Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1

A few years ago, I made the mistake of believing something I saw on a TV infomercial.  I should have known better, but it really seemed like something that would solve a problem I had, so I bought the item.  It was a solar-powered device hung in your car window that would suck out hot air and keep the temperature inside your closed up vehicle at something more reasonable.  When you got in your car at the end of a long, hot summer day, it wouldn’t be as unbearable.  When it arrived, I was very excited to finally solve this problem quickly assembled the magical device.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the item didn’t operate as I had hoped and was quickly dumped in the trash.  I chalked up the price I’d paid as the cost of a lesson learned.  Movies can be like that infomercial item:  We want a film to take on a certain form and have certain aspects, but they don’t quite live up to our expectations.  That’s the case with this week’s movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1.”

Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Wesley (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) are skipping their last year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to search out and destroy the remaining Horcruxes containing bits of Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) soul.  Destroying all the Horcruxes will make Voldemort mortal; however, Dark Lord is solidifying his control of the Ministry of Magic, putting his people in charge, including Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) as headmaster of Hogwarts, and making Harry Potter public enemy number one.  Despite this, the trio enters the Ministry, using a potion to make them look like other people, to find one of the Horcruxes that is in the possession of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).  Retrieving it, the gang makes a daring escape.  With Death Eaters and Snatchers searching high and low for them, they hide out at various locations, using enchantments to conceal their whereabouts.  The Horcrux cannot be destroyed by the magic the trio knows so they must also find whatever weapons will do the job.  The strain of being on the run, and the amplification of negative emotions caused by the Horcrux, leads Ron to abandon the group.  Harry and Hermione continue on, growing more depressed and discouraged by the day.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1” has the unenviable job of setting up the finale of the series which is due for release in July of 2011.  To do that, we are given a few bits of information along with some action scenes.  While the movie is two and a half hours long, there’s really only about 90 minutes worth of story to tell.  Part 2 will contain all the really important revelations and giant action scenes.  This film was mostly running, hiding and camping.  While we do get to see Harry, Hermione and Ron deal with situations that test their friendship, the film lacks any narrative momentum.  We’ve taken this decade-long trip with the young magical folks of Hogwarts and this film is meant to prepare us for the end; however, it actually may do its job too well.  There are a great many unanswered questions about Harry and his future that are dangling over the abyss and we have to wait eight months to get any answers.  Actually, those questions have been answered for anyone who has read the book this movie is based on.  While I haven’t, I have read the synopsis on Wikipedia, so I know what’s supposed to happen.  From that brief recap, I believed this film would have more meat on its bones and end with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger.  Instead, we are given a movie that’s just barely satisfies on its own and ends not with a bang, but a whimper.  I won’t give away what probably most people already know, but there is so much more that could have been included in “Part 1” and still left plenty for “Part 2.”  This reminds me of what critics said about “Back to the Future, Part II;” it was a feature-length trailer for “Part III.”

Despite my misgivings, it was good to see these young actors back together, reprising the roles they have literally grown up in before our eyes.  All three leads have become very good actors.  I especially enjoy Rupert Grint’s work.  While he’s been somewhat relegated to comic relief over the series, in “Deathly Hallows” he’s given room to stretch out of that.  When it all finally ends, I may miss Ron most of all.  Along with the actors and the characters they play, I have enjoyed the wizarding world as well.  The structure, hierarchy, creatures, rules and history of Harry Potter has been one of the series greatest strengths and much of that is on display in this film.  The movie has a dark, foreboding feeling to it, as if to warn us that things will get worse before they get better.  Much of it is shot in grey and blue tones, like the world is under a perpetual overcast sky.  This movie is definitely darker in mood and emotion than any of the preceding films and it matches the feelings of the characters and the tone of the story perfectly.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1” is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.  Much of the action involves the casting of spells that cause small explosions or push people back like they’ve been punched or hit by a bullet.  There’s also a large snake that attacks Harry violently.  We also see a woman being tortured by Voldemort who pleads for her life as well as some injuries that cause blood to show.

Author J.K. Rowling is, I’m sure, a proud parent of this world and she has every right to be.  While she has dropped hints recently there could be more books, I’m not sure what story she would have to tell that didn’t feel like a retread of what’s come before.  Of course, she may have other enemies in mind for an adult Harry that would make us forget Voldemort.  I suppose time will tell.  But there is unfinished cinematic business to attend to first.  The last film in the series will undoubtedly be quite a roller coaster ride of action and revelation.  This film could have had more going on, but it will have to do until the conclusion reaches theatres next summer.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1” gets four guitars out of five.  That’s probably being overly generous, but I really like this film series and the characters that populate it, so just being given some time with them is almost enough.

The Thanksgiving holiday gives us a week stuffed with big, new releases, including “127 Hours” which won the movie poll some weeks ago but didn’t open in Knoxville.  It is opening this week and I will be seeing it along with whatever wins from the other films coming out this week.  Vote for the movie I see and review next.

Burlesque—Christina Aguilera stars as small-town girl with a big voice, and even bigger dreams, who gets her shot at being in the spotlight.

Love & Other Drugs—Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway star in a romantic comedy set against the cutthroat world of pharmaceutical sales.

Faster—Dwayne Johnson stars as an ex-con hell bent on avenging the murder of his brother during a bank robbery gone wrong.

Tangled—Walt Disney's animated take on the tale of Rapunzel, a beautiful, feisty tower-bound teen with 70 feet of magical, golden hair.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews and movie currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Questions?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.