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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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05 December, 2010

The Unimonster's Crypt Screening Room: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Pt. I


Title:  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part I

Date of Theatrical Release:  19 November 2010

MPAA Rating:  PG-13






For the past decade, some of the best examples of genre filmmaking have been the HARRY POTTER series of films, based on the novels of J. K. Rowling.  The story of a young wizard’s education, as he grows into his ultimate destiny, captivated millions of young readers, and the movies have become the greatest moneymaking franchise in film history, grossing over $1.9 billion in domestic release so far.  Over $225 million of that total thus far belongs to the newest entry in the series, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part I.

One of the keys to the success of the films has been the decision to allow the characters to grow naturally, as the actors who portray them grow.  As they have, the films have taken on a decidedly darker, more ominous tone, in keeping with the increasing maturity of the three leads.  For ten years now, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have brought life to Rowling’s creation, and have aged, along with their fans, into twenty-something adults.

Their characters are now in their 17th year, and their time at Hogwarts School is coming to an end.  It has, in fact, already ended, with Professor Snape’s murder of Dumbledore at the end of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE.  On the run from Voldemort’s Death Eaters, the trio isolates themselves from friends and family, hiding out in the wilderness as they search for the remaining horcruxes, or magical objects into which Voldemort has cast fragments of his soul.  As long as they survive, he cannot die.

They discover that the Dark Lord is attempting to gather the Deathly Hallows; three legendary artifacts crafted by Death himself, which when combined would give one power over Death.  Can they find the rest of the horcruxes, and the Deathly Hallows, and defeat Voldemort’s plan?

This, the penultimate Potter film, is the best so far.  The lead characters are, for all intents, adults, and the issues they are facing are weightier than most.  Gone are the artifices of the early films—“How can I rescue Ron while standing for my Potions mid-term”—along with the sometimes oppressively cute aspects of Hogwarts, and the wizarding world in general.  Chocolate frogs and Whomping willows are fine for 11- and 12-year-old wizards and witches, not for 17-year-olds who are soldiers in a war between good and evil.

David Yates is back to direct the series’ conclusion, and does an admirable job of it—at least, if the first part is representative of the whole.  Given the nature of the story, and the fact that this is the culmination of a decade-long journey, the producers wisely decided to split the final book into two films, rather than try to condense the events into one.  Yates, who also directed … ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and … THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, has a solid grasp of both the characters and Rowling’s overall vision, and the talent to translate them to the screen.

Steve Kloves adapted the book to the screen, as he has every film in the series other than … ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, and has done his customary excellent job.  Though I love the movies, I’ve never read any of the books, so I’m ill-equipped to render a verdict on how faithful he is to the source.  However, as Rowling has been intimately involved in each production, I have to believe she is satisfied with the results.

The one constant in this series has been the fact that the youthful leads have been richly supported by a cast of talented veteran actors, led by the likes of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and Ralph Fiennes.  That has changed for this outing, but not entirely for the worse.  Yes, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are called upon to carry a far larger burden than has been the norm, but they managed to succeed at their task.  It would have been nice to see more than cameo appearances by the series’ regulars, but Yates kept the focus where it belonged.

As always, the visual effects are superb, making the world of Harry Potter come to life for the viewer.  This franchise has always excelled at this form of magic, and viewers will not be disappointed now.  There are several spectacular effects sequences, along with one or two, most notably a lengthy animated sequence, that don’t quite work as intended.  They are minor flaws, however, when compared to the spectacle of an aerial battle above London, a battle that witnesses the deaths of a number of major and minor characters.

This and other violent aspects of the movie have led some to describe it as too intense for small children, and I would probably agree with them.  However, this ceased to be a franchise for small children several installments ago, and I doubt that this will be many people’s first encounter with the world of Harry Potter.  Still, as with all movies, parents are the best judge of what is suitable for their children.  Personally, I took my 13-year-old nephew to see it, and he though it was “… Beast.”  [Ed. Note:  I assume that means he liked it…]

In many ways, I prefer not having read the books prior to seeing the films; I have the enjoyment of being surprised by events, rather than anticipating them.  For ten years I’ve followed this story; I’m quite content to wait for the final installment to find out who wins, who loses; who survives, and who doesn’t.  The drawback is, of course, waiting for July for the answers to those questions.

It’s not often I will make an effort to see a movie on it’s opening weekend.  Frankly, I’m usually content to wait for the DVD, rather than fork out the inflated ticket prices charged by the average Cineplex.  But the Potter films, like STAR TREK movies, are the exception to that rule.  I recommend you make an effort to see it at the theater as well—it’s worth the expense.

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