A friend of mine, a week prior to writing this review, described the arrival of the final Harry Potter films as marking the true end of her childhood and I feel that particular theme runs through this film. As a man who has never read the books - and makes no apologies for it - I've often looked upon the films of the past decade with a mixture awe and frustration. Critically none of the cinematic adaptations have made completely perfect films, with perhaps the exception of the excellent Prisoner of Azkaban. Though the final part of this 'epic finale' is still six months away, The Deathly Hallows Part I unfortunately follows the same trend of the majority of the films past.
Picking up roughly where the last film left audiences over a year ago, we find Harry along with his chums Ron and Hermione continuing their search for the remaining Horcruxes in order to defeat the dark and menacing Lord Voldemort.
Perhaps the most surprising and disappointing aspect of The Deathly Hallows Part I was the complete lack of the magical and visually spellbinding Hogwarts school which has been the main backdrop of the films since they began in 2000. Unsurprisingly however, the film suffered enormously for it. That isn't to say the film didn't feature magical and peculiar realms, but ultimately it tended to fall a little flat for the most part, which is a shame because the opening 20 minutes were pacey, action packed and featured all the characters we've come to love and care about since the early days of The Philosopher's Stone. From there until about the last 10 minutes it just loses its momentum as we see Harry and his two closest friends seemingly meandering along in the Lake District for two hours.
One thing that can be said of the series, as a whole, is watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint mature into decent, proper actors over the years. The first part of The Deathly Hallows is probably the first film I can recall where they have, genuinely, had to carry the entire film together, without the assistance of much more seasoned veterans of British cinema and to their credit they do it very well.
After the second instalment comes out next summer I will watch with great interest where these three young actors take their careers, if indeed anywhere at all. Regardless of your feelings for young Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, for better or worse, they are now embedded into cinematic history as JK Rowling's leading three characters.
The trailers which have captivated audiences since they made their début earlier in the year are also slightly misleading as Warner Bros have seemingly decided to splice in a lot of what's promised in Part II while neglecting to tell people, in my opinion, nothing really happens for the majority of Part I. I'm sure fanatics of the book will see more of a purpose to the whole affair than I did, but for me the first instalment of the final Harry Potter story did nothing but act as a prelude to the darkness and destruction that is bound to unfold come July 2011.
That isn't to say it was a complete disaster, because there was a lot of the film I did enjoy. One of the most beautiful and innovative highlights was the delightful animated retelling where Hermione tells the story of The Three Brothers which of course leads to the revelations of The Deathly Hallows itself. When the film decided to kick into gear occasionally, there was a deep emotional core to the tale, a coming-of-age story where Potter and his friends are no longer mischievous school children, but turning into real wizards and witches. Plus I love my dark and brooding features, though perhaps The Deathly Hallows was guilty of accentuating this aspect at the expense of the magical, fantastical qualities which makes Harry Potter so appealing to mass audiences in the first place.
When I reviewed The Half-Blood Prince last year I had questioned why Warner Bros decided to stick with director David Yates when more stylish directors could have brought something truly magical to the tale. Though Yates does a perfectly competent job, there is times where I often wondered if he played it too safe (bar the bit where Ron destroys the Horcrux which needs to be seen to be believed, for all the wrong reasons, trust me). I will often look back with regret for what might have been if Guillermo del Toro had taken on the project after initially expressing interest.
Time will tell if Warner Bros, somewhat, controversial decision to split the final Harry Potter book into two films will result in the most authentic adaptation, of the series, ever seen on the big screen, or simply just another soulless Hollywood moneymaking ploy. Until Part II makes its way come July 2011, all audiences are left with is an incomplete story. Half a film. A prelude to... greatness? I wait with bated breath.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is in cinemas November 19th 2010.