To the Cinema: Harry Potter 7, Part 1

With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, the dominant pop culture franchise of the last decade begins its end.  Sure, the last book has been out for more than 3 years, which has lessened the excitement around the series, but the two-part last movie is Harry’s final send-off.  Fortunately, the first part of it is the best movie in the series to date.

For the record, I mostly did not like the last book.  I had been a fan of the series since the first book came out, and I was on line at midnight to buy The Deathly Hallows.  I had the book read by 9:30 that morning and I have not touched the book since.  Partially this is because I’ve had the book loaned to friends and relatives for much of the intervening three years, but mostly because I just did not care to read it again.  The book does away with Hogwarts and its various intrigues to focus on the much less interesting battle between good and evil.  That was to be expected and is understandable, but the school stuff was replaced with interminable camping scenes.  While I did not hate the book, I did enjoy it much less than the other books in the series.

The movie, however, is better than the others are for some of the same reasons the book was worse.  The lack of Hogwarts is to the movies advantage.  Those parts never really worked in the movies and Deathly Hallows benefits from their absence.  The camping scenes, which drag in the book, actually help the movie maintain its tension.  Combined with the captivating landscapes in some of those shots help make Harry and his companions feel isolated and lost.

Another thing that helps the film is the decision to split the book into two movies.  While this seems like, and probably is, a blatant cash grab, cutting the book in half allows the movie to slow the pace down.  Most of the previous movies tried to be so faithful to the source material that they felt more like filmed summaries moving at a breakneck pace in an attempt to include every possible scene from the book.  To be fair, I am not sure there was a better way to handle the adaptations, but it did occasionally kill the movies’ pacing.  Covering only half of a book in this movie, though, allows the director to construct scenes that are not always rushing to their end.  This pace that occasionally stops to take a breath is the biggest improvement over the previous movies.

It is also apparent how much better the principle actors are than they were in the first couple of movies.  This movie relies on the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and the three performers do a good job.  The movie feels more like a thriller or horror movie rather than the straight magical adventure of the previous ones.  This is something from the books that had been lost in the previous films.  However, Deathly Hallows sticks more successfully to the book’s tone.

Even though I liked Deathly Hallows, all is not peaches and gravy.  It ends on a cliffhanger and really feels like very little was accomplished.  It is hard to shake the feeling that you just watched a two and a half hour prelude to Part 2.  Moreover, for what is ostensibly a children’s movie there is quite a bit of gore and sexual content.  Even with my praise of the slower pacing, outside of the escape scene at the beginning and the infiltration of the magical Nazi headquarters, there is not a ton of action.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a flawed but entertaining movie.  Even with those flaws, it is the best Harry Potter film.  It is sad to see Harry go, but I’m glad he gets to leave in such a satisfactory manner.

***1/2