Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

CD Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

It’s no secret that I have no great affection for the Harry Potter films. From the very beginning, I’ve felt that the cinematic counterparts never matched the magic and wonder of J.K. Rowling’s prose. And though the three young leads have turned into decent actors, the myriad of directors and Steve Kloves’ pedestrian scripts have made their outcomes anticlimactic and devoid of emotion. In other words, I could give a damn what happens to them.

That being said, I was excited when Alexandre Desplat was announced for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. If anyone could rescue Potter’s musical kingdom from the doldrums that it had sunk into following John Williams’ departure, it was Desplat. But by pegging Desplat into the John Williams mold, the resulting score is an odd hybrid that makes great strides towards repairing the damage done over the last three films, yet once again disappoints.

On the plus side, Desplat doesn’t totally subliminate his voice. Fans of the composer will recognize his trademark elongated themes accompanied by duplet and triplet accompaniments with elongated themes over them. The opening track, “Obliviate,” is pure Desplat–steady duplet accompaniment in the strings, simple staccato notes in the woodwinds and a soaring theme above in the French horn and trumpet. The theme reprises in “Ron Leaves” and my favorite cue, “Farewell to Dobby,” in which the violins, cello and French horns sob the only sign of genuine emotion in the entire score. That Desplat could conjure such lovely sounds for the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise is a feat in itself.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 soundtrack
“Farewell to Dobby”
“Sky Battle”

The strongest sections come during the derivative action sequences, perhaps because these most closely match the original whimsy and energy that Williams brought to the franchise. “Snape to Malfoy Manor” features a triplet accompaniment in the low strings and woodwinds underneath a minor-key 4-note motif that ends with an interesting descending portamento in the violins sounding a deathly howl. The rousing syncopation in cues like “Sky Battle,” “Fireplaces Escape,” and “Bathilda Bagshot” at least wakes you up from the lethargy that affects much of the rest of the score.

Fans of the French horn will appreciate Desplat’s subtle writing for the instrument in cues like “At the Burrow” and “The Will.” “Polyjuice Potion” features an interesting Stravinsky-esque bassoon line in “Harry and Ginny,” while “Detonators” has the bassoons playing a Tchaikovskian trepak accompaniment. Desplat’s hollow flute playing on “Lovegood” is arguably the most interesting effect in the score, even if, like the mandolin plucking out Dobby’s theme, it doesn’t totally fit into the Potter world.

As a Desplat fan, by all rights, I should be more pleased with this score than I am. Desplat’s impeccable musical craft is undoubtedly present and the score is certainly a leap forward from the boredom supplied by Patrick Doyle and Nicholas Hooper. But no matter how much celeste, chorus and tinkly chimes are used, the musical magic is still missing. Whether that is Desplat’s design or the filmmakers’ (I’m more inclined to believe the latter is the case), it’s still discouraging. In Harry’s darkest hour, I keep waiting for some composer to make me care. It might be too late, but I’m still hoping Desplat can accomplish that in Part 2.

  1. Somehow I KNEW you’d be the first comment on this one, Tim! Let me throw the “clearly misguided opinion” and “wring your neck” back in your face. LOL After 17 listens, my patience wore thin and I quit. Suffice it to say I disagree with you on pretty much every level. Oh well.

    1. Well, Jim, I am with you on all counts. The composers that followed John Williams’ initial efforts dropped the ball. Granted, they had big shoes to fill…

      1. Hi Alain, thanks for commenting. I agree, big shoes to fill. And perhaps that’s part of the problem. I understand the need for some consistency throughout the series. But instead of allowing the composers to contribute more of their style, you get John Williams-lite at best. Though Desplat comes closer than most, I’d still rather hear a pure Desplat composition.

        1. I’m torn on this question, because I think there ARE some follow-ups to John Williams scores (Don Davis’ “Jurassic Park III,” Alexander Courage’s “Superman IV,” and even Michael Small’s “Jaws: The Revenge,” to a degree) that hit it out of the park in terms of maintaining continuity with the “JW Sound” while bringing something of their own to the table. Admittedly, the HP films are FAR more dramatically challenging than the above-mentioned entries.

