Thursday, November 18, 2010
Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part I"
After 10 years, six films and billions of dollars in box office receipts, it's finally time to say goodbye to Harry Potter.
But don't worry honorary Hogwarts students: It's going to be a long farewell.
JK Rowling bid adieu to the beloved wizard in one massive tome, released in 2007. Warner Brothers, astutely realizing that there is still plenty of money to milk from muggle moviegoers, made the decision to split the grand finale into two films, with the conclusion due in theaters July 2011.
Yet what might seem to be another Hollywood money grab is actually the best thing to happen to the franchise, allowing Rowling's characters to finally breathe and grow up without rushing to hit every plot point and wrapping up the story in two hours. The love and care put into this first part of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" almost makes me wish all the other films had been split up this way - at least beginning with "Goblet of Fire," when the stories became darker and more complex.
Director David Yates expects that audiences have avidly followed the other films in the series and picks right up after the events of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," without so much as a pre-credit recap. Hogwart's headmaster Dumbledore has been murdered by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the Ministry of Magic has been infiltrated and overthrown by Voldemort's Death Eaters, and wizards everywhere are going underground, fearing for their lives. Harry, along with friends Ron and Hermione, set out into the big, dark world to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes - artifacts that hold pieces of Voldemort's soul and can allow him to be defeated once and for all.
If the preceding paragraph makes no sense to you, you're probably better to hit the video store and catch up on the series before buying a ticket for this final ride. "The Deathly Hallows" is less interested with garnering new fans as it is with satisfying those who have grown up with Harry and the gang over the past decade.
As the characters have matured, so has the series, both in print and on film. What started as a whimsical children's tale has grown into a surprisingly complex, dark and imaginative fantasy that rivals the works of Tolkien and Lewis in popularity. Just as with the book, this final chapter is a dark and harrowing adventure, without even the comfort of Hogwarts to reassure the heroes or provide familiarity.
Freed of the stricture of the school-year formula that dominated the previous installments, Yates turns this into the most grown-up film in the franchise so far. The film careens from an opening chase sequence through the city to a mysterious encounter in a small village before spending time in the forest for an extended period. This portion, which tended to drag in the book, actually provides a great opportunity for Yates to let the characters breathe a bit and show some depth that had been lacking in the preceding films.
It's a bit shocking to realize that much of the franchise's core audience has, in fact, grown up right alongside Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Plucked from obscurity 10 years ago to headline a major franchise, it's fascinating to have had the opportunity to watch them grow into adulthood and turn into fine young actors, all of whom have the chance to shine here. Radcliffe has turned Harry from a naive and awestruck young boy to a tortured hero, but still manages to keep a sense of adventure about him. Watson has found a way to blend wit and emotion with the character of Hermione; a heart-breaking moment at the beginning of the film when the character must erase her parents' memories to keep them safe is her strongest moment in the series yet. Grint's Ron Weasley remains the humorous heart of the franchise.
Free of Hogwarts, Yates creates the most beautiful and haunting "Potter" film yet, with stops in the forests, on the Moors and in small hamlets providing bewitching backdrops to the action. He respects Rowling's work and remains faithful, but isn't afraid to deviate when necessary. One such deviation, which finds Harry and Hermione finding some joy in a dance, is one of the most powerful and perfectly crafted quiet moments of the series.
Potter fans will find a lot to love here, as Yates makes sure to incorporate all the humor and excitement of Rowling's stories. In its 2.5-hour running time, he manages to bring back most of the major characters for at least one appearance, allowing some of Britain's top actors - Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Jason Isaacs and Helena Bonham Carter - a chance to shine.
Those who have no interest in the saga will likely not find anything to sway them here. But that's to be expected - after 10 years, this franchise has found its fan base. And as the movie's final moments unspool, promising just one more adventure left for Harry and his friends in eight short months, I suspect those fans will feel a twinge of sadness at having to say goodbye so soon.
But at least Harry knows how to go out in style.
Originally published at advisorsource.com and in the November 21 edition of The Source.
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