Do you remember your last semester of high school? You know, the one where you’d already fulfilled most if not all of your requirements? The one where, if you hadn’t gotten the jump on college with some PSEO classes, you filled out your schedule with easy pass classes?
Do you remember that anxious-tedious feeling you had knowing that you were, for all intents and purposes, done but still had to hang around for the big celebratory graduation ceremony?
Part one of the bifurcated movie adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is positively cloaked in that pointless sensation. Set aside the special effects (which are one of the only things that seem to mature with the series along with its characters) and the top-notch cinematography (Oscar-nominee Eduardo Serra was a fine, if late, addition to the Potter fold) and what are you left with aside from over two hours’ worth of laborious set up for the expected fireworks of the second Deathly Hallows installment?
For a series that, in both book and movie form, has always seemed overly reliant on highly episodic plots, Hallows: Part 1 grinds the entire proceedings to a dead halt. Which is admittedly appropriate, given the Nazi-esque living death the Hogwarts School-slash-Ministry of Propoganda has entered under the eyes (and lack of nose) of Voldemort, who has set into motion a fear-based crusade of ethnic purification. He seeks to eliminate “half-blood” wizards, among whom include the precocious and talented Hermione.
Harry Potter remains, as the late Dumbledore presaged, the wizard world’s best hope to defeat Voldemort. And Voldemort knows it. He and his whirligig phalanx of jet-black specter-troops, the Death Eaters, are trying every which way they can to cut the not-so-young Mr. Potter down. That, in turn, forces Harry and his cohorts Hermione and Ron (staging their won “on again, off again” act) into bilocating their way into the most remote corners of England to avoid detection.
And that’s where they spend the better part of two hours, camped out in the woods and on rocky peaks, arguing and shivering and hiding and running and plotting and hiding and sneaking and whispering and hiding. And then Lord Vold gets ahold of Dumbledore’s all-powerful wand, holds it into the air triumphantly, where it’s met with bolts of lightning like the sword of Greyskull. And the movie ends, leaving nothing but prologue in its wake.
Director David Yates (the only other director aside from Chris Columbus to direct more than one installment in the series) has one or two good tricks up his sleeve, most notably an attractively understated, computer animated shadow-puppet enactment of the central “Deathly Hallows” fable. And did I mention how beautiful Serra’s cinematography is?
Look, I understand how this equivalent of narrative treading water could’ve all been used to effectively demonstrate Potter & Company’s growing frustration with the magnitude of their quest. Unfortunately, the decision to split the (endless) novel into two films removes the catharsis that would’ve made the wait bearable. Instead, audiences are left to suffer the purgatory without giving them the chance to arrive, revealing the bisection to be an all-too-obviously commercial decision. Hallows: Part 1 isn’t a film at all. It’s a placeholder. And it’s makers are making fans pay for the privilege of remaining caught up.
Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.