Reportedly the biggest grossing movie franchise in history (take that, 007), the Harry Potter movies are not exactly coasting to the finish line. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" will be followed in July by the finale – in 3-D.
Part 1 is in plain old 2-D, which is fine with me. I'm getting tired of putting on those bulky glasses and having things waft up to my eyelashes. The current installment does it the old-fashioned way – through imaginative effects that bring you into the movie rather than mimicking an amusement park thrill ride.
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Not that the imagination on display here is up to the level of the J.K. Rowling books (which remain more vividly cinematic than all but Alfonso Cuaron's "Prisoner of Azkaban"). But there's a good, solid, workmanlike integrity to what director David Yates does here. Yates has directed every Potter movie beginning with the fifth. The screenwriter, Steve Kloves, who does his usual scrupulously intelligent job, has adapted all but the fifth.
As all the world knows, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are still played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. Unavoidably, we feel as if we've grown up with them – both as characters and as people. They've disported themselves well – no mugging, no star turns, no winks at the audience. They have an admirable junior-league gravitas. With any luck, they will resist the inevitable lure down the line of replaying these roles. (Rowling has hinted at further Potter sequelae.) There is such a thing as carrying nostalgia too far.
By necessity, Part 1 is essentially a lead-in to the grand finale, and so there are stretches where exposition swamps drama. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters have taken up residence in the Ministry of Magic and Job 1 is finishing off Harry, who is busy with Ron and Hermione attempