Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I [Reviewed By Kelsey Zukowski]

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Directed By: David Yates
Written By: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)

Grade: A+

I have always been a huge fan of the Harry Potter films, but when they started taking a darker turn they escalated to a whole other level. The Deathly Hallows Part I is practically void of any light; darkness nearly filling it whole. In many ways it doesn’t feel like a Potter film, it's vastly different than any that have come before it. In the last film, it ended on a very somber note with Harry and his friends seeming to be running out of their luck as they are faced with impending doom. Even though Voldemort is never destroyed at the end of any of the movies, Harry and friends somehow against the odds manage to save the day and set things right. This can only happen for so long, especially with Voldemort on the rise and followers flocking to him.

The Deathly Hallows Part I is of a different breed. I definitely appreciated that it was so different though. Each film in the series stands on its own, but there is a certain basic set up to each film; pre-school year, usually Harry stuck in the muggle world with his sad excuse for a family, the joys of reuniting with friends and Harry’s true home with the hint that something is brewing, Harry and his friends researching to try to find out more about what’s coming among quidditch, enchanted surroundings, and magical explorations before the final showdown, where things may look grim, but between Ron, Harry, and Hermione‘s skills and instincts, lightness is restored.

The only one of those elements that are present in the Deathly Hallows Part I is that something is brewing (although there is no subtle hinting about this, the whole world, magical and muggle has nearly collapsed) and trying to research and find out more in hopes of having a chance against Voldemort. We never even arrive at Hogwarts or have any of those nostalgic quirks of the series that we have become accustomed to. This makes it feel disconnected from others in the series, but at the same time it is very refreshing. With others, even without reading the books, more or less you know what to expect. In this film you’re really not sure what to expect, clearly whatever it is will be like nothing we have seen before and could be the end in many ways, meaning for all we know key characters could reach the end too. We don’t have the same self assurances that everything will work out, all signs are pointing to it not working out.

The one thing it felt like it was missing was that ever powerful sense of hope that fuels the magic and strength that these seemingly amateur wizards showcase when they need it the most. That has always been a big part of the appeal and magic of Harry Potter; not that physical magic itself but that belief being the foundation for doing wonderful, impossible things when all the power seems to be within the dark entities. Harry, Hermione, and Ron keep on running, trying to find the Horcruxes: possessions that contain immortality. They must destroy them, Dumbledore's last instructions for them before he died.

It’s hard enough for them to stay under the radar when everyone is looking for them since Harry has been named “Undesirable No. 1”, the Ministry of Magic has a number of people who are serving Voldemort, his takeover clearly just beginning. Always on the run, they have to find out where the other Horcruxes are, how they can get them, and destroy them in order to stop Voldemort. Amongst this their attention is turned to the symbol of the deathly hallows, which they soon discover represent the three most powerful possessions in the magical world. Voldemort is ready to take over the world, starting with Harry Potter. He knows that since their wands are made of the same bird he will never be able to kill Harry with his wand. Once he has the right wand not only will he effortlessly be able to kill Harry once and for all, but total domination won’t be far away. Harry and his friends never fully give up though, which is perhaps one of the most inspirational things I can think of; to fight endlessly even as it is destroying you as the rest of the world is crumbling to destruction and terror; daring to hope when it is seemingly so far gone.

This film is far more slow-paced than usual. There’s blurbs of action, followed by a lot of running and hiding out. It’s a lot more emotional too, good and bad emotions included. One particular device seems to bring out the worst in each of them, stirring up hopelessness, fear, and aggression, even turning them on one another when they’re all each other has left and the last hope the world has.

The cast has always brilliantly brought their characters to life, improving and building on them as the series continues. They definitely kick it up a notch here with less comic relief, whimsical fun, and action; it really rests on the characters and how they deal with the whirlwind of emotions, insecurities, and pressure among them. They all have darkness inside them too, which is being brought right before them, yet they struggle against it.

Rupert Grint was really given the most of this material, letting his fears get the best of him, showing the turmoil this could bring on Ron if they were to actually come true. Emma Watson develops Hermione further, building on her maturity as the one who has to keep everything together. We also see she feels pain and the consequences of the unknown fates before them, showing us she is only human. Daniel Radcliffe shows utter desperation as Harry in most of this film who can’t help but be doubtful that they even stand a chance anymore.

Of course, there are many notable performances. One of my favorites, Evanna Lynch as the quirky, oddly charming, and utterly intelligent, Luna Lovegood. The introduction of her father, Xenophilius Lovegood, was a good addition as well, just as light and whimsical as her in some cases and scared out of his mind to where it’s clear that person he was has been completely stripped of him. Imelda Staunton is completely repulsive and hateful as Dolores Umbridge, as she should be. She doesn’t falter in the slightest from the fifth film where she was the focus. It’s clear she actually does believe in what she’s doing, no matter how twisted her actions are. There are some who are clearly just scared for their own safety that they have conformed to the ways of Voldemort, but there are some who have the same ideals as him, making his army full of both fear and twisted self-righteousness.

There is a certain feeling of inevitability to Voldemort’s takeover. There are some scenes with the “educational reform” and searching for muggles and anyone with human blood, imprisoning, torturing, and killing what some believe to be inferior beings for not being pureblooded, that just reminded me a lot of Nazis and their hunt for Jews during the Holocaust. It’s a lack of acceptance and masking insecurities with trying to proclaim purebloods as the only ones worthy. Ironically enough, just as Hitler may have had Jewish ancestry in him, Voldemort has human blood in him. Childhood pain caused by his human father, fueling hate inside of him for his entire life has created a hate and power hunger so strong, hiding out is one’s only chance of survival to escape it.

This is no longer a mystical world to escape to; it’s one to escape from. Of course hiding out is only a temporary means of survival. It’s no wonder there is ever dwindling hope when Voldemort’s reign is both institutionalized and in the shadows. In some ways this is perfect as it hits closer to the real world we live in, both historically and just showing something more grim and less magical. It's an escape that both comforts the ugliness in the world that one might have experienced, allowing them to dwell in the grim mindsets that have a way of staying with us. It still works as a worst case scenario, showing that if they can keep on fighting against such a powerful dark being that will bring complete destruction, tedious torture, and utter domination to the earth when they know they are likely fighting a war that they cannot win, then that gives you hope against everything, even utterly consuming blackness. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is a character-rich, doom and gloom film, nearly void of hope, but one that lets us know that luck is running out for the characters we have loved and grown with since their first day at Hogwarts; the beginning of the end.