Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Arguably one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2010, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” premiered at midnight on Nov. 19.

“HP7,” as it has been abbreviated by moviegoers, is the penultimate installment of the Harry Potter movies. Instead of heading off for what would be their final year at Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione and Ron are about to begin a long journey on a mission that only they can fulfill.

But first, there’s a wedding for which Harry is transported to a safe-house. He is to do this with the help of his closest friends, who drink potions to become his doppelgangers to confuse potential attackers. The scene of transformation is a great visual gag upon which director David Yates lingers – we see one Harry-clone in a bra and camisole, commenting about how she is “hideous.”

This leads to a flashy chase in the night sky and on the streets of London, during which Yates seems to forget that the wizards are trying to remain hidden from Muggles. Characters on motorcycles drop from the sky onto the wrong side of the road, they drive onto tunnel ceilings to avoid cars, cast spells and generally cause such a scene it’s a wonder that non-magic folk still don’t know that wizards exist.

The wedding is interrupted by Death Eaters, and Harry, Ron and Hermione find themselves on the run, their journey starting sooner than they had planned. Their goal is clear: find the rest of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and destroy them. Destroy the Horcruxes and they will have a chance to destroy the Dark Lord himself. How they will accomplish their goal is less clear and makes up the bulk of the movie.

The decision to split J. K. Rowling’s 784-page novel into two parts was a wise one. There is still as much ground to cover in story explication as there is for the good guys to defeat Voldemort and his faithful group of Death Eaters. Though entirely appropriate for the purposes of the story, “HP7” is noticeably slower in terms of pacing than previous movies. While the movie is much more faithful to the book, its pacing suffers slightly, meandering as everyone’s favorite trio wanders almost aimlessly on their quest.

This does lend itself, however, to some breathtaking cinematography. From fields of waist-high grass to icy lakes and snowy forests, the trio’s surroundings are, at once, terrible and beautiful, emphasizing their isolation and loneliness.

That is not to say that the movie is completely devoid of action. An already creepy scene is given an added effect of claustrophobia by taking place in a tiny house in near-complete darkness. Fans who have read the book will find themselves squirming in anticipation, while those who are newer to the story will be on the edge of their seats.

Given that they spend much of the movie alone, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson carry the film and show just how much they’ve grown as actors. Radcliffe gives a more nuanced performance than his previous attempts and shows how comfortable he has become with his role as the Boy Who Lived. Grint, too, demonstrates acting chops, switching from goofy to sullen with ease. In a particularly well-acted scene, both Radcliffe and Grint bring just the right mix of anger, frustration and sadness.

While Watson’s performance is slightly weaker than her counterparts, she has moments when she shines. In an attempt to protect her parents from Death Eaters, Hermione erases herself from their memories – and the look on Watson’s face as she does so is heartbreaking.

That is not to say that the supporting cast doesn’t steal the scene as well. Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Voldemort is spot-on. From the dangerous half-whisper with which he speaks to the almost inhuman way in which he moves, everything about Fiennes’ performance exudes just the right blend of silk and poison. Rhys Ifans is properly eccentric as Xenophilius Lovegood, Luna “Loony” Lovegood’s father, but manages to display fear and desperation in equal measures as well. Helena Bonham Carter, reprising her role as Bellatrix Lestrange, is as crazy and evil as usual – though her slurred screeching is pretty hard to understand at times.

It’s a good thing the cast is all grown up because the seventh Harry Potter movie deals with very grown up themes. It is much darker in tone – even scenes that take place during broad daylight seem to have a somber grey cast to them, which adds to the feeling of impending doom. Jealousy and resentment boil up between characters. Voldemort’s rise to power carries heavy fascist overtones: anti-Muggle propaganda reflects the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazi regime. In fact, one scene is dominated by characters clad in uniforms reminiscent of those worn by Hitler’s SS.

The stakes are higher and, consequently, people are killed, some in rather spectacular fashion. The camera doesn’t shy away from the blood, however, lingering on one character’s severed ear or on the bloodied face of another. The special effects are also impressive; the filmmakers obviously spared no expense. Characters appear and disappear at any given moment, spells flash and Death Eaters swoop around in black plumes of smoke. One scene is animated to great effect, adding an extra ounce of magic to the story.

However, the movie is not without flaws. This is where the stripping away of finer details that occurred in previous movies is felt the most strongly. One might have forgotten that Horcruxes are Dark objects in which Voldemort has encased parts of his soul – and it’s not surprising. It was barely explained in “Half Blood Prince,” and barely touched upon in “Deathly Hallows.” As this is the pivotal plot point of the series – the one that Harry hopes will lead to Voldemort’s destruction – it seems to be expected that it would be developed further … except that it wasn’t.

Additionally, the camera shakes at times throughout the movie, presumably for the pseudo-documentary effect. This added nothing to the story and had no purpose, except to make the viewer dizzy. Furthermore, the dream sequences that show the audience what Voldemort is doing are a confusing mishmash of blinding lights and abstract images, which can confuse viewers and hurt their eyes. Likewise, screenwriter Steve Kloves’ dialogue is mostly excellent, except where it doesn’t work. Some lines are unintentionally funny while others fell flat.

Overall, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is the best of the series so far. It is dark and somber, but lighthearted humor breaks up the tension. It portrays a world at war with itself and the wizard caught in the middle. Yates and Kloves demonstrate an understanding of the wizarding world, and take great pains to capture that on screen. And it was well worth the effort.

Rating: 4 out of 5