The series that I have loved for so long is winding down, but not fizzing out — that’s for sure. I feel like I have waited half of my life for this, or at least as long as Emma Watson has waited to get rid of those extensions and get that adorable pixie haircut anyhow. Seeing it not one time, but twice, as I couldn’t be satisfied with the free showing at the AAFES theatre here, and we had to wait for the staggered release at the Korean IMAX two weeks later to really and truly appreciate this event, was what it took to finally get this review spinning in my head.
I would suggest to you that there are spoilers ahead, but I think that this should go without saying. Turn back now if you are not inclined to know about this first installment of the final chapter of our beloved Harry Potter series.
Something that was refreshing to me was that the powers behind this portion of the series decided against making this movie in 3D, instead opting for the quality of staying truer-to-the-story than other films have managed in the past. Deathly Hallows managed to stretch out beautifully and take up the amount of space that I honestly wish and personally felt the last novel could have. I have heard and read criticisms — whether from people who had read the novel I know not — that Deathly Hallows tends to spend a great deal of time seemingly “going nowhere”. This was part of the innate beauty of this installment, part of what gave me the relief that reassured me that this director was not going to rush things and justified the breaking of this segment into two movies. The longer, slower segments managed to portray the frustration and seeming futility felt by Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they embarked on a quest laid before them by a man they presumed met his demise before preparing them properly. This slower passage of time allowed the viewer to really feel the desperation conveyed, no matter how poorly one might feel it done in print, as they did their best to stay ahead of those who pursued them even as their own alliances weakened at times.
Apart from even just looking their parts as they have for nigh on the last decade, Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have really hit their stride in their roles. Portions of their portrayals over years, while always favorites of my own, at times felt forced or occasionally not in sync. Even I had to grudgingly admit that Harry was too angsty or Hermione too rehearsed. Not this time. From the opening, Emma Watson had my heart wrenched with her obliviate, and Rupert Grint, a fine actor in films not well known outside the UK, was seething with jealousy that poured off of the screen. One of the shining moments of the whole movie is the “many Potters” scene, where Daniel Radcliffe is pretending to be other characters pretending to be him, and his portrayal of these people he has worked with for these past years was so spot on that it had me crying in a different way. Most notably the way he perfectly captures Hermione-as-Harry in her “I’m ready what is WRONG with you people?” look of irritation encapsulates the way that they have come to know each other over years of working closely.
There were moments that felt less scripted, and in one scene that really stole an unexpected thought of praise from me, a seemingly spontaneous scene after Ron’s exit where Harry engages Hermione in a few moments of light dancing seemed less like a planned moment and more like two old friends, on or off screen, having some moments of fun knowing that years of something was coming to a close. The feeling was a closeness built over years of something shared, and that isn’t something you write and rehearse.
Very special mentions to Alan Rickman and Tom Felton for their nuanced and believable performances, something I have come to expect and demand. Felton especially has come a long way from the almost-spitting youth who seemed to over-enunciate every line he ever spoke to expressing turmoil and doubt of his actions in just a few facial expressions. Rickman, of course, has never been more appropriate for a part than that of Snape, who couldn’t possibly play almost imperceptible expressions any better. These are the actors that fantasy nerds are born of, as The Guy and I will sit and discuss the meanings behind these tiny winces and almost flinches ad nauseam.
Hopefully, the second half will bring about more of the secondary characters that are much beloved, as the movies tend to give them second-burner roles — more so than we are used to for fan favorites like Ginny and Neville. Many of us are not content to see Ginny-I-destroy-entire-departments-with-my-reducto swept aside as merely Harry’s love interest or to have the secret of Neville’s inner bad-ass cast off. Part of what made the Harry Potter universe so enjoyable, to me as a reader, was the depth of characters, and the depth of those characters overall.
All in all, I give Part I my “Best So Far” rating as far as delivery, but Half Blood Prince still stands as the one we love to watch again and again. This could be upstaged if Part II delivers as promising as Part I has set the pace to lead. It had the predictable Empire Strikes Back ending that I knew it had to have, full of despair, anguish, and yet the hope that something had to look up soon, because losing your arm and having your best mate frozen in carbonate can’t be what is in the cards for the boy who is “Our Best Hope”.