Up until now, the decision to split J. K. Rowling’s the Harry Potter finale into two parts seems debatable, and the clash of wits between those who think it’s for financial reasons and those who argue about ‘narrative purity’ extends to infinity. There is no denying that Rowling’s behemoth of a book The Deathly Hallows is ridden with munificent amount of sequences and plot threads that might be a testament to her genius or just mere over-plotting, depending on your opinion of this saga, that leaving out such details might stir a major uprising from the Potter sector the size of China’s population. Nevertheless, it’s sheer hypocrisy to claim that the cleaving act is done out noble artistic integrity. That’s bullshit. This is Hollywood we’re talking about. Where the cash goes, the cows follow.Potter is Warner Bros.’ biggest cash cow in the studio’s history, and splitting the final one into two movies only gives studio honchos the golden opportunity to squeeze some more milk.
But it remains surprising, despite of blatant studio voracity, that this franchise continues to be consistent throughout and Deathly Hallows: Part One is a solid entry to the series. It might not rank as the best of the franchise (that goes to Alfonso Cuaron’s superb Prisoner of Azkaban), but it’s not far off either. Director David Yates, the longest mainstay director of them all, brings his own dynamics, tone and artistry to this penultimate instalment, which improves from his previous work on The Half-Blood Prince, which was a rather sluggish affair. For the first time in the Potter universe, the narrative structure has been freed from the now-becoming monotonous school-calendar basics, shunting the main three characters, Harry, Ron and Hermione far from the comfort zones of Hogwarts and are plunged into a very uncertain, treacherous and forbidding territories. This sense of danger and darkness can be felt spilling from the screen. Cut off from the world were chaos reigned, courtesy of malice-stricken Voldemort (a magnificently hissy and terrifying Ralph Fiennes), the trio are set out with a task to find and destroy the Horcruxes that contain shards of the Dark Lord’s soul. Yes, it’s like The Lord of the Rings, only more McGuffins, more British thespians and plenty of darkness. What is the fantasy genre without the influence of Tolkien, anyway? The difference is that the trio come across the so-called Deathly Hallows, three magical instruments that can defy death.
Part One combines elements of mystery, heist thriller genre and even fugitive film – and the result is often electrifying. There’s an excellently staged Ministry of Magic infiltration, with political undercurrents of a totalitarian Third Reich with the Mudbloods treated like Jews, and the memorable Privet Drive convoy with seven Harry’s to bewilder and escape the clutch of the Death Eaters. These sequences are all very well, yet there are those who bemoan about the ‘slow’ middle-half where the trio wander around forests, battling egoes and expectations. This is not a Michael Bay or a James Cameron film where you get bombarded with explosive chases and gunfights. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, with the structure of the book, allows to fully flesh out the characters as rarely seen before, underscoring Harry, Ron and Hermione’s isolation, loss, fears and anxiety of the world around them. What is more, the trio are played by the same actors in a stretch of a decade, and that’s nothing short of remarkable for a Hollywood franchise, and those who have invested in this series will feel emotionally engaged in this coming-of-age allegory. The films gets to spend time with these leads, often set against wide, open landscapes in Eduardo Serra’s bleak but beautiful cinematography, hammering home the trio’s loneliness and desolation. Sometimes, there are moments that these characters are fugitives or survivors from a wartime period.
It’s also quite a sad, sombre film to watch. Despite the series coming to an end, there’s also this burgeoning sense of loss here, with death and sacrifice playing vital parts in the narrative. Emma Watson’s Hermione, in a beautifully understated performance, erases the memory of her parents and the scene is handled with such concise, haunting power and Watson makes it very poignant. Rupert Grint, his most mature work, also gets to shine as he is taunted with surreal sexual images of his two friends making out, a long-harboured jealousy and longing leaking out of the gaps. Daniel Radcliffe brings moments of suppressed pain, most especially during the visit to Godric’s Hollow, the graveyard of his parents. It’s quietly heartbreaking. Yet are also moments of well-timed humour and élan, demonstrated in the Tale of the Three Brothers where the narrative is allowed to breathe, using a wonderful shadow animation unusual in a Potter film that might be Part One‘s most subtle and bold move.
For those who carp about The Deathly Hallows: Part One being long-winded and with little pay-off, this is not really made for you. This is made for those who went aboard the Hogwarts Express a decade ago and grew up with this franchise. Although inevitably flawed, there are flickers of sombre beauty, moments of sadness and heartfelt, mature performances from its three leads that lend this film some resonance and dramatic weight.