Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (film)

When Harry Potter emerged into the world of literature in 1997, no one thought that a story about a boy who becomes a powerful wizard would become a pop culture phenomenon. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is among one of the most popular series of novels as it would also spawn everything relating to Harry Potter including films. In the fall of 2001, the first film adaptation for Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone arrived to theaters as its sequel for Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets followed a year later. Two years later, renowned Mexican art-house director Alfonso Cuaron took over for Chris Columbus to direct the third film Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban which was deemed by some as the best film of the series.

A year later, Mike Newell directed Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire that featured Ralph Fiennes in the venomous role of Lord Voldemort. David Yates, eventually took over the franchise for the next two films for 2007’s Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix and 2009’s Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince as the franchise continued to remain successful at the box office. When the time came for the adaptation of the seventh and final book Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. Producers of the film wondered what were they going to do in giving the franchise a big send-off. While Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron and fellow Mexican director Guillermo del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth both expressed interesting in directing the final part. The job once again went to David Yates.

With screenwriter Steve Kloves taking on the job to adapt the screenplay for Deathly Hallows, producers made an announcement that has divided Harry Potter fans. It was decided that Deathly Hallows would be split into two films with the first part released in November of 2010 and the second part to be released in July of 2011. Some fans accused Warner Brothers studio of using the split to make more money. Yet, with the split decided, fans counted the days as they await the first of Harry Potter’s big finale with the first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

Directed by David Yates and an adapted screenplay written by Steve Kloves. The first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows tell the story of Harry Potter going on a journey with longtime friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to find the remaining Horcruxes in order to defeat Lord Voldemort. During the journey, Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic with everyone in the magical community under watch while Hogwarts is being run by Professor Severus Snape. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run and searching for Horcruxes, discoveries are made about the late Albus Dumbledore’s family background including links to another mysterious objects known as the Deathly Hallows.

With an all-star cast leading the series. Returning to the franchise are Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Helena Bohnam Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Clemence Poesy, Natalia Tena, George Harris, David Thewlis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Miranda Richardson, Warwick Davis, Imelda Staunton, Jason Issacs, Helen McCrory Frances de la Tour, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, and Ralph Fiennes. Added to the series for the final film are Bill Nighy, Peter Mullan, and Rhys Ifans. The first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is an exhilarating and hypnotic film from David Yates.

With the Ministry being threatened by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) prepares to go on a mission to find the remaining Horcruxes to destroy Voldemort. With Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) joining the quest, they go through some dangerous missions to transport Harry to the Burrow with help from the Order. After the wedding ceremony of Ron’s eldest brother Bill (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy), the trio go into hiding following an attack from the Death Eaters. At Grimmauld Place, the house elf Kreacher (the voice of Simon McBurney) revealed that the locket that trio were looking for was stolen by Mundungus Fletcher (Andy Linden). After being captured by Kreacher and Dobby (the voice of Toby Jones), Fletcher revealed he gave the locket to Dolores Umbridge.

An attempt to steal the locket from Umbridge at the Ministry was successful but the trio were unable to return to Grimmauld Place. Ron gets injured as the trio go on the run and walk through the woods avoiding Snatchers. Realizing that the sword of Godric Gryffindor could destroy Horcruxes, it’s not enough to boost morale as Ron departs leaving Hermione devastated. A trip to Godric’s Hollow where Hermione keeps seeing symbols from the book she inherited from Dumbledore. The trip to Godric’s Hollow was a disaster where Harry had an encounter with Voldemort’s snake Nagini while Hermione accidentally destroyed his wand. Then on one night, Harry sees a doe patronus leading him to the lake where the sword of Gryffindor appears in the icy lake. Ron returns to help Harry as he destroys the locket that was tormenting him.