          1. It’s the continuity of the sound that I have the problem with in the first place. Why bother? By that point in the franchise, the films have run their course, so let the composer have a crack at something new. Then again, I see the opposite side of the argument as well. With HP, at least the whole thing was planned on being filmed in the first place. I just don’t think this entry is as successful as it could have been. Ah well.

  2. This review was less scathing than I was expecting, yet your clearly misguided opinion of this score still makes me want to wring your neck (with love, of course!).

    To each his own and blah blah blah, but this score is aging like fine wine with each listen for me! If a 21st-century John Williams score was going to have a baby with a Desplat score, then this is that score, and what a beautiful bouncing baby it is! I love how Desplat takes his own original musical ideas and style, and couches them in Williams’ styles and mannerisms. What a brilliant way to provide some much needed continuity/closure for this series.

    And don’t get me wrong: I hate the HP movies. I have no special affinity for them whatsoever. But this score transcends whatever dreck Warner Bros. has concocted for this film, and achieves (in my opinion, of course) what Desplat set out to accomplish: a gorgeous, thematic, and emotional symphony. I agree that you have to pay a little closer attention to it, and that it requires some patience (I think most, if not all, Desplat scores fit those criteria). But man is it worth the small effort.

    Rant over. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

  3. I’ve never read these books – and after wallowing through all the films so far – I was hoping that by the time it was over, and Harry had gone through puberty, they would bring Williams back and he’d score a sex scene using a theme akin to THE LONG GOODBYE (with wailing sax) for the grand finale.
    I’m sure Desplat has the talent to add about all the necessary mood that can be mustered for this kind of comic-book movie, but I’ll have to wait for the blu-ray to personally analyze the complete composition.

  4. This review was exactly what I expected before I even heard the soundtrack, and after hearing it, I’d have to agree with most of it. I could not agree more that the “magic” has been gone since Williams left, although this is certainly the best attempt at getting that magic back. There is actually some well orchestrated action in this score unlike the odd way it was handled under Hooper. I part ways with you a bit on Doyle’s score though. Although lacking in the “magic”, I thought it was a pretty good follow up and at least I walked away humming some recognizable new themes – something Hooper certainly never did (and we will see after I see the film with Desplat’s score because as good as an album is, a film score is a part of a whole so I will reserve full judgment until Friday.)

    Still though, Williams is missed, and as a giant Potter book fan I really hope Desplat pulls out the heart-strings (and horns) for the finale.

  5. I felt the same way, very underwhelmed. The Death Eater’s theme and Dobby’s theme were the only parts that stood out. Of course, with “on the fence” scores like these, how they match up with what’s going on on-screen makes all the difference. We’ll find out at midnight tonight!

  6. A tepid review for a score I enjoyed. I think it’s a shade below Williams’ work for “The Prisoner of Azkaban”.

    Desplat is very rapidly becoming another all-time favorite composer of mine. In just a 6-month span, I’ve listened to, and enjoyed, 20+ scores from this man.

  7. By far the most forgettable score of the series… Although Obvliate and Snape to Malfoy Manor are fitting (if not a little zimmeresque) this is a very disappointing score and it arrives just as Nicholas Hooper had begun to up his game.

    This reviewer clearly needs to go back and listen to Doyles score because it was anything but boring… unlike this scar on the series… Lets hope he does better next time out.

  8. Going through your other reviews I had a feeling you would not like this score ;). But I can’t begin to tell you how scared I was when John Williams said he’d like to come back for the last book, and how happy when he ultimately didn’t. With the notable exception of the Prisoner of Azkaban, I can never listen to his scores on CD all by themselves, without the pictures going with it. Granted, I love the score for Philosopher’s Stone while I watch the movie, and two or three tracks on the CD, but never the whole thing alone.
    I was so happy Desplat did it, and I loved the way it turned out.

    1. You’re not the only person I’ve heard this from. I did appreciate DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 a bit more than PART 1, perhaps because I knew what I was in for. There were no expectations to be met. Or perhaps I was just thrilled that this series was finally finished. Even though I’m not fan of the films (that’s an understatement), at least they did occasionally give us some worthwhile film music to cherish.

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