The last Harry Potter movie (the Half-Blood Prince) was the first one to leave me genuinely cold when it was over. The first part of the film seemed to fritter about with various pieces of business until finally getting down to brass tacks in the last 30 minutes or so. I had to wonder if the connective tissue between these scenes was more apparent in the printed word and just didn’t translate readily to the screen.
As the beginning of the final chapter, Deathly Hallows, Part I has the advantage of built in momentum from its opening scene, which finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) mourning the death of Dumbledore and looking nervously toward the horizon. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters have seized control of Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic. The young trio spends most of the film on the run, while trying to find and destroy the Horcruxes, six mystical objects that are the secret to the Voldemort’s power.
First the good news, which is that unlike the previous chapter, this film never seems to lose its narrative focus. And the three actors at the heart of the story have matured nicely into their roles of young adults with the weight of world on their shoulders. It’s a good thing, too, because Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have to carry the bulk of this movie by themselves, with veteran actors like Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon or Brendan Gleeson to shoulder some of the load.
While this film is well-paced, I still felt like there were chunks of the Potter mythos missing in action, that certain blanks that were filled by J. K. Rowling’s books were left empty by director David Yates. I know it’s always a tricky balancing act when adapting a work of fiction to the screen, and the Potter books are dense with arcana, but a well-executed adaptation doesn’t leave the uninitiated feeling like they’re left out of the joke.
And now that he’s physically on stage rather than than hovering just off screen, Lord Voldemort is much less satisfying villain than I hoped he would be. It seems like he’s a dark lord simply because Harry Potter needs one around in order to be a hero, rather than for any reasons of his own. Again, I have to wonder if much of his substance as a character was found in Rowling’s words and didn’t survive translation to the screen.
I also have to concede that, with the final shape of Harry’s question beginning to resolve itself, Rowling’s debt to previous masterwork of fantasy are becoming a little too obvious. The relationship between the Horcruxes (Horcri?) and Voldemort seems strangely familiar to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings (or seen Peter Jackson’s movies). I hope that Part II of The Deathly Hallows throws us a curve ball no one saw coming. I also hope that David Yates remembers to put it in the movie.