The end is nigh for Harry Potter fans living in Fresno and all over the world today and the first part of the two-part finale of Warner Brothers epic franchise based on the now legendary book series by J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is directed by David Yates, director of the two previous films, Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as well as the final film coming out next summer. The film also reunites the series’ core cast of actors including Daniel Radcliffe in the title role, and Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry’s best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, respectively.
At the end of the last film, Lord Voldemort’s servants of evil, the Death Eaters, infiltrated Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to assassinate Dumbledore, the school’s headmaster and the greatest symbol of good in the wizarding world. In the wake of this, Harry has taken it upon himself to finish the mission that Dumbledore began and track down the remaining Horcrux’s, a series of seemingly random objects that each contain part of Voldemort’s essence and, once all are destroyed, will ensure that the Dark Lord can never return again. But in order to set out on this quest, Harry, Ron and Hermione have all dropped out of Hogwarts to travel the world in search of these things which they have no clue what they are, much less where they are. All the while, Voldemort and the Death Eaters have infiltrated the Ministry of Magic, the Muggle world, even Hogwarts itself to establish a new order and wipe out any wizards that have been born with Muggle blood. Harry and friends must carry out their mission with secrecy and very few clues, and even fewer allies. Can they somehow overcome this hopeless situation? Or will their own misgivings be their own undoing.
The main thing people need to bear in mind seeing this film (besides the obvious fact that is ends on a cliffhanger) is that this film draws on a lot of continuity with the previous six films (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). If you go into this film without any knowledge of the books of the other films then you will probably find yourself lost in the plot. but for those devoted fans that see this, it will no doubt be a rewarding experience.
The other thing that needs to be clear is that any lightheartedness and innocence that was in the previous films, particularly the first two, is pretty much gone. There are a few precious moment of comic relief of course, but besides that this is an incredibly dark and depressing period for these characters. People are dying all around Harry and they are never sure what the fate of any of their closest friends are. We even see the unexpected death of a beloved character not seen on film for quite some time, and his passing has a much pathos as Cedric Diggory’s, Sirius Black’s, and even Dumbledore’s. There is one particularly tense scene where Ron is in a terribly foul mood and starts chastising Harry over how worried his is about his family and how nothing has gone as planned thus far. As this scene goes on he even claims that Harry cannot understand his pain because he never had any family, which sets Harry off and they get into a full-blown fight. It sound morbid and perhaps even childish when described perhaps, but when someone sees the film and realizes what has been done to get them to this point, you are totally invested in it.
The special effects in the Potter films have also come a long way, becoming progressively more and more subtle in the way they’re presented, particularly in Yates’ films. In Deathly Hallows Part I, there are not as many big magical extravaganzas as you might expect. The film opens with some sequences like that, but then the narrative shifts to seeing these three kids hiding out in the woods for hours as they try to figure out what to do. In fact, one of the most prominent effects in this film is the transformation effect Harry and friends use to infiltrate the Ministry, and even better is a sequence where several of Harry’s friends take a potion to transform themselves into him.
This lack of big special effect sequences suggests that the film moves at a much slower, steady pace that some of the other films, especially in the camping out scenes. But this examiner thinks that a slower pace was what this film needed. Of the two movies Part I was clearly more about character depth and development that straight-up action, which will no doubt be more important in Part II. Even the music is much more absent in this one, which only adds to the immense tension these characters are going through. The truth is, a lot of this film becomes genuinely frightening, remember these kids are not in Hogwarts anymore, they are out in the real world having to deal with this on their own.
As with any film, Death Hallows Part I is driven by its spectacular cast. All the weight of this film fall completely on the three lead actors this time. Daniel Radcliffe delivers his most complex and mature performance as Harry yet. Rupert Grint does the same as Ron Weasley, and this time not only gets to let his dark side come out, but we even get to see the deeps roots of what goes on inside his head. Emma Watson is as engaging as ever as Hermione Granger, her character now given an strength that many actresses would die to play. It is fascinating to go back and look at the early films and see just how far these actors have gone in their careers. They have not just grown their characters, they personally have grown into excellent, talented young actors that this examiner believes we will we seeing plenty of long after this series has ended. Other familiar faces from the Potter franchise include Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid, Ralph Fienes as Lord Voldemort, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, Brendan Gleeson as Alastor Moody, Mark Williams as Arthur Weasley, Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander, Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge, and Toby Jones as the voice of Dobby the House Elf. New actors to the series include Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour, Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood, Jaime Campbell Bower as Gellert Grindelwald, and Hazel Douglas as Bathilda Bagshot.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is an excellent addition to the Potter franchise that all-but perfectly sets the stage for the series final act. It may be slow in places and, like in Half-Blood Prince, some people out might be upset that there is not enough action going on, but at least this time around you clearly felt the growing threat of Voldemort at all times. Even though this examiner does encourage newcomers to the series to please read the books or watch the previous films first, this movie is definitely one of the must-see films of the holiday season!