Sad days lay ahead now that the "Harry Potter" saga is coming to an end.
There isn't anything else like it now ("Twilight"? Please!) and it seems doubtful anything else will be able to match it for some time to come. Author JK Rowling created a series of highly imaginative books introducing us to a bevy of unusual, interesting characters we have lived with for a long time, so long they seem like friends/ When the enormous success of the first few books led to the inevitable films, many die-hard fans were worried. Thankfully, the first two films were adequate, if uninspired. Beginning with the third film, the series takes on a darker personality, to match the tone of the books, and allowed a handful of more creative directors to create a movie series worthy of the imagination the books helped us conjure.
Warner Bros. made the right decision to tell the story of the "Deathly Hallows" in two films. This frees Steve Kloves, the screenwriter of the entire series, and David Yates, the director of the last four films in the series, to tell as much of the story as humanly possible. Given "Part 1" runs close to 3 hours, they are covering a lot of the book. This is a refreshing change of pace as each of the previous film adaptations pared down the material, sacrificing characters, subplots, relationships.
And much like the book, "Part 1" basically sets up "Part 2". It is basically an introduction to the conclusion, the set-up for the big finale, the epic battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. Some may feel there is too much exposition. I don't. It works and the filmmaking is top notch creating a thrilling chapter in the series.
Picking up at what would be the beginning of Potter's final year at Hogwarts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) wait anxiously for their friends in the Order of the Phoenix. Soon everyone assembles at Harry's Muggle home and an elaborate plan is put in place to move Harry to a secure location and keep him out of the hands of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). But Voldemort and his minions are hot on their path. Harry, Hermione and Ron quickly decide to flee to a secret place in the forest and hide out. They spend every moment trying to figure out how to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes. Once these powerful mementos of Tom Riddle's life are gone, they believe He Who Must Not Be Named will be vulnerable and they stand a chance to defeat the enemy. But Voldemort is looking for some very different items, the Deathly Hallows, items he believes will help him defeat that pesky Potter.
Yates and Kloves have done a remarkable job of building the story towards this inevitable dark climax. As the stakes rise, the danger increases matching the dark tone of the narrative. Given this series was originally written with pre-teens in mind, it is nice to see the filmmakers have not shied away from depicting these dark moments.
Throughout the series, the three leads have grown both physically and as actors. Daniel Radcliffe creates a viable persona for Harry, giving him a human quality, real feelings, making us care and root for him. When his friends face danger on his behalf, we can see the pain on his face as he realizes the sacrifices others are making for him. Emma Watson continues to give Hermione a real depth. She has always been the smart one, the one who excels in her studies, and the one her friends turn to for a quick spell or an answer to a puzzle. But as she has grown into a young lady, threads of confusion have woven into her performance; she doesn't understand the power she holds over boys, but is only too willing to use this power when necessary. Rupert Grint has grown most of all. In the early days, his google eyes and incessant mugging made it almost impossible to watch him. Now, he is able to channel the real feelings and distractions any teenager might feel which make him seem more real and more interesting.
The most disappointing thing about "Part 1" is something dictated by the book, so I am not sure the film should be faulted. The best thing about this series is the rich wealth of acting talent appearing in supporting roles as various wizards, witches and villains. Alan Rickman, the best throughout, plays the sly, sneaky and snarky Professor Severus Snape. It is great fun to watch him play the role, tailor-made for his talents, with such relish. Maggie Smith is very good as Professor McGonagall, the head of Harry's house and a defacto mother for the young wizard. Robbie Coltrane, Timothy Spall, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Harris, Imelda Staunton, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Gary Oldman, Julie Walters, Jason Isaacs, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths and Michael Gambon, to name a very few, have all taken on roles and all have been memorable.
Ralph Fiennes returns as Lord Voldemort, the ultimate bad guy. He Who Must Not Be Named is ready to battle the young wizard, his nemesis for all of these years. He is ready to take over the wizarding world, his power is growing, and he now has control of the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Muggles should be very afraid.
But in "Part 1", a significant portion of the film involves the three young friends hiding out in the forest, trying to figure things out. This involves a lot of talking and some arguing. Most of all, these moments keep us away from most of the British actors who lend their talents to and provide some of the most memorable moments in the series. While Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have all grown as actors, it is still far more interesting to watch them interact with a virtual who's-who of British cinema. Thankfully, many of these actors should play a more pivotal role in "Part 2".
The "Harry Potter" franchise has been and will continue to be so lucrative for all involved it makes sense Warner Bros. has always been extremely careful with each film, creating one great film after another. "Part 1" is no exception and I think it may be one of the most beautiful in the series. From the moment we enter the wizarding world, everything looks real, beautiful and wonderful. The ability to make this world appear so real, as it basically sits on top of London, is no small feat. The film opens with an exciting chase, our attention focused on Harry as he rides in Hagrid's sidecar. The motorcycle roars through London traffic and at one point drives upside down in a tunnel. The motorcycle speeds through traffic and helps illustrate the danger our hero faces as he straddles these two worlds. The previously mentioned scenes of the trio in the forest and other natural locales are also beautiful, reflecting the harsh reality of a British winter. When the action moves to the Ministry of Magic, you feel as though your are entering the halls of a hallowed institution.
I also enjoyed the Tale of the Deathly Hallows. Late in the film, Hermione finally has a moment to recount the story for Harry's benefit. As she narrates the fable, it is illustrated for us using a series of dark shadows, as though puppets are recreating the tale. This technique helps to give the story a children's book quality; the characters might be hand shadows or paper cutouts moving across a sepia background. It is a nice touch to further reinforce the fable nature of the story, a fable both Hermione and Ron heard as children. It almost feels as though we are watching the story unfold through Potter's eyes.
The "Harry Potter" films are magical and as the series comes to a close, everyone has such high expectation for the last two films. If these expectations aren’t met, they will feel disappointed. Originally, "Part 1" was going to be released in 3-D, which was exciting news; using this technique promised to bring the world in these films to life. But then Warner Bros. changed their plans and I learned these films weren't actually made in 3-D. They were going to retrofit the second to last film, the same technique used to help make "Clash of the Titans" the piece of crap it is. Thank goodness they changed their mind. "Clash" looks terrible, as though the film was made in the 50s using the original 3-D technology. The newest "Chronicles of Narnia" is also retrofitted and looks it. I have to wonder why they continue to do this and also why didn't they just make the film in 3-D to begin with? It boggles my mind to think they might have subjected "Part 1" to this process, creating a sub par entry in the series. As the second to last entry in the series, an awful experience would be a huge let down to the loyal fans and would leave a bad taste in their mouth.
Hopefully, this common sense will prevail for "Part 2" as well.
"Deathly Hallows Part 1" is a necessary step to "Part 2". It isn't the most memorable entry in the series, but it is very good. And my expectations for "Part 2" are very high.