Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – David Yates (2010)


When I learned after “Goblet of Fire,” that some unknown television director named David Yates was going to take the helm of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” I wasn’t just apprehensive. I was disappointed. Annoyed even.

After seeing it, I was relieved. “Order” was the best Potter movie yet. Still, I wasn’t thrilled that Yates would be directing “Half-Blood Prince.” But Yates proved himself up to the task. When I walked out of the advance press screening for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” I was convinced that David Yates might be one of the finest filmmakers of this generation.

Part of me will be sorry to see the series go, but I’m truly excited to see what kind of career Yates has beyond the Harry Potter franchise. I’m dying to see what kind of movies he ends up making.

I went to the advance press screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” this week and I can tell you I haven’t seen a film in a very long time that uses animation and special effects so brilliantly, yet sparingly. The animation is so unbelievably vivid, yet so subtle it’s barely noticeable at the same time. The reason for that is that the effects in “The Deathly Hallows” truly serve the story, characters and emotional impact of the film.

Almost every other movie a major studio cranks out takes the opposite approach where the story is there as a flimsy justification for showcasing whatever cool effects the audience wants to be wowed by. In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the story, character development and emotional impact of the film are already a solid foundation for everything else to dance on. Even without any effects or even magic, we’d be left with an exceptionally compelling drama with absorbing and conflicted characters. The animation and effects come in and serve the story instead of being the superfluous eye-candy audiences have become used to. It might sound like a contradiction to rejoice in how masterfully the animation was used in a film by saying that it wasn’t essential, but that’s just how carefully the effects are woven into this story.

When Harry, Ron and Hermione interact, they do so on human terms. They are away from the visual opulence of Hogwarts and cinematographer Eduardo Serra keeps the look of the film as non-magical as possible, using the rugged look to remind us just how much these young wizards are out of their element.

This is Serra’s first Harry Potter film and it’s clear he was picked precisely because he’s not an effects-driven cinematographer. Serra is known for creating stunning pictures with very little backdrop, working with filmmakers like Claude Chabrol, Patrice Leconte, and Ian Softley. And that’s why, when the animation is brought in, it has so much power. When we see an effect, it’s for a reason, in “Deathly Hallows,” often to express the rage or despair of one of the characters.

In another scene, Harry finds the graves of his parents and knees in front of their headstones. Hermione takes a place beside her friend, pulls her wand out and creates a beautiful wreath that’s now lying at their grave. It’s the perfect example of animation, and imagination being used to convey the most sincere emotion. It parallels the way in the wizarding world the way magic can be used to express the most profound sorrow, joy or comfort.

In another effects-driven, Harry and Ron destroy a Horcrux. (If you’re not a Potter fan and don’t know what that is, I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining it to you. It’s an enchanted locket. There.) What comes out of the cursed object is Ron Weasley’s worst fears and deepest insecurities expressed through a wonderfully dismal and frightening animated sequence.

The real treat for aficionados of animation comes when it’s time for some good, old-fashioned back story. We hear the story of the three brothers who met Death and were given the “Deathly Hallows.” Hermione reads Harry and Ron the story from a children’s book while we’re treated to an animated short within the film that might be one of the most morbid, darkest little cartoons I’ve ever seen. It’s so wonderful and a perfect way to fill the audience in on the background of the story behind the legend of the very real magic they’re fighting against.

This cartoon alone is worth the price of admission, but really, the entire movie is simply wonderful. There is sadness and a joy in every look, touch and tone of voice when these three lifelong friends have any sort of exchange. The characters and the films have so many layers now, the storytelling is so rich that, visual effects aside, “Deathly Hallows” is just an incredible film.


  1. I was irritated for a long time that Yates was ever hired, much less used for the last 4 films. I wanted Terry Gilliam, JKR's first pick for director! Or, if we're going to use a TV director and want to have a little fun, how about Joss Whedon, who was itching for the job? It's killing me to do so, but I have to admit Yates did an amazing job.

  2. We just got home from the movie and I was very impressed too. I too loved the animation of the Deathly Hallows. Good Review.

  3. I compltely agree with you about the use of special effects in the movie. They were subtle and effective and almost unnoticable. I've come to quite dread movies where special effects are over used and become the focus of the film over the story or the characters. It's the story and characters that draw me into a movie not the special effects. They're what's important and I really wish that more directors would catch on to this because we'd end up with a lot of films that are of a much hight calibre.

    What's most interesting is that the first few HP films could have fit into that category of SE overuse... and now we're applauding them for using them well. What a different 10 years can make.

    Anyway, excellent review. Very compelling and interesting.