Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsSo it all comes down to this: the beginning of the end. And in order to adapt the finale in more depth than the previous escapades, Warner Bros. decided to split “The Deathly Hallows” into two parts. It’s the beginning of a trend perhaps (“The Hobbit” and the “Twilight” series have followed in the footsteps) with the purpose, some would argue, to milk moviegoers as much as possible. Be that as it may, watching this “Part 1” what becomes quickly apparent is that director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have indeed been able to include many more of fan’s favourite moments that might otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor. Much of the novel’s first half is recreated quite faithfully, making this (with the exception of “The Philosopher’s Stone”) the film that sticks most closely to the source material.

Forget any notion of “this one is darker” or “Voldemort is getting stronger”. As Bill Nighy’s opening monologue explains we have moved from tensions lying dormant just beneath the surface to all-out war: The forces of evil as led by Lord Voldemort are rapidly tightening their grip on the wizarding and muggle worlds, taking over the Ministry and, in a final-solution like operation begin screening halfbloods, mudbloods and just about every blood in between. Somewhere in this carnage our hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) aided by his friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) must complete the task entrusted to them by the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), that is to locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes, pieces of the dark lord’s soul with which he can never truly die. However tales of a mysterious fairytale leads to the “Deathly Hallows”, three powerful magical objects that may also help to destroy He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Also, there’s no chance of returning to Hogwarts which has been completely infiltrated so “Part 1” becomes a road-movie of sorts, the trio travelling extensively across Britain as they try to remain undetected. This means that the film dispenses with many of the elements so familiar: the castle, the teachers, classes and (most) of the yo-yoing hormones. As always there’s an awesome supporting cast (perhaps one of the greatest British ensembles ever): Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton.

In parts the road-movie concept works very well. Yates is at this stage very adept at handling the magic and directs some truly great scenes at the beginning of the picture. Hermione’s farewell to her parents with a memory-wipe-charm is probably the best and something we never see in the book. Harry’s farewell to Privet Drive and the visit to his parents’ grave similarly set new heights for the series. In general the first act sets things up nicely, rolling at breakneck speed, filled with great action in the sky-battle, humour and at the same time finding the space for truly touching emotion and a sense of tragedy or impending doom. The trip to the Ministry to retrieve the locket from a certain Dolores Umbridge is also realised with a great eye for detail and is very entertaining. After the wedding escape though, things become a little hazy in the plot department. Unlike the novel where J.K. Rowling’s canvas to illustrate the to-ing and fro-ing is almost endless, the film struggles here. There’s a lot of woodland scenes which completely drain the energy, pace and urgency that graced the opening. In general there just seems to be nothing happening.

As such the film is also devoid of a truly satisfying climax. This is understandable in a way when one considers that the real drama and epic finale are still to come in “Part 2” but not really an excuse to neglect audience interest in the first part. It seems Yates is unsure how to proceed with the ever increasing sense of pessimism in the face of the overwhelming odds. To compensate for this downward momentum the filmmakers try to lighten things a little bit but this is something that comes across as trying too hard. The scene with Harry and Hermione dancing looks like it accidentally ended up in the wrong film. Most likely, when we’re able to view “The Deathly Hallows” in its complete form, the faults of part one will seem less significant but on its own, you will leave the theatre having seen some great material but dissatisfied nonetheless.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows OSTFollowing a lot of negative comments of his two Potter scores Nicholas Hooper did not return to write the music for “The Deathly Hallows”. In his stead rising talent, french composer Alexandre Desplat took the reins to carry the franchise further. Fans of the composer will find much to enjoy in his score and the soundtrack contains some really fantastic action material, the track “Sky Battle” is of particular note. Those expecting any sort of thematic consistency with the earlier films may be disappointed however as Desplat disregards all of the Williams, Doyle and Hooper material – with the exception of minimal statements of Hedwig’s Theme at the beginning. Neither does Desplat introduce a significant new theme as a replacement such as the elegant “New Moon” theme he wrote for the “Twilight” series. It’s a shame because this could well have been his magnum opus. Still, for most of us, this score will contain more than enough great music to chew on. And at this point it looks increasingly likely that Desplat will return to score “Part 2” so we can expect plenty more of the same.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (bit of a mouthful, eh?) has an awful lot going for it. Fans of the franchise will find much to like about it. For everyone else it depends on whether or not you are willing to withhold your judgement until we see “Part 2” in July. It’s not the best “Harry Potter” of them all but should set up the really epic finale perfectly.

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