“The Deathly Hallows I”: A Dark Appetizer
By Jacob Walters ’14, Staff Writer
If I learned one thing from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”, it’s that the world of witchcraft and wizardry got very real, very fast. In other words, the name of “Deathly Hallows” befits it; this is a sullen, dour production, the most prominent and best feature of which is its sense of atmosphere. I’m not familiar with the books or the movies after the first sequel but this series, at some point, clearly made its way to darker territory, and the effect, as filtered through the filmmakers, is quite mesmerizing at times.

The film’s structure is actually rather simple: it’s a quest, or at least the first half of a quest, while simultaneously being a chase film of sorts. Although the quest within this film is but a small part of what is shaping up as the full storyline of “Deathly Hallows”, the goal within the context of this part is for Harry, Ron and Hermione to find the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy a Horcrux in the form of a locket. Simultaneously, Lord Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters are constantly on Harry’s tail. The situation is further exacerbated when an ally of the Death Eaters becomes the Minister of Magic and institutes the public manhunt for Harry, while beginning to round up any Muggles in an attempt to restore the magical arts “back to its former glory.”

Of course, this last part is a parallel to Nazism, in addition to xenophobia, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism in general. It’s nice to see complex themes being handled by the series but the film is a little too obvious in dealing with this, particularly when the propaganda posters depicting the aims of the Ministry come off almost as pastiches of propaganda posters past. More time to fully flesh out this aspect of the production would have been appreciated.

From an aesthetic standpoint, every aspect of the production is on point, and this should be looked at as an example for how to marry big-budget Hollywood filmmaking with a dark, at times unsettling atmosphere. Naturally, the look of the film contributes much to this. The film is bathed in dark tones and culminates in an almost entirely gray conclusion. At times, the production feels like Tim Burton was at the helm, although it never reels off that far into the macabre, and the tone of the film is too naturally dark (the film opens with a murder followed by an implied snake feeding) to befit Burton’s desire to take more typically light productions and artificially add his own brand of atmosphere to the mix.

The tone of the film gives the characters much to emote about, and the actors all do an excellent job of handling the challenges of this mature script. Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry Potter) particularly shines throughout, but Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) don’t lag far behind. Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort) is also suitably menacing throughout the production. The only real downside related to the acting is how little some of the characters are on screen throughout. The trio is on their own throughout much of their journey. Although this focuses the film’s story, it leaves many of the other characters with little to do and thus the performers are left with little room to perform.

Having not seen any of the movies after “Chamber of Secrets”, I went into the screening slightly worried about the ability of the movie to ease me into the events of the previous films. Thankfully, this concern proved to be unfounded as the film made it easy enough to comprehend the events leading up to this production. More importantly though, I rarely, if at all, felt like the film was explaining anything to me: any pertinent information was thoughtfully and unobtrusively included within the film, rather than forced down the viewer’s throat through needless exposition.

If the film does have a significant problem, it is found that it is the first half of a greater production. Simply put, it feels like half of a movie. Interestingly, the film is slightly paradoxical: a lot happens before the end credits, making it seem like all of it is necessary for “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (this time it’s personal) while watching the film, but afterward the question of what all of this amounted to begs answering, and the answer will vary from person to person. The climax is, for lack of a better term, anti-climactic and, unfortunately, the film’s emotional climax, where any film within a film needs to shine to be an unqualified success, occurs before the actual climax of the film, making the last 20 or 30 minutes seem unnecessary. On the positive side of the pacing though, the action scenes are all fast, exciting and frenetic and they rarely feel like the film is pausing for an obligatory extended sequence whose purpose is to highlight the special effects.

Nevertheless, while it would have been nice for Part 1 to have loftier aspirations, it accomplishes its goal of setting up Part 2. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is well-acted and well-directed. And despite being only half a story, the film is ultimately finds success by taking a direction and going all the way with it. The film’s dark atmosphere and darker tone combine to create what amounts to a hell of an appetizer. How you view the film may depend on whether you appreciate the appetizer for what it is or whether you’re too hungry to care because you have to wait half a year for the main course.

Issue 10, Submitted 2010-12-01 00:44:47