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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW - Harry Potter and the Deathly-Hallows Part I

Praising the Harry Potter film franchise has become something of a given. Even at its lowest there’s charm to it and at it’s highest they’re some of the best films in the genre. Rebounding from that low point, the sixth movie, David Yates presents us with the most heart pounding chapter in the franchise.

I was one of those who cursed Warner Brothers for the decision to cut the seventh book in half. Obviously they wanted to milk more out of the cow, right? I still stand by that sentiment, but if you’re going to split a storyline in half, you might as well make it count. The Deathly-Hallows may be half a story, but it is most definitely a complete film. This is the Empire Strikes Back of The Harry Potter movies. The chips are down, the heroes are battered and the baddies have the upper hand.

Accompanying the journey with our heroes is the dreaded feeling of abandonment. Harry, Ron and Hermione have no one to turn to, nowhere to hide and running only does so much. The series has finally rammed home just how evil Voldemort is. Following a tense opening sequence that ends with a wonderfully terrified Jason Issacs and a dead Hogwarts teacher, (a.k.a. snake food) Voldemort’s power over the wizarding world becomes air tight. The Ministry has converted to a fascist regime. It’s not just Harry that’s in danger, the end of humans, or “muggles,” is nigh. This is how the Potter universe should feel. We should be weary of every corner the characters turn.

Meanwhile, under the very best performances of Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson to date, the heroic trio come to blows over the seemingly futile quest to end Voldemort and… Hermione? Of course Harry has it bad for Ginny, and the film makes no secret about it—Bypassing the cutesy, shoe-tying crap from movie six for Harry zipping up her dress and kissing her like he means it. But with Hermione going all out for her friend, Ron is succumbed to jealousy. Does he mend his relationship with the two later? How triumphant would it be if he redeemed the situation by saving the day. Right?

And yet, it’s the scenes between Harry and Hermione that grab me the most. (Again.) Completely platonic, Harry has nothing to give the young woman in return for all she’s sacrificed. So with the radio pumped up he picks her up and dances with her just to get a smile on her face. These kids may have grown in to action heroes, but they’re still very human.

While the characters, acting and gorgeous cinematography are at a series high, I can’t believe some major events happen off screen. Character deaths and massive shifts in the wizarding world are revealed through word of mouth. While this may have been fine for the book, it leaves me a little baffled. We see Harry's flashes of Voldemort interrogating people; why not see how he took down the Ministry of Magic?

Though it isn’t the epic battle between those in charge and Voldemort that make The Deathly-Hallows. It’s the emotional journey of three characters who have grown up to fight a war they’ve been dragged in to. In some ways this story is reminiscent of what many in today’s world feel like. With a cliffhanger ending that does anything but ease that feeling, the Harry Potter series is set up for one hell of a triumphant finale. I pray the quality of this film carries over.

***½ out of ****

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