Film review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)

Theoretically sequels and novel adaptations should hold up on their own merits but what is slightly tricky about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is that it’s not just an adaptation but also the seventh part of a franchise and the first part of a final story. If you’ve never read the novels and only ever saw the previous Harry Potter films once when initially released then you are going to be confounded by a lot of the details and you will have trouble remembering the significance of the many supporting characters. However, maybe once a film franchise has gone this far (an impressive feat in itself) it can be let off the hook for no longer filling in big chunks of back-story for newcomers and casual viewers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 actually works reasonably well as its own film and considering it is adapted from only the first half of a novel, it feels remarkably complete. For a start, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) all go through a substantial character arc that is satisfyingly resolved. While Hermione and Ron were disappointingly pushed to the side for a lot of the previous film (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), they get a lot more to do in this one with both actors getting a chance to express a range of emotions, which works out a lot better for Emma Watson than it does for Rupert Grint. The dynamic between the trio also firmly establishes Hermione’s importance, which is a welcome far cry from the very problematic dynamic in the early films where Hermione’s studiousness (as opposed to Harry’s natural talents) was a source of derision.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I: Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)
Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)

This film completely abandons the Hogwarts setting, which loses the terrific structure of having each film set around a specific school year. Just like the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (where each season was set around a school and then college year) such a structure allowed for the characters to face particular dangers and challenges that reflected their emotional journey throughout the school year. Part seven of the franchise seems no longer concerned with such matters and instead opts for all out fantasy, with several features that while not completely derivative of other classic fantasy texts, are blatantly familiar.

The focus on finding and destroying the magical objects known as Horcruxes, which give power to evil-doers and corrupts good-doers, seems lifted straight from The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 also contains a magical sword at the bottom of a lake as per the King Arthur legend but it’s most interesting allusions are to the Holocaust and Nazism, which were also heavily evoked in the original Star Wars trilogy – another wildly popular film franchise. In Harry Potter the world of magic is now officiated over with the iron fist of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his followers, who in their contempt for Muggles (humans) are rounding up the perceived-to-be-inferior half-blood wizards and witches. Victims of this non-witch hunt are lead away by black uniformed officials who look like Gestapo officers and taken into the depths of the Ministry of Magic. One character even gets “mud blood” carved into their arm like a concentration camp tattoo. Hopefully in Part 2 this symbolism is explored further because while it adds a curious extra layer of depth to Part 1 it isn’t yet fully developed.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)
Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)

This is the third film in the series directed by David Yates who continues to make the series darker (this one features more blood than previously) and who continues to overuse a green wash to make everything feel a bit gloomy. The film lags badly in the middle, the acting is very uneven and some moments are completely naff. However, it also includes a terrific opening chase sequence, an exciting wand shoot-out, an impressive animation sequence and a moving farewell to a fairly minor character that somehow evokes far more pathos than Dumbledore’s death at the end of the previous film. While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 certainly doesn’t fulfil the expectations created by parts three and four in the series, it’s still a slight improvement on the stodgy parts five and six. If nothing else, this penultimate film does leave you anticipating how it will all turn out in the final film, which is a lot more than can be said about other comparative film franchises.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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  1. Thomas,

    I think you are a fantastic writer, but in this case I take issue with several of your points. For example, while Hogwarts was indeed a grounding structure in the previous films, I think what makes the film so intriguing is that, to emphasize the quest of the characters, it forces them to leave a haven. Dumbledore’s death and the subsequent fall-out all but ensured that Hogwarts is no longer hospitable.

    Instead of going for “all-out fantasy”, I felt that the film was remarkably grounded, even moreso than the previous ones.

    Also, your point about Hermione’s cleverness being derided is not completely accurate, in my opinion. For example, her intelligence with the Time-Turner in Prisoner of Azkaban allowed Harry to even have the chance to right several wrongs in the capture of Sirius Black.

    I also felt that the effects of the locket were differentiated enough from the ring in The Lord of the Rings. The purpose of the locket, which is only one Horcrux out of seven and uses its powers as a defense mechanism, and the purpose of the ring are both entirely different, IMO.

    Also, I find it interesting that you liked the third and fourth films the most. In my opinion, the sixth is the second-best, replaced now by Part I. I think your acceptance of Part I is not completely disassociated with how you feel about the previous films.

  2. Thanks Matthew!

    You make several extremely valid points that very effectively balance out some of my misgivings. It also sounds like you are a lot more knowledgeable about the series than I am so I really appreciate the value of you sharing your perspective.


  3. Thomas, Some good points but let us not forget that as an audience we constantly talk about how upset we get when a movie is altered from the novel.

    The director moves this movie along and sticks to the novel because he has no other choice. As a reader of all 7 books I felt that it was the best thus far and the reason for that is the attachment to the characters as those of us that were young when the philosophers stone was released have known Harry, Herminone and Ron as if they were our friends.

    This quest or journey is emotional and hard. They leave the nest of Hogwarts and travel to hopefully destroy the evil that is Voldemort and the idea of them being exposed and vulnerable is a valid one that Rowling projects in the novel.

    If the director had moved from this he would have been lambasted. In my eyes as a Potter fan he did an excellent job and quite frankly if you have not read the books then you should walk away unhappy. This movie is for readers and true fans of the series!!!

  4. So what you are saying is that the film doesn’t stand up on its own accord (and is therefore a flawed film and failed adaptation) but fans of the novel love it so that’s OK?

  5. I agree that this is a fan movie, but it’s not as bad as I previously thought. I deliberately avoid re-reading the seventh book, and the movie still felt coherent to me (of course, those who never read it at all would be clueless most of the times). I enjoyed the awkward relationship dynamics of the trio, and happy to see more portion of Hermione-Ron here. All in all, it’s an okay movie. BTW, Hazel Douglas did a terrific job at scaring the sht out of me. Easily one of the creepiest moments of the franchise, lol.

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