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Films mature along with Harry

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 1"

Warner Bros. Pictures

2 hours, 26 minutes

Though we never thought it would happen, it looks like the "Harry Potter" movies are finally wrapping up.

"The Deathly Hallows" is the final book in the series, although Warner Brothers wasn't above squeezing the series for every last drop by breaking the story into two films. After watching "Part 1" this weekend, however, I'm glad they did. "Hallows" is such a densely packed, emotional and exciting tale, it pleases me to know they didn't cut as much as the could have from the story. It is a little frustrating, however, to watch a movie, turn it off in the middle, and then wait six months to get to the finish. And well-made and intense as it is, half of a movie is exactly what "Hallows, Part 1" feels like. I guess you can't fault the studio for false advertising.

We pick up the story during some of the darkest days of the wizarding world. Dumbledore is dead, Voldemort is securing power, and people, muggles and magic alike, are disappearing. Our heroes, Hermione, Ron, and Harry, have sent their families into hiding, using one method or another, and are now on the run themselves. After the debacle at the end of "Half-Blood Prince," there's no question of going back to Hogwarts. Besides, there's bigger fish to fry. The quest is now to find the "horcruxes," essentially split off pieces of Voldemort's soul that provide him with his near immortality. These must be destroyed before the real final battle can begin.

And if you thought that was tough, now there's the titular "Hallows" to deal with. Three items comprising the fool-proof defense against death -- the resurrection stone (I don't know if this has anything to do with the "Sorcerer's Stone"), the elder wand -- basically the biggest, baddest wand around, and the cloak of invisibility, which, if I'm not mistaken, is knocking around in Harry's rucksack. Voldemort wants the Hallows, Harry wants the horcruxes, Ron wants Hermione, and I just want to reread the books so I can get caught up!

There's no question that these films have matured alongside their actors. Rewatching "Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone," you see a charming, magical fable about a little boy who just wants to fit in. "Deathly Hallows" on the other hand, is a dark gritty drama, filled with violence and scares. It's good, no question, but most of the humor has been nixed and Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend most of the film either sad or frustrated, surrounded by death and horror. It's not R-rated, not quite, though there is one scene of almost shocking sensuality, that almost seems out of place in the series.

Almost, but not quite. Author J.K. Rowling, and later director David Yates, have constructed a series of stories that brilliantly grow with the reader. A child that read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" when he was 10, will be in his early 20s now, and the tales told in "Hallows" echo, in some ways, the struggles of early adulthood. The younger stories will always be there for oncoming generations to enjoy, and they, too, can age with their heroes.

As far as acting and other technical questions, "Hallows" is spot on. I found myself somewhat disappointed with the previous installment, "Half-Blood Prince," because it left so much of the story on the cutting room floor. Having split the current novel into two parts, "Hallows" doesn't deal so much with that issue.

Daniel Radcliffe, my least favorite of the three principals, nonetheless handles Harry's angst and anger well, getting better with each film. Hermione, my favorite character, has a larger role in this film than the last, and Emma Watson handles the emotionality of her scenes beautifully. Ron, as played by Rupert Grint, does a similarly good job, although it's a little shocking to see him all grown up and serious. I'm used to him being the comic relief, although, as I mentioned, there's not a lot of that to be found.

The production design has maintained, not only a beautiful, but more important, consistent look throughout, and "Hallows" is no exception. One of my favorite parts of this new film, however, is something new for the series. Hermione, having been given a copy of "Beedle the Bard," a book of wizarding fairy tales, reads aloud "The Story of the Three Brothers," which essentially lays out the legend of the Deathly Hallows. In depicting the tale on-screen, director Yates chooses a brilliant animation style that fits the dark tale perfectly. I was so impressed I could have stopped the film at that point, rewound, and watched the sequence over.

Rowling, who has released an entire volume of "Beedle the Bard" tales, should look into having it made into a feature, perhaps using different animators and styles for each tale. I know I'd go, and judging from the hundreds of millions this penultimate "Harry Potter" has made in the last few days, there'd probably be a few others who'd fork out the dough as well.

Until then, we have only July, and the epic conclusion of "Deathly Hallows" to look forward to. Grade: A-

"Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 1" is rated PG-13 for intense scares, violence -- including scenes of torture and death -- and some sensuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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