So here we are. Thirteen years since the first Harry Potter book was published, nine years since the film film came out. The cast remained changeless throughout the entire series, with the exception of Dumbledore (though death is most certainly to be blamed for that). The past weekend the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opened around the world, collecting rave reviews and $330 million at the box office. Having never picked up the books (as I am waiting to see all the films so as to not spoil anything) I came into the film without any knowledge as to what I should expect. Once the end credits rolled I knew that I had stumbled on not just the best Potter film yet, but also one of the finest examples of cinematography and character development.
Dark undertones reign supreme in The Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is dead, and the wizard world has been thrown into chaos thanks to the return of Voldermont (Ralph Fiennes). Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is being hunted by the Death Eaters, putting his two best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) in countless dangers. Hogwarts is under the control of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), and the real Horcrux that the heroic trio are looking for is in the hands of the Ministry of Magic, now headed by a group out to rid its headquarters of Muggles in a somewhat Fascist manner. All does not appear well; however, Potter and his friends realize that they cannot give up when things turn bleak, and proceed to do everything in their power to rid the world of Voldermont and his minions.
Director David Yates seems to know Potter from within and out, considering he has been at the helm of the Potter series since Order of the Phoenix. He gets the appropriate emotional aspect out of the entire cast, as well as the perfect aura and mood in each scene. Radcliffe looks appropriately tired in his role, considering his character is being chased down for dead in almost all of his adventures, and Watson & Grint appear ever-so waiting for the moment when things turn their grimmest. The actors have been playing these characters for just about a decade, and it shows that they let themselves grow with the characters we've all grown to love. It's also easy to see why J.K. Rowling continues to look towards Steve Kloves to adapt her novels (the exception being Phoenix, which was written by Michael Goldenberg). While things are omitted and changed here and there for the sake of moviemaking Kloves continues to keep the core storytelling intact within the films. (Of course this is from what I have heard from friends and colleagues who have read the series, so I can't be a true judge to that.)
The special effects showcased in the first half of The Deathly Hallows shine brightly, but it's when Harry, Hermione and Ron are merely sitting and hiding from the evils of the world where the cinematography is showcased at its finest. One beautiful scene in the film revolves around Harry and Hermione dancing to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' "O Children." Ron has left their side in a jealous rage, and the remaining duo appear broken. The underrated singer plays on a nearby radio, and Harry lifts Hermione's spirits with ease. The tension disappears, and our heroes continue their journey to find and destroy the Horcruxes. It's a moment that lasts only about a minute, but it captures the entire essence of what the emotional world of Harry Potter is all about.
We cannot forget about any of the supporting cast, of course, and no one brought a bigger smile to my face than seeing Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour. He is the first person you see in the film, and is the keeper of the objects given to Harry, Ron and Hermione to help them on their dark and frustrating journey. Though is part is small it is very vital to the story. Then we've got Helen Bonham Carter's Death Eater Bellatrix, who seems to take a page out of her husband Tim Burton's book of creepy lunacy. She shrieks, cackles and slaughters the way a Death Eater should be. Other big-named actors like Gary Oldman and John Hurt also have their small roles scattered throughout the film, though you might miss them if you blink. Still it's good to see them in the film.
Overall the first part of The Deathly Hallows is a wonderful start to the end of the Potter story, and its cliffhanger appears in a good moment to split the book in half. It may not be as an exciting film as the previous ones in the series, but here it's the emotion of the characters and scenes that make it one of the best of the Potter realm.
FINAL GRADE: **** ½ (out of five)