Harry has finally reached his last year at Hogwarts. Only, it doesn’t take place at Hogwarts at all. We never see the great castle. He and his friends, Hermione and Ron, travel the wilderness in search of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. If you’ve forgotten what Horcruxes are, or have no idea what they do, I suspect you’ve started watching the Potter series at the wrong movie.
Some of the earlier movies, yes, you could come in halfway and slowly pick up on certain details that’d help you understand the overarching plot. But not with this one. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 requires all your knowledge of the past movies, and some you didn’t even know you had. Like, where does Harry get that broken shard of glass that acts as a mirror to another dimension? Maybe I’ve stepped over important details from the previous movies, but I doubt it — my brother had the same question. The novels, I’m sure, explain all this with much greater precision. And therein lies one of my most pressing issues with this Potter series: It functions on the basis that all its viewers have read the books. I myself have not completed the series. I stopped at Book 5 (because it was just too damn dry), and never thought to pick it up again. I have a feeling there are many more like me, and they too might find themselves lost amidst the endless wand fights, Disapparitions, and multitude of characters who peep in for a few seconds and then disappear into the night.
Let’s count the characters. There’s Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson). There’s Harry’s family, fleetingly seen in an opening montage. There’s Ron’s family, which is big — seven children? We’ve got the schoolmates of Hogwarts, also fleeting. Then there’s the forces of good: Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Mad-Eye (Brendan Gleeson), the tall black wizard, Bill Weasley’s fiancee, some runt named Mundungus, Lupin (David Thewlis) and his wife, the two house elves, Ollivander (John Hurt), Luna (Evanna Lynch) and her father Xenophilius (Rhys Ifans). There’s the Minister for Magic, played by Bill Nighy. There’s the Ministry itself, composed of my favourite character Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), and several others whose names slip past my memory. There’s the forces of evil: Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the Malfoys, Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter), Wormtail (Timothy Spall), the straight-haired man in a suit who’d look comfortable in a heavy metal band, all the nameless Death Eaters, the flunkies and henchmen, and of course Snape (Alan Rickman). And then there are new additions: A couple of old folks at a wedding who shed some light on Dumbledore’s family tree, and a freaky old lady who hides serpentine secrets. And there’s Griphook, a goblin from Gringotts, you remember. I’m probably missing a few people, but let’s do the maths: I count 49, excluding the Death Eaters and Voldemort’s henchmen. That, my friends, is a ridiculous number of characters to cram into one movie. How the screenplay is able to accommodate them all is a mystery to me, since 90% of this picture focuses on our three leading youngsters in the English wilderness.
This leads me back to the Horcruxes. The search for them accounts for the plot. From what we are told in the last movie, two Horcruxes have already been destroyed. A ring, and Tom Riddle’s magical diary. Now Harry, Ron, and Hermione must find a way to destroy a third, a locket that once belonged to Slytherin. They wander deep into the countryside, isolating themselves from the world and, in so doing, from Voldemort and his gang. They huddle together in the forest deep, thinking hard about the locket and how to destroy it — “Don’t you think it’s strange, Harry? Dumbledore sends you off to find all these Horcruxes but doesn’t tell you how to destroy them”. From what I can tell, it possesses an evil not unlike the evil of the One Ring of Sauron; whoever wears it around his neck shall succumb to aggression and unlikely behaviour.
Harry has bad dreams of Voldemort terrorising wand makers in his search for a particular wand that should give him the upper hand in the war. And the Ministry of Magic, for reasons never explained, turns its attention to the seclusion and exclusion of Muggles as if they were Jews and the Holocaust was reliving itself in present day London. There are some well-made sequences that involve Polyjuice Potion and the infiltration of the Ministry, and there’s an animated storytelling sequence that is drawn with a great deal of creativity and beauty. But when observed from a distance, Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is perhaps not deep enough. It is, for all intents and purposes, a bridge between the last chapter and the next. And that’s all it amounts to.
Best Moment | The animated sequence.
Worst Moment | The nasal dude at the Ministry: “It’s Harry Potter! It’s… Harry. It’s Harry Potter.”.