I’ve heard numerous people snidely describe Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment of the Harry Potter series, as one long chase scene, but that description actually implies more sustained intensity than either the book or the movie (at least Part 1) actually has. Sure, there are suspenseful sequences, but most of the time, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are neither chasing anyone nor being chased themselves. Instead, they’re in hiding, bickering endlessly as they wander about the wilds of Britain.
That fitful pacing, with its odd spasms and drifts, didn’t bother me much on the page, but it’s glaringly, hilariously obvious on screen. All the beautiful, extended landscape shots just reinforce how little is going on, and the squabbles among the central trio feel overdone and melodramatic, to put it mildly. This is not a movie that could stand on its own without the full weight of the series behind it—but then again, it doesn’t have to be. As a vehicle for cameos from alumni of the previous films, it works well enough, and screenwriter Steve Kloves adroitly sets up the final showdown of Part 2. Even those long landscape shots, extraneous though they might be, truly are beautiful.
More than anything, though, Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is an opportunity to re-experience the book and showcase the young actors who have improved so much over the course of the series. If you’re a sentimental enough fan to appreciate it on those grounds, you’ll probably like it. If you’re not, you won’t. And if you’re somehow not familiar with the series (who are you?), you won’t get anything out of it at all. (Incidentally, because I am incredulous of the idea that someone could be both interested in this movie and ignorant of its source material, I’m going to discuss what would, in another situation, be considered spoilers. Recently awakened coma patients, consider yourself warned!)