Ron’s return get things going as they go to Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans) who reveals the mysterious sign that Hermione sees is the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. The story of the Deathly Hallows is told though Lovegood revealed that his daughter Luna (Evanna Lynch) has been captured by Death Eaters. Following a struggle with Snatchers, the trio is sent to the home of the Malfoys were Draco (Tom Felton) reluctantly takes part in revealing Harry’s identity. With Hermione tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bohnam Carter), Harry and Ron are locked inside a basement with Luna, the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) and the wandmaker Ollivander (John Hurt) until they’re saved as the confrontation leaves a tragic death. Even as Harry learns what Voldemort had been searching for.

The first part of The Deathly Hallows is definitely the most complex of the series as it goes into epic storytelling. Yet, it’s also the film that is close to being an art house film in terms of pacing and maintaining the tone of the story. In some parts of the film, there’s moments where nothing happens. For an audience that is used to seeing mainstream blockbuster films, they will have a problem with those scenes. Yet, those scenes were part of the complaints readers when they read the book. It’s all about setting an atmosphere while revealing the uncertainty of what Harry, Ron, and Hermione will do.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves does an amazing job in keeping what is needed for the story and also take his time in exploring the characters. While the script does have flaws, notably the story of the mirror Harry is holding throughout. There was never any explanation about the broken mirror piece and who he got it from (for those who have only seen the films). While the mystery of what Harry sees in that mirror will get revealed in the second half. Kloves does however, take away a few subplots to get the main story going. Notably the one about Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and his own struggle with the fact that he’s going to have a child with Tonks (Natalia Tena). Even the story about Dumbledore’s past isn’t given much coverage though it’s likely that story will be revealed more in the second part.

Instead, Kloves succeeds in focusing on the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione as the all struggle with not just the realism of war but also themselves. For Harry, having been through enough deaths around him along with two major deaths during his journey to the Burrow with Hagrid. He has a hard time not wanting to get anyone killed while dealing with the fact that he’s on a journey not sure what to do with the little information he’s been given. Even as had to deal with the images of his head connected to Voldemort where he would see Voldemort go to various people including the wandmaker Gregorovitch (Rade Serbedzija) and the elder Grindelwald (Michael Byrne).

The uncertainty and realism also takes a toll on his longtime friends in Ron and Hermione as the trio starts to splinter in periods of time. For Ron, having to live under Harry’s shadow and being injured in the journey also plays to his emotions. Even as he wore the locket for some of the time as it worsens his mood. Hermione’s own struggle with the journey leaves her emotionally devastated as she makes the hard decision to remove her parents’ memory of her. Ron’s brief departure also leaves her depressed and not willing to do anything as she loses hope.

It’s not just the emotions and transition into adulthood that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to face. They also had to go on the run and not have the comfort and safety of their homes as well as Hogwarts. It’s the first time that audiences get to see the trio not be in school and face a very different world. One that is riddled in chaos where Muggle-born wizard and witches are being taken into a modern-day Holocaust. Hogwarts is also taken over with Severus Snape being the new headmaster. The only scene that relates to Hogwarts that is shown in the film is where Death Eaters stop the train to find Harry Potter where his classmate Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) replies with his only line in the film, “he’s not here you losers”.

Kloves’ approach to the adaptation in terms of dialogue and structure is quite faithful while taking one of the series minor characters in Dobby and giving him more exposure as he plays a big part of the story. The script is faithful yet Kloves does more to make it stand out against the rest of the films.

David Yates’ direction is definitely his best work to date for the film series. While the look of the film is similar to his previous work with the series. There’s a different feel to it as he clearly goes for an art house tone for the film. Notably in the second act when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run and hiding through the woods. Even as he starts the film off with Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) giving a speech where he makes a stand against Voldemort that is intercut with Ron at the Burrow, Hermione at her home removing her parents’ memory, and Harry at the Dursleys where they leave the house.

