Even having read every “Harry Potter” book and seen every “Harry Potter” film, I still hesitate to call myself a fan. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the world J.K. Rowling invented or the characters she created, but rather that my enjoyment of the series has always been transient. With sometimes years between each subsequent release, my memory of the litany of events preceding them is often shaky at best, and I've never felt particularly inclined to re-visit.
Inasmuch, every “Harry Potter” has been almost an insular experience for me. I enjoyed the film series as pure Hollywood spectacle, but have always felt their independent merits were questionable at best. In that regard (taking into account I haven’t seen “The Sorcerer’s Stone” since I was in high school) “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” may be the weakest in the series. Curiously, in others ways, it’s the best.
I love that director David Yates pumps the breaks for this adaptation—that he actually gives the material breathing room, allowing it to be more than a feature-length amusement park ride. On a technical and artistic level, there is a lot I admire about his team’s work on this penultimate adventure. But at two and a half hours, covering only half a book, there’s no getting around the fact that “Deathly Hallows” is perhaps the least exciting and inherently least complete-feeling film in the franchise.
I get it, Warner Brothers. Splitting the final “Harry Potter” into two parts was a brilliant marketing decision. It’s hard to lie down and watch a cash cow die, and I’m sure many consumers will even relish the grandeur of a two-part finale. From a creative perspective, however, Rowling’s “Deathly Hallows” might be the worst book in the series to divide.
The bloated first half of her novel features a few action sequences peppered in out of necessity, but Rowling’s authorial stalling is what translates most clearly in this film. Painfully little transpires, rendering probably the most faithful adaptation of her work as the weakest cinematically. Of course, Potter portrayer Daniel Radcliff and co. do as admiral a job as always in breathing life into the characters and humanizing the often absurd plot developments and plethora of plot-holes a magic world entails, but nothing can save “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” from feeling like half of a story—or more precisely, one eighth of a story.
Unlike prior “Potter” outings, “Deathly Hallows” also over-relies on the hunting of mystical artifacts. Major story arcs and characters are ignored in favor of horcruxes—trinkets imbued with pieces of Voldemort’s soul that Harry must seek and destroy before their climactic confrontation. The titular deathly hallows are then yet another collection of requisite magic items; between the hallows and the horcruxes, “Harry Potter 7” feels like one tedious fetch-quest.
That may be enough to satiate some Pottermaniacs, but even having read every book and seen every film, I’m not devoted enough to the franchise to overlook that “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a shameless cash-grab. It's a film almost inappreciable when considered on its own, and unexciting when compared to its prequels. There is no reason Rowling’s last “Harry Potter” book (which is not the longest in the series) couldn't have been concisely and effectively wrapped up in two and a half hours, and asking audiences to pay twice for one film strikes me as more than a little unfair. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a colossal tease—crippled on its own and treading water in context, its never more than half a film. It's only fair it gets half a score.