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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 DVD Review

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The boy wizard heads into dark maturity, and the last of his adventures...

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows DVD

Well, here we go again. After a long, long, long decade of film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful Harry Potter stories, the final home stretch looms into view with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1). The film marks the beginning of the end for the series, drawing on a maturing cast and lively action sequences to deliver what promises to be at least a satisfying finale.

Rowling’s final novel in the series distinguished itself from its predecessors with a darker tone and adult feel, and the film’s sparse soundtrack and muted colour palette certainly reflect the strange melancholic loneliness which characterised the books’ conclusion. As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) face increasing danger in an increasingly hostile magical world, they retreat, not into the familiar ritual comfort of Hogwarts, but instead into the open spaces and the weirdly empty highways and byways of the British countryside. Putting away childish things - the moving staircases, Potions lessons and narrative certainty of previous outings - the three young heroes do battle with an assortment of villainous henchmen (and women) as the film edges closer to the inevitable final showdown expected in Part 2.

There’s a real sense of malice and threat here: all plot-shields are down, all bets are off, and even Rupert Grint manages to deploy more than two of his customary facial expressions in portraying Ron’s emotional development, such as it is (I think he’s discovered girls). Gone are the Worst Witch-style shenanigans of bumbling Weasley, swotty Granger and self-righteous Potter. It’s The Famous Five Do Britain with wands and a serious death-wish.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows approximates the plot of the book, and any effort to condense such a heavy-going text has to be applauded for sheer chutzpah alone, but the heavy-handed exposition necessary to give the film at least a semblance of standing on its own drags out the pace to an interminable degree. Radcliffe’s permanently constipated expression, which intensifies as he seeks to convey feelings or explore a slightly clumsy attempt at moral anguish, only increases the mildly disconcerting sense of waiting for something or someone to happen. Interspersed throughout all this healthy rambling about the countryside are incongruous action sequences, shot and processed to resemble Hong Kong cinema-style shoot-outs; these are no sooner begun than abruptly ended in a dazzling display of CGI which segues into yet another extended angst-off (these scenes of emotional outpouring ultimately culminate in a distressing display of disrobing).

The visual effects - without which the film would be impossible to make to any degree of faithfulness - fulfil their purpose, and it was particularly pleasing to see the film’s attention to detail extended to evocative propaganda posters against Potter and his companions. An enjoyably tense episode, in which the main characters infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, provides welcome direction for the meandering plot, and a beautifully animated sequence depicting the origins of the eponymous “Deathly Hallows” augments the characteristically other-worldly tone of the story, but the challenge of adopting such a dense tome for the big screen proves too great for any sense of real pace to develop.

Ultimately, and ironically, the film suffers from the success which funded its production in the first place. Fans won’t cough up to see the show if it isn’t a faithful reproduction of the book; however, any adaptation for the time-conscious big-screen necessarily involves making those edits to a bloated text which should have been made at the original publishing stage. The result is a choppy, episodic series of jump-cuts between set pieces, satisfying in small doses but never quite managing to gain momentum.

The DVD release is accompanied by a series of extra features, including a surprisingly entertaining day out to a golf course with some of the film’s stars, a fascinating insight into the filming of a complicated multi-shot scene in which several versions of Harry are seen on-screen at once, and additional promotional trailers. Die-hard fans will undoubtedly be keen to get their hands on the extras, which are included on a separate disc and are fairly substantial in length and content.

For those waiting – perhaps not as intensely or woodenly as Daniel Radcliffe – for the last big-screen adventure in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) represents a necessary lull in the action, anticipating the full-blown finale of Part 2. It’s perhaps only when its planned sequel emerges, however, that the film’s strengths in establishing a firm foundation for that finale will become more apparent.

3 stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

See also:

Stupefy! Harry Potter final trailer released

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 trailer goes live

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 review

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part One Soundtrack Review

Harry Potter Deathly Hallows featurettes


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