By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
A teenage witch stands trembling behind her unsuspecting mother and father, wand raised. Obliviate, she whispers, and her parents eyes go glassy, their memories erased. On the mantel, the girls image disappears from the familys photos. Blinking back tears, she walks into the street, the link between herself and her childhood sundered.
Youth fled early for Hermione Granger, and Harry Potter, and Ron Weasley, the trio at the center of the Harry Potter franchise. And that disturbing and evocative scene, which comes very early in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the penultimate film in the series, illustrates the rewards and challenges of adapting the seventh of J.K. Rowlings novels. No longer really a childrens story at all, Deathly Hallows plucks its young heroes from the comfy four-posters of Hogwarts and makes them refugees, fleeingand, eventually, wagingwar. Innocents are murdered, beloved characters tortured; well see show trials, eugenicist propaganda (When Muggles Attack!), and jackbooted thugs. Because its a magical war, well also hear a lot of talk about Horcruxes (talismans in which evil Voldemort has hidden parts of his soul) and Hallows (magical objects whose importance is explained in a splendid animated sequence, created by Ben Hibon, near films end).
David Yatess handsome film begins with exceptional confidence and a deliberate pace, as the three leads prepare for the questto destroy the Horcruxeson which Dumbledore sent them before his death at the end of the last Potter installment. Hermione bewitches her parents; Harry takes one last look around the house of his miserable pre-Hogwarts days. A scene of Voldemort meeting with his followerspure hokum in the novelis creepy and satisfying. And the films comic high point arrives early, as Harry comes face-to-face with seven other Harrys, friends transformed into identical decoys to confuse the bad guys. (The weird sight of Hermione plucking Harrys glasses off a transforming Rons face will set indecisive teenage girls hearts aflutter; the potent image of Harry Potter wearing Fleur Delacours bra should prove catalyzing for a generation of boys.)
By the time Voldemorts Death Eaters have Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the run, though, the movie has accelerated to the galloping tempo familiar from the last two Potter adaptations, both also directed by Yates. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 crams in 500 of Rowlings 759 pages, and so the story hurtles forward unceasingly, with only shouted, harried exposition separating one twist from the next. (Sometimes hilariously soas when Harry explains a crucial detail about some wand to Hermione while theyre surrounded by attacking bad guys.) For die-hard fans of the novels (those of you who recognize Mundungus Fletcher and understand splinching), the movies haste is merely aggravating. But casual viewerswho last visited Harrys world in the summer of 09might well tune out the details and just enjoy the scenery.
Which, it should be said, is very scenic! Theres the action scenery: The fights, both airborne and grounded, are exciting and unusually coherent, and the special effects are top-notch as usual. Theres the scenery-scenery: Our on-the-run heroes set up camp on any number of windswept British heaths and hillsides, majestically shot by Eduardo Serra. And of course theres the acting scenery: Aficionados of Brit drama can play the customary game of spot-the-thespian. (Hey, Peter Mullan! Hi, That Guy Who Played Chris Finch on The Office! And dont miss Kate Fleetwoodperhaps the definitive Lady Macbeth of our generationin a three-minute role as the wife of a guy youve already forgotten.)
Of course, these fine actorsplus (deep breath) Alan Rickman, Julie Walters, Ralph Fiennes, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Helen McCrory, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Frances de la Tour, and (gasp) sure, why not, John Fucking Hurt, tooare just there to support the three kids at the films center. Daniel Radcliffe will have his time to shineor blow itin Deathly Hallows: Part 2, in which Harry takes center stage. But Part One belongs to Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.
Watsons brainy, practical Hermione drives the films narrative; Grints fiery, jealous Ron provides its relatable (that is, non-magical) conflict. The movie foregrounds the pairs charged relationship, and teases, to a much greater extent than the novel does, a romantic competition between Harry and Ron. (At one point, Harry and Hermione even dance to a lovely tune on the radio, sung, it turns out, by Nick Cave.)
The kids are growing up fast, as we see along with Ron when hes confronted by a nightmare vision of a naked Harry and Hermione kissing passionately. Like this jaw-dropping sequence, the best bits of Deathly Hallows are the moments that play with the tensions of late adolescence, as when the three teens disguise themselves as adult bureaucrats to launch a raid on the Ministry of Magic. Its only when theyre trapped in grown-up bodieswhen we see the gulf that separates even the bravest, smartest teenagers from the exhausted adults theyll one day becomethat we can remember theyre still really kids.
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