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.
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.