“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” hardly needs my help or that of any reviewer to succeed at the box office. At this writing, it has already earned over $300 million — and it isn’t even Christmas! Still, my brethren of the critical persuasion have all but universally dissed this latest in the immensely popular series adapting the even more popular books. I confess to not having read much past the first volume, which puts me at a distinct disadvantage as to the accuracy of the adaptation, though a close friend and fan of the series (my daughter) opines that this one is the most faithful to the source material yet.
That may be because director David Yates, who directed the previous two Potter films, has chosen to break the last of J.K. Rowling’s books into two parts, allowing both to include more material from the text. At nearly two and one-half hours, “Part 1” is both more comprehensive and more leisurely than its predecessors. Its pace has been one of the main sticking points for the critics: the principals spend more time thinking, brooding, and studying, despite (or because of?) the fact that they are no longer at Hogwarts School.
I have no problem with that, cinematically, although I’m at odds here with the Great American Viewing Public. As long as I can believe that these characters are capable of thought and are thinking about something interesting, I’m willing to watch and imagine. In this case, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his chums Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), are dealing with literal life and death matters, particularly the whereabouts of artifacts containing the soul of the archfiend Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Some of their friends die, are captured and tortured; the trio themselves experience anger, jealousy, fear, and doubt. (The movie is appropriately rated “PG-13”: preteens may find the going a bit too heavy, both confusing and terrifying.)
The melancholy air that pervades the movie is punctuated by brief stints of furious action, much of it enhanced by some judicious computer graphics. Yates and his technical cohort have not buried the story in spectacle, preferring to give us time to identify with the young protagonists. Screenwriter Steve Kloves also emphasizes some more “adult” thematic material dealing with totalitarianism and racism, in particular miscegenation. The three young protagonists have to deal with a society in which fear of difference and fear of the government are the real enemies, in some ways a more potent challenge than the various demonic figures arrayed against them. You can’t fight paranoia with a sword.
Not much point in doing plot summary at this stage in the proceedings, and I certainly don’t want to tip off where the movie leaves off in the story. Suffice it to say that Yates and Co. have fashioned a real cliffhanger that ought to leave audiences thirsting for Part 2, scheduled for release next summer. I expect that Pottermania will be epidemic as the Boy Wizard (aka The Chosen One) waves his wand for the last time.