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Harry Potter Begins His Final Bow In Fine Fashion

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves from the novel by J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros., 2010

It should be noted that it’s curious that in the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga, Warner Brothers waited until now to split up a book into two parts.  Back when Alfonso Cuaron took on The Prisoner of Azkaban, he suggested then that the latter books be split up into two parts.  The splitting up makes sense in obvious ways: you can put just about everything fans love from the book, not having to worry about condensing a 700-page story into 150 minutes, and then the most obvious of all: the money.  When you have a fan base as rabid as the Harry Potter crowd, you are guaranteed to double your money when splitting one book into two movies.

And with the final cash cow, Warner has done just that.  However, from my own experience in reading The Deathly Hallows, I was struck by how this might be the most inappropriate of the series to split into two movies, considering the first half seems like a bunch of whiny teen angst.  Almost nothing happens, as our main characters try to find pieces of Voldemort’s soul, except for cold shoulders and friendship-challenging declarations.  I’m sure fans of the book will disagree, and assure me that I am remembering my experience with the first half of the book all wrong, but that’s what stood out.

In this, the first part of The Deathly Hallows (the second comes out next summer), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is trying to find the final objects containing pieces of Voldemort’s soul, the horcruxes.  These horcruxes, when destroyed, will give the good guys their only chance at defeating the Dark Lord.  Harry’s old schoolmaster Dumbledore didn’t leave him much to figure out where they might all be, but there are some leads.  With his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), the first bit of investigation leads to the old Black house, where the elf servant Kreacher (voiced by Simon McBurney) witnessed the theft of a locket Harry believes to contain one of the horcruxes.  This locket is now in the possession of one Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who was the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts in the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, and is now a Ministry of Magic McCarthyistic witch-hunter for people who aren’t witches.  A daring assault on the Ministry of Magic will be needed.

The rest of the movie seemingly takes place in the woods, with Harry and friends trying to figure out what to do, how to destroy the horcruxes they find, and learning other tidbits, including what the hell a Deathly Hallow is, in which Luna Lovegood’s (Evanna Lynch) father Xenophilius (Rhys Ifans) comes into play.  One of them is revealed to be the Elder Wand, a wand that can’t be beaten, one in which Voldemort is obviously interested.  Ron and Hermione are mad at each other most of the time, setting up a romance I quite frankly never saw coming in the books.  It always seemed like that was being forced, but shrug, whatever.  The whole quest is made dangerous by the fact that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has everyone on the lookout for Harry, and with his influence now in the Ministry, Harry has become a wanted man with a reward for his capture.  So any old dishonest lot that happens by Harry will want to haul him in.

There are some major action scenes to balance out the lot of nothing that occurs in the woods, including a scene where Harry goes back to his old home, Godric’s Hollow, the place where Voldemort unsuccessfully tried to kill Harry as a baby.  I don’t want to leave the impression that the “nothing” scenes are horrible, director David Yates (at the helm since Phoenix), tones down the hormonal teen drama that seemed to weight the final book.  The filmmakers even give a Lord of the Rings-style influence for that drama, one I’m not sure Rowling included.  Again, I’m not a person who knows the books front and back.

There is one thing I find to be flawed, and that’s when Harry finds one of the objects that can destroy a horcrux.  The way in which it is found is pretty much unbelievable, magical as it may be, and leads to the question, “Why didn’t they find this thing sooner?”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One is a hard movie to review, obviously.  By this point, we are into the seventh and final book, with a lot of back story and surprises still to come.  But I will try to sum this up: when the movie gets into action, it’s very good.  The Ministry of Magic operation is great, one that is filled with edge-of-your-seat circumstances (the disguises, the time restraints, the escape).  The action that takes place in Godric’s Hollow is well done.  The mood and atmosphere of the movie are top-notch.  Assessing this movie as a stand-alone film is nearly impossible, but I will say that it does its job in setting up the second part nicely, and gives Harry Potter fans something to chew on until July.

Follows: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Next: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

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