As the film opens and the Warner Brothers logo crumbles in decay, we’re promised a gritty, somber, and ultimately frightening – and I really do mean frightening – adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s final chapter in the Harry Potter saga. Of course, this is only Part I and, therefore, only half a film. It poses a perplexing exercise in critical examination to review a film that ends half way through its predestined story arc. And, if I may state a certain personal opinion, the separation of the film into two sections released six months apart is quite a flaw. Movies, unlike other art forms, are extraneously imposed upon by producers and studio executives to retain a limited running time. Audiences have become so accustomed to the stripping of artistic excellence through the slimming of integral story and character development that the very idea of a five hour film seems incomprehensible, almost foreign. This is a shame. The first half of the film is quite well done. I wish I had seen the second act in its suitable sequence.
We’ve gone a long way from the naivety of the cupboard under the stairs. Those magical and enchanting moments of letters bursting through a fire place met by a giddy, grinning eleven-year-old Harry seem like lost memories. There’s a certain longing for those moments, not just for the audience, but for the characters as well. This is the first realization that we’re on the same page as the film. To show how far we’ve come, the joy and enchantment of the original film’s opening is replaced by a grungy, hair-raising, and appalling sequence – in which a poor woman is tortured by a most vile and sadistic villain – that sets the tone. The danger is real.
Harry, Ron, and the savvy Hermione are back, and they’re ready for action. Unfortunately, they’ve hardly got any idea as to what they’re doing. This creates much of the dramatic bulk of the plot. If you’ve never seen the previous ‘Potter’ films, you’ll be completely lost. For those of you that have, you’ll know that the evil Lord Voldemort, ever in the quest for eternal life, has acquired the skill to bury portions of his soul into inanimate objects. These objects are referred to as horcruxes, and they pose a horrific notion of immortality. The trio of central characters must seek out these objects and destroy them. The only problem is that they’ve hardly any idea what objects they’re seeking, where they might be, or how to destroy them. This causes much hardship, wandering, bickering, a betrayal, and redemption all in the quest for survival. And there are some interesting scenes that grow out of the conflict.
Sequences like a private dance between two friends in hopes to forget their troubles for a few wonderful moments; a beautiful glowing doe leading our hero through a deadly route to a necessary weapon; and – my personal favorite – a monstrous, incomprehensible blob reflecting soulless, lifeless duplications of Harry and Hermione which try to persuade Ron with propaganda that nobody loves or cares about him. The use of make-up in this sequence is ingenious, and a sensuous kiss between the evil counterparts is wonderfully realized.
This story is intertwined with another plot development, which may make this film seem incredibly exposition heavy (which, like all the ‘Potter’ films, it is): The legend of the Deathly Hallows. I won’t ruin it for you, but in the sequence where the Hallows are finally explained to us in length, we are treated – not to mundane expository dialogue – but to a beautiful backdrop of shadow puppets. It is an artistic achievement which elevates the film into new heights. The Deathly Hallows also set the scene for terrifying adventures, including the most eerie Christmas Eve one could imagine – we’ll just say it includes a graveyard, a decaying home, an unsettling woman, and a monstrous creature.
Director David Yates, who merely seemed like a fresh name when he muddled his way through the fifth film in the series, was able to prove himself a competent filmmaker with the sixth chapter. He continues that excellence this time around, making sure to retain sequences that truly allow the characters to shine. His director of photography, Eduardo Serra, is doing good things as well. The visual style of the film is, perhaps, less pronounced than the last film, but there are strikingly beautiful locations that are shot with such excellence.
The music – yes, you all know I’m picky with movie scores – is perhaps utilized the best in the entire series. That’s not to say it’s perfect. At all. As merely a picky observation, I can’t help but realize John Williams’ superiority to other top notch composers of our time. Nothing in this new soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat, can even compare to the kind of emotional connections created through Williams’ magical and character relevant scores for the first three pictures. Where other composers merely search for a prominent melody, Williams seems intent on elevating that melody through the harmonious attributions and orchestrations. But, with that out of the way, the music does its job well.
I’m sure most of you were already intent on seeing the film. This is almost critic-proof material. This series has been running for a decade. Realizing the resolution is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s the film of a generation. I just wish it had been in one piece.
*Star rating to be supplied with completion of the second half of the film*