This isn’t really a movie, per se. It’s half a movie, but not half a movie in the way Kill Bill Volume 1 was half a movie, in that it’s not a purely infuriating exercise in frustration. Still, it doesn’t really feel right. I mean, there are good individual moments, and the cast additions continue to be inspired (this time around we get a few scenes of some Bill Nighy awesomeness and great moments from Rhys Ifans; this is legitimately the most well casted movie franchise I can think of by a good margin). The film is beautiful to look at, especially in an IMAX setting. The three principle actors have grown into their own in the roles, and offer probably their best performances yet. And, despite all this, it’s still kinda wrong. The pacing is haphazard and features quite a few moments of overlong quiet that aren’t really necessary. I’m getting the feeling that what we have on our hands here is a two-part film that should really be a one and a half part film. I think it’s a strong possibility that while the film certainly could not have fit into one film in any sort of recognizable fashion, it also probably doesn’t have enough content to be stretched into two full 150 minute films like it has been. The middle portion of this film, which is predominantly spent with Harry, Hermione, and Ron slogging through the woods lost and confused about how to continue their journey, can get pretty painful at times. The attempts at levity, like the dance scene that for some bewildering reason features Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “O Children” as its soundtrack, generally feel awkward, like the film is pacing time toward the ending moments so it can feel like it earned its two-part status. The real question is going to be whether, when viewed concurrently as one film, the pacing will feel more natural. With what we have right now, the slow pace of much of the proceedings is harmed by the lack of a climactic ending.
Some of the individual set pieces are pretty fabulous, specifically the escape sequence that comes right before the film ends abruptly. But the true highlight, the number one reason to see this thing despite my misgivings in the previous paragraph is the way the film plays out the story of the three brothers, the central expository piece of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows overall. Exposition is a tricky thing. It’s often completely necessary, but its necessity also usually involves a fair bit of clunkiness in actual execution. It’s a lot easier to pull off in the written word, as a third person omniscient narration can simply explain what’s going on without breaking the flow of the action. It’s expected and pre-established by the format itself. However, when the medium in question doesn’t allow for such easy narration, things get sticky. Sure, the television and film mediums have the ability to cut out quite a bit of the descriptive exposition from a written piece by just showing the object and letting the eye take over, the act of explaining what’s going on in the plot to a character cannot be done so easily. It usually involves coming across some sort of disinterested expert on the subject who proceeds to explain what’s going on in a study in front of a roaring fire while everyone sips brandy and listens with rapt attention (or something like that). The exposition of what the Deathly Hallows exactly are takes place late in the film and is achieved by Hermione reading a fable that explains what they actually are. The visuals take over while Hermione reads in the background, and what unfolds in front of the eye is a wonderful piece of animation, as the story is acted out by silhouetted puppets that look and move in a marionette sort of style, as the brothers and a wickedly twisted looking Death do battle over the years. It is undeniably the most exciting single scene that’s been mounted in probably the entire seven film run of the franchise, and is strongly reminiscent of the story at the beginning of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which also happens to be the best part of that film. I could easily say that this scene alone is nearly worth the price of admission, but that empty feeling that pervades when the credits roll is tough to swallow. It’s good, but it’s not good enough. Hopefully part two will help save it.