Yates’ use that to maintain the bleak tone of the film while he also starts to recall the works of other directors for inspiration on various scenes. For the scenes in the Ministry, the scene is reminiscent to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil with flyers and posters on ridding Muggles along with posters of Harry as a wanted fugitive. The sequence also has a strange sense of humor that is reminiscent of Gilliam while its Yates creating a world that is different while the dystopia seems very real. Even as the posters of anti-Muggle propaganda looks like something from World War II. For many of the film’s second act where not much is happening and the trio are walking from city to city. Some of the bleakness is reminiscent of Children of Men by Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron while that sense of nothing happening recalls the work of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry but without any long shots.

One sequence that Yates create, which is the absolute highlight of the first part of the film is story of The Tale of the Three Brothers from the book The Tales of Beedle the Bard that Hermione has inherited. The story is presented in an animation sequence is truly enchanting as the dark tone of it is balanced with elegance that is unexpected. It was something that was needed for an overly dark film that really pushes the limits of what can be done. Even for a genre that is targeted towards family where the film has some strong elements of violence, language, and a bit of sexual content that borders the line between PG-13 and the R rating. Notably Hermione’s torture sequence in the hands of Bellatrix that is very gruesome.

Yates direction is definitely superb for the way he handles action sequences as well as long scenes of dramatic nothingness. He ends the film on a dark note where tragedy is followed by triumph. Yet, the triumph really shows what Voldemort is after and it ends the film quite appropriately. The only problem with that ending is that it leaves the audience wanting for more. Yet, they would have to wait till July of 2011 for that second half. Yates isn’t at fault for this but rather the studio for splitting what could possibly be one of the greatest cinematic events to happen. A five-six hour Harry Potter film with an intermission in between. There could’ve been a roadshow presentation for it but given the climate of today’s moviegoers. That is not likely to happen and it’s a shame that a generation of filmgoers won’t experience something like a roadshow version of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

The cinematography of Eduardo Serra is superb for its array of colors and texture he provides for many of the film‘s exterior settings whether its day or night. Even as the scenes in the woods is presented with a grayish look to convey the realism that the characters are facing. The interiors for the scenes at Malfoy Manor are also given a dark look with a mixture of gray and black to convey the sense of doom that is happening. Serra’s photography is really a highlight of the film. Editor Mark Day does excellent work with the film’s editing in creating fast, stylized cuts for many of the film’s action sequences while taking a slower yet methodical rhythm for the dramatic scenes.

Production designer Stuart Craig, with set decorator Stephanie McMillan, does an amazing job in the set pieces for the Ministry with new rooms that are far more grim. Even in the look of Malfoy Manor that looks like a regal yet dark home where Voldemort is taking refuge. Costume designer Jany Temime does some very good work with the costumes, notably the dark robes of the Death Eaters including Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy along with the dresses at the wedding scene. Visual effects supervisors John Moffat & Chris Shaw create some amazing visual effects including the looks of the house-elves, the Dementors, and other dazzling effects. Notably the soul of Voldemort from the cursed locket that tries to torment Ron.

The film’s best technical achievement goes to animation director Ben Hibon. Hibon’s look for the animated story sequence for The Tale of the Three Brothers is truly stunning with its look of wooden puppets and objects that would play a bigger role for the second part of the film. Sound designer Dominic Gibbs and editor James Mather do an excellent job in capturing the tone of many of the film’s action sequences along with the use of near-silence for many of the film’s second act in the scenes at the woods.

Music composer Alexandre Desplat creates a wonderful score that plays up to the emotions of the film. His orchestral flourishes and arrangements range from high-octane pieces for the film’s action to more somber cuts in the dramatic scenes. More importantly, the music is played when it’s needed while some of the scenes featured no music at all to convey the uncertainty Harry, Ron, and Hermione faced. One piece of music that appears in the film comes from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds of their song O Children from the band’s 2004 double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. It’s an odd choice but the track works to liven up the mood Harry and Hermione were dealing with following Ron’s brief departure.

The casting of Fiona Weir is amazing for its selection of actors in the roles they play while allowing some from the previous films to return. Yet, for some of those returning players. Their brief scenes were too little. Notably Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, and Harry Melling as the Dursleys as they barely appear in the film for what could’ve been an excellent scene of Harry saying goodbye to his relatives. Other notable small yet memorable roles from previous franchise players include Natalia Tena as Tonks, Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, John Hurt as Ollivander, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, George Harris as Kingsley Shacklebot, James & Oliver Phelps as Fred & George Weasley, Clemence Poesy as Fleur Delacour, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley, Mark Williams as Arthur Weasley, Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter, Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, and Frances de la Tour as Madame Maxime.

Newcomers to the series include some excellent small performances from Domhnall Gleeson as Bill Weasley, Andy Linden as Mundungus Fletcher, Rade Serbedzija as the wandmaker Gregorovitch, Matyelok Gibbs as Aunt Muriel, and David Ryall. For the dual roles of Gellert Grindelwald, Twilight series star Jamie Campbell Bower plays the younger version while Michael Byrne plays the older, demented version. Bill Nighy is excellent in his small role as Rufus Scrimgeour who warns Harry about the dangers that is lurking ahead. Nick Moran is wonderfully creepy as the head Snatcher Scabior while Guy Henry is good as Scrimgeour’s replacement Pius Thicknesse. Rhys Ifans is funny as the eccentric Xenophilius Lovegood who reveals Harry the story of The Deathly Hallows. Also making an outstanding performance is Peter Mullan as the Death Eater Yaxley.

Other notable standouts, who previously appeared in films include Imelda Staunton in the slimy role of Dolores Umbridge along with Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Timothy Spall as Wormtail, Jason Issacs (hello Jason) and Helen McCrory as Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. Tom Felton does a very good job in his small role as Draco Malfoy where he shows his newfound reluctance in being a Death Eater. Helena Bohnam Carter is brilliant as the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange who truly shows he very crazy side to her character. Toby Jones is excellent in the voice of Dobby along with Simon McBurney as the voice of Kreacher. Ralph Fiennes is great as Lord Voldemort who shows more of a disturbed, obsessed persona as the dark wizard. Alan Rickman is also great as Severus Snape as he plays the role with such prestige and ambiguity as he takes on the role as Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Finally, there’s the three principle actors in Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. While it’s a cliché to say that it’s their best performance of the series so far. It’s also an indication of how far they’ve come since the first film. Rupert Grint adds a weariness and angst to the role of Ron Weasley. Though Grint does display some humor, he goes for more drama as a character who is having a hard time dealing with the lack of planning as well as being the sidekick to Harry Potter, which he is really not. Emma Watson also adds more emotional range to her role as Hermione. Instead of being the bookish, informative Hermione that audiences knew. Watson keeps that character in bay as she makes Hermione into a strong-willed young woman forced to deal with sacrifices and newfound harsh realities that briefly lead her into depression. It’s a far more complex performance from Watson as it’s going to lead her into the more determined persona of her character.

Daniel Radcliffe also steps his game as Harry Potter. Not only does he add realism to the character but also one reluctant to let people in on the mission. Even as Harry is coming into conflict about what he’s doing while realizing that it’s bigger than him. Even as he has trouble with the fact that he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight for everyone while dealing with Voldemort and his Death Eaters. It’s a remarkable performance from Radcliffe as he definitely reveals a more grounded, grittier Harry Potter.

The first part of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is an amazing film from David Yates. While it’s not clear if it’s the best film of the series considering there’s another part of the film coming in July of 2011. It is still an entertaining and engrossing film that actually take some risks and bring something new to the tale. Fans of the books will no doubt be relieved at the adaptation though will have legitimate complaints over what got cut and such. Fans of the films however, might be challenged into some of the long scenes of nothingness in the second act along with a few plot holes. Despite a few flaws, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 is a spectacular film from David Yates.

© thevoid99 2010

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