With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by David Yates. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. 146 minutes.
There’s a pretty strict rule in judging films based on books: a movie has to stand on its own. Since most of the viewers will not have read the novel, any defense of the book that begins, “Well, if you had read the book…” marks the film as a failure. However, as with any rule there are exceptions. People seeing “Gone With The Wind” in 1939 had very definite expectations based on the book. So did more recent viewers of the “Lord Of The Rings” movies. Such is also the case with the Harry Potter movies.
Many of the reviewers at the recent advance screening of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1 had not read the book or other entries in the series. That is a marked contrast to the audience. In this case, this reviewer – being a fan of the books – sides with the audience. As the first half of the culmination of the series, this a movie that only works if you’re immersed in the world of Harry Potter. If you’re not, it won’t make much sense and you certainly won’t appreciate what’s going on here.
The evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is ascendant and, with his loyal Death Eaters, is ready to subject the world to wizardly rule. The only one who can stop him, as we’ve known since the first movie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” is young Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), the sole survivor of an attack by Voldemort that took the lives of his parents. Each entry represented another year for Harry and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) at Hogwarts, the magical academy for witches and wizards. Not this one. Instead, the Order of the Phoenix – which is to say, the good guys – have to get Harry far away from where Voldemort might attack.
Much of the story has Harry, Ron and Hermione in hiding in remote locations, as they continue their task of locating the “horcruxes,” the magical objects containing pieces of Voldemort. By destroying them they hope to destroy him as well. Since this represents the first half of the novel, it ends on a note where the final battle has yet to be joined. We’ll have to wait until July to reach the stirring conclusion.
For fans, however, this is not just exposition. We see the tensions between the three friends as they face their greatest crisis. We see the evil of Voldemort and his minions on full display. There are the deaths of characters we’ve come to know from earlier installments, including the death of a beloved figure which will be a shock to those who have not read the final book. This is not a film for little kids unless they are well-prepared for what they will experience.
Once again, Steve Kloves, who has scripted all but one of the adaptations, has done an admirable job of distilling a complex tale to its essential moments. Then there’s the incredible cast. We’ve watched the three leads grow up on screen and they have grown into their roles with skill and subtlety. Radcliffe is not afraid of showing Harry’s dark side, and Grint and Watson offer wonderful support. Most of the older actors appear briefly here, each making the most of their screen time whether it’s Bill Nighy as the minister of magic, Rhys Ifans as Luna Lovegood’s dotty father, or Helena Bonham Carter as the vicious Bellatrix Lestrange. The Potter series has provided work for much of the cream of the British acting community.
So to the muggles among the critics who carp about this or that, this movie isn’t for you. “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1” is for those of us invested in this saga, and for whom July 2011 cannot come soon enough.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.