When it comes to making films out of books that so many millions of people love with a passion bordering on mania, it can make for a tricky business. So often, the cinematic product induces that tired criticism: “The book is better than the movie.” The reason for this repeated failure is easy enough to understand. Books have the time to indulge in beautiful descriptive passages that, if literally translated onto the silver screen, would be tedious for filmmakers and audiences. It is a lot easier, too, to set a book down in the middle of a section and come back to it at our leisure. Doing so in a film is more difficult because, if done right, scenes build on one another. If we leave in the midst of a particular scene and return later, we may have a different, unintended emotional state that could ruin the desired impact. With a book, we can simply go back and skim over a few pages. Doing so with a movie seems like a larger time investment. In recent years, the solution to these problems has been to split a book into two parts. When you have as much money as do the companies behind Harry Potter, this is more easily done. Please accept this theory as you read this review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010).
With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, we are given one last look at the Dursley home that sheltered Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) for his first seventeen years. Because these movies always begin around Harry’s birthday, and the age of adulthood for witches and wizards is seventeen, all the magical protections afforded the Dursley home have reached their expiration. As such, a collection of witches and wizards gather to escort Harry to the home of his best friend, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Despite the dangers to travel posed by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters, there is an added reason for going to the humble Weasley home. Ron’s older brother, Bill (Domhnall Gleeson), is getting married to French witch Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) at the Weasley homestead. It is there that the new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy), catches up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) in order to administer former Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) last will and testament. Because the all-knowing Dumbledore knew that our intrepid trio would be going after the horcruxes, dark magic items keeping Lord Voldemort alive, the deceased wizard left them trinkets to help their quest. Their proposed endeavor gets off to a premature start when Bill and Fleur’s wedding reception receives terrifying news. The guests are informed that the Ministry of Magic has fallen and Death Eaters are on their way to the Weasleys. Hermione, though, is prepared, and whisks Harry and Ron away from the party, ending up in central London. After shaking a pair of bad guys on their tail, they end up at the former residence of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), which he left to Harry. Also in their possession is the locket Harry and Dumbledore had found in the previous year. What they thought was a horcrux turned out to be a fake, with a message inside written by somebody with the initials “R.A.B.” It does not take them long to discover that this is Regulus Black, Sirius’ deceased brother, who managed to get to the genuine article before Harry and Dumbledore. Unfortunately, a thorough search of his room reveals nothing, until the resident house elf Kreacher (voiced by Simon McBurney) reveals that a thief named Mundungus Fletcher (Andy Linden) had broken in and stole it. Tracking him down, he confesses to having sold it to the one-time Hogwart’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and headmistress Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), current Ministry of Magic crony. With the former regime gone, and the current one being controlled by Lord Voldemort, it proves no easy task to break into the building and steal it from her. Though they manage it, they are forced to flee into the woods while they figure out how to destroy the horcrux. They also take turns wearing the amulet, which causes them a great deal of anguish given its dark properties. Ron is the one most affected by it, and soon he leaves in anger at the slow pace of their mission. This leaves Harry and Hermione alone, though they surmise that the sword of legendary wizard Godric Gryffindor could prove a powerful weapon for destroying horcruxes. Not really knowing where else to start their search, they travel to Harry’s birthplace, the town of Godric’s Hollow, if for no other reason than name association. This proves to be a trap as Lord Voldemort’s snake Nagini, disguised as Bathilda Bagshot (Hazel Douglas), lures them into her home. They narrowly escape, but it does lead Hermione to another important discovery based on her study of the book left her by Dumbledore: the existence of the Deathly Hallows. Needing more information, and with the sword appearing in a nearby pond and Ron back with them, they travel to the home Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans). He is the father of one of their classmates and well-known follower of the Deathly Hallows. Apparently, they are three magical items. The first is an invisibility cloak, the second if the resurrection stone, and the third is the Elder Wand. This information is fed to the three young people until yet another trap can be sprung on them. Though they get away once more, they are eventually caught and taken to the Malfoys. It would seem their luck has run out until they receive some extra assistance from another house elf, Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones), who takes them to Bill and Fleur’s seaside cottage but dies in the process. This is where the film stops, to be continued in part two.
When talking about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), I examined the horcruxes from a Catholic perspective. I discussed the awfulness of breaking apart God’s perfect gift of our souls for the sake of a false sense of immortality. What this Catholic reviewer finds interesting about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is the way these objects affect a person. There are plenty of movies out there that feature so-called “cursed items.” The Conjuring series come to mind, with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) having an entire room full of these things. What a terrible idea. Their logic is that they keep them locked away so that they cannot harm anyone else, and yet, surprise surprise, they seem to get out and do exactly what they hope will not happen. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, you have just one similar object negatively affecting three people. Whoever wears the horcrux locket is moody and irritable, a situation compounded by them being teenagers living in a tent in the woods while trying to avoid people out to kill them. Faith-wise, these things are designed by the devil to cause the kind of discord you see in the movie, or worse. If trifled with, they can lead to possession and the permanent loss of your soul to eternal damnation. That is a concept that we do not take seriously enough these days. If you think death is bad, try dying ad infinitum. That is Hell. Hence, this Catholic is gratified when they are able to destroy such a dangerous item.
Ultimately, you watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 in order to get to the sequel. It works well enough on its own, but it does leave you wanting to see what ultimately happens to Harry and his friends. The payoff at the end of the second part is worth going through not only these two, but the entire series. Also, as this marks the end of my Harry Potter run, I would be remiss if I did not make one last comment about the series overall. Parents, these movies contain a lot of great messages about doing the right thing in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. Still, if you do not wish to expose your children to witchcraft, I understand. As an adult, we understand that none of this is real. In this manner, like anything we see on film, we can take away the good and forget the bad.