and much of the film is the Trio wandering around the barren wilderness all by themselves, on a quest that only seems to grow more and more hopeless.

In fact, this has the distinction of being the only Harry Potter film where Hogwarts doesn't appear at all. Heck, we even see Hogwarts in both Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Crimes of Grindelwald (albeit only briefly via a photograph in the former). Hogwarts has been so important to the series up to this point, it's weird to have it be gone entirely.

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I mentioned how Half-Blood Prince has a bittersweet air to it. Deathly Hallows: Part 1, meanwhile, lacks the 'sweet' part. There's such a sombre, lonely air to the Trio's situation. The story covers what would have been their seventh year at Hogwarts, but instead, it's the three of them out in the wilderness, cut off from their friends, allies, and any sort of support network. It's sad to think that it's just them out in the world all alone for months on end.

The cinematography is absolutely fantastic. You wouldn't expect anything less from the series at this point, but it especially shines due to all the hauntingly beautiful, desolate landscapes of Great Britain.

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This film is exciting, tense, poignant, and a beautiful work of art all around. I don't have much else to add, except to say that the Harry Potter series delivers once more. See you soon for the final chapter...

© 2019 Ian Rideout

Comments

Evelyn on April 25, 2019:

I agree ... the Harry Potter series delivers once more ... as did your recap! Perfect summary of the film, and I especially liked some of the comparisons you made to the novel. Thanks! Keep it coming!