It has been nine years since the first film in the Harry Potter franchise was released. The fandom for the series has remained strong, both amongst those who devoured the books and people who’ve never flipped through a single page of J. K. Rowling’s tomes. With its biggest tentpole on the verge of closing shop, Warner Bros has split the final book in two parts, thus the rather long title for the newest edition is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. While assuredly a bit of a money grab, Deathly Hallows is the most plot heavy chapter of Potter, so a split here makes logical sense.
Yet, there is no denying that this go around may be lumbering to some viewers. The movie, which is the third straight under the helm of David Yates, has an opening hour full of action, set pieces and the strange spells that the movies have made their specialty. Still shaken from the death of Dumbledore, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), his closest friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), as well as the array of adults who’ve come to love our hero are planning to move The Boy Who Lived. A quick bit of amusing magic occurs turning half the gang into Harry doppelgangers before heading to a safe-house. A blistering nighttime aerial assault follows, with wizards and witches shooting hexes and curses every which way. Not everyone makes it out alive; a dreary beacon of things to come. The Potter films grew up years ago, but those thinking that the movies might tame themselves to hide from controversy need not apply; even the cute little animals kick the bucket here.
However, all is not bleak in this outing. Longtime Potter screenwriter Steves Kloves, who has penned six of the seven pictures, knows when to let a bit of humor in, be it from pesky house-elves or an interrupted piece of romance. As downtrodden as Deathly Hallows can be, it is first and foremost a rousing adventure, painted wonderfully by cinematographer Eduardo Serra. With two films to tell their story, Yates and Kloves use the extra time to really let scenes breathe. No longer hindered by having to cram so much narrative and exposition into each conversation, they let the mood of the moments develop more naturally. Two such instances spring immediately to mind. One is early on, with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) enjoying a round of torture amongst his disciples. There is little of plot moved along here, but an unnerving fear develops. Even the baddies quiver at Voldermort’s presence, which Feinnes continues to nail with easy anger and quiet authority.
The second scenario is much later, during a section of Deathly Hallows many might find tedious. After the early speed of the movie, it calms down into a slog of paranoia. Harry, Ron and Hermione are sequestered from their companions; forced to hide as they search for the keys to Voldemort’s demise. At one point, Harry and Hermione are stuck together. Cabin fever has set in and even the optimism of Hermione seems to have dissapeared. The two have a radio on so they can hear if any colleagues have been killed. A song comes on (the terrific “O Children” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and Harry grabs Hermione and dances with her. It’s a small gesture and one that in most blockbusters wouldn’t make a final cut. Yet, here it survives amidst all the spells, effects and lush scenery.
There are those who may find some of the last half plodding or that the movie doesn’t so much have an ending, rather just stops happening. These thoughts aren’t entirely wrong. Nonetheless, Deathly Hallows stands as a moving, amusing volume that almost perfectly sets the table for final battle through tender character work and a few rousing showdowns.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 opens wide all across Seattle today.