Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1

My how time flies. Not only have we watched three young actors and their respective characters grow up over the course of 10 years before our very eyes, but also the tonal shift from light to dark in the “Harry Potter” movies has been unusually drastic. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1” is a true epic — a dark and brooding journey with a tone remarkably akin to “The Lord of the Rings.” Director David Yates has taken a film series which was once a fanciful, light-hearted rendering of author J.K. Rowling’s imagination and made it feel real and especially dangerous. I suppose you could say it’s not your older sibling’s “Harry Potter.”

The dark turn of the films was inevitable given the content of the books, but Yates has realized it in such a way that these last couple of films have felt completely different from their predecessors. Rowling’s tone, in spite of more prolific deaths, has not changed nearly as much. This time around there’s lots of blood, characters are dying left and right and the stuff that supplements the main plot, instead of being fluffy and magical, is decidedly dramatic.

Although Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is still the courageous and impulsive one, Hermione (Emma Watson) is still the smart and prepared one and Ron (Rupert Grint) is still the oblivious one, the dialogue is adult and the moments they share are complex. The three friends must survive on their own in this film as they search for the horcruxes (objects infused with parts of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) soul) and are on the run from the Death Eaters, the dark wizards and witches who have seized the Ministry of Magic and have begun a reign of terror. Considering these once-child stars were initially cast on looks and being able to play their type, they continue to prove themselves as venerable adults in “Hallows.”

This maturity is reflected in the writing of screenwriter Steve Kloves (who adapted every book but “Order of the Phoenix”). He provides many tender and dramatic moments between the friends, not all of which were written by J.K. Rowling, trusting them to handle the deeper material. Given the flexibility of a two-film final chapter, Kloves could also resort more to cutting corners than entire sections of the book. Devout fans will notice much of the exposition regarding Albus Dumbledore’s “mysterious” past including that involving the wizard Gridelwald has been axed or turned into easter eggs. That’s it as far as significant omissions, and it was the right choice on account of a lack of visual storytelling opportunities, even though Harry’s growing resentment of/loss of faith in Dumbledore never becomes part of the story as it does so intriguingly in the book.

Yates’ patience also improves the series in “Hallows.” There’s a build up to the events and some lengthier shots that have a lasting impact. It feels more like a dramatic motion picture than a squeeze-it-in adaptation. The film could have easily hopped from scene to scene with action at every turn, but Yates takes his time. The scene in Godric’s Hollow, for example, when Harry and Hermione follow the old Bathilda Bagshot to her house only to find she’s not quite who they think she is evolves slowly and culminates in a tense sequence lasting much shorter. Succinctly put, the cinematic quality of the films has continued to improve as it has done ever since Yates took over. What used to be the emphasis in the plot-driven scenes (action and visual effects) has changed.

“Deathly Hallows” is not forgiving of those who aren’t already familiar with the Harry Potter universe, but at the same time, this darker tone, higher proportion of drama and much more cinematic feel should improve the overall entertainment factor for those hoping to get something out of the “Hallows” despite never reading the books or barely remembering the previous entries.

With the PG-13 rating back on, “Deathly Hallows” feel real and the action is palpable. The casting of fighting spells back and forth in battle do some collateral damage for once. The sound and VFX teams deserve major credit for upping that factor to a new level. For once, magical realism has an application to the Potter world: Instead of calling attention to pretty visual effects, Yates and crew make them feel naturally part of the action, which keeps our focus on the characters. CGI in films has also improved over the 10 years of “Potter” movies and as such, Yates sees no compelling need to highlight them more than usual and “Hallows” is better for it.

Maybe most importantly, “Hallows Pt. 1” sets us up for a dramatic, exciting and cathartic finale to the most impressive movie franchise ever made. Yates, Kloves and the entire cast and crew have really upped the stakes with their work on this film and it shows. I have no ounce of doubt that Part 2 will be an incredible send-off for this series given the effort and creativity put into Part 1. If you’re a fan who has forgotten how close you’ve actually become to these characters, “Deathly Hallows” will surely remind you.

4.5/5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1
Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (book)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint


  1. Max says:

    You know what’s really amazing about this series? They cast these three kids when they were 11 years old, and all three of them turned out to be legitimately good actors without a trace of scandal throughout all these years. Looking at all the fallen child stars through the years, how incredible is that?

  2. Steven says:

    I know, it’s kind of amazing that there were no issues, they all made each film, no scandals and they’re legitimately good. I don’t think anyone realizes how rare this series will seem in a couple decades from now.

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