Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: SciFi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Opens Friday, November 19th, 2010, Rated PG-13
Run Time: 2 hours, 26 minutes
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by David Yates (directed both Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince)
No movie review is likely to keep the millions of Harry Potter fans away from the theatres this weekend. As I'm sure you're aware, this movie is the 7th in the Harry Potter series, and represents the last of the 7 Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. This final book though, is being divided into 2 parts...this first part, out today, followed by the 2nd part (and final film) next July.
The Harry Potter series has been criticized by fans of the book as being too condensed...as it is indeed a challenge to fit the book's detail of character and environment into a 2+ hour film. With Deathly Hallows, the hope was that more of the book could be translated, now having 2 films to do so. I must admit, I may be one of the few remaining humans who has not read any of the books, so my take on this film and the series as a whole is not shaped by comparisons to the novels...which helps me watch the movies with an unbiased mind, but also hinders my ability to really follow the nuances of the several characters on screen...
The Plot. Harry Potter, following the demise of trusted mentor Dumbledore, is in hiding from Lord Voldemort, who continues to grow in power. Having learned that Voldemort's soul has been divided and stored into 7 Horcruxes, Harry knows that he must track down and destroy them all in order to vanquish the evil wizard. Some had been destroyed previously, but several remain. On their own, without the guidance or protection of their professors, Harry, Ron, and Hermione must now rely on one another more than ever.
Dark Times. This film stands out from the rest of the movies, in a good way, for several reasons. First, it takes place entirely outside of Hogwarts school, giving the film a different look, but also freeing the characters and storyline from audience expectation. It is by far the darkest, most adult chapter, with themes of dispair, desparation, and isolation woven throughout. Several characters die, and several others seem to befall tragedy, although I'm sure they will reappear in Part 2. It also doesn't feel like a complete movie...it is, of course, only Part 1 of a larger tale. Because of this, the movie itself seems a bit stretched and doesn't perfectly mesh, but it does a good job preparing us and building excitement for what surely will be a riveting conclusion in Part 2 next summer.
Casting Spell. Along with the more mature themes come more mature actors. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have been in these roles now for nearly 10 years, and they all have grown tremendously as actors. Here they are given much different material in which to work, and they succeed brilliantly. A lot of attention is given to Emma Watson, who is great in her role as Hermione, but it can't be overstated how perfectly Radcliffe plays Potter...He is, of course, the center of the story and where all attention lies...One false note from him and the movie would unravel. It never does. Add these performances in with the always impressive cast of British all-stars, and bit players, and it makes for a delightful time.
Animate Spell. Amazing too, is how far special effects and CG animation has become. Not to give away anything, but a CG character in this movie dies. We see his eyes, as we've seen many human actors, at the moment death takes him, and the life leaves the body...that exact transition from alive to dead. Remember just a few years back, in movies like Final Fantasy, when the big knock against CG characters was that their eyes made them look fake? Amazing that we now can watch CG characters go through these incredibly life-like sequences, and to us now with what we are used to, don't even stop to think that it's all animated.
Final Exam. Some of the lingering questions I had from last year's "Half-Blood Prince" were not answered, and in fact Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is hardly in the latest film. You definitely need to have seen the films, or have read the books, in order to understand what is going on...this is not the Harry Potter film you want to jump in on if you haven't ever been a part of the phenomenon.
So does it live up to the book? I'm not sure of such things...Ultimately though, the movie doesn't disappoint, and like many of the Harry Potter films, it is decently entertaining if you don't overthink it. Having watched all of the Harry Potter films again back-to-back in the past few days, it is very interesting how the story has deepened and darkened along the way...it's hard to imagine that this film is in any way related to the first film for example. Because it knows it is leading into a final chapter next summer, this film doesn't have to wrap things up, or create any happy endings...It is the "Empire Strikes Back" chapter of the Potter series, where the evil forces continue to mount and our heroes face increasingly hopeless odds. It seems to be a good-enough set-up film...let's hope that next year's Deathly Hallows Part 2 is worthy of the hype.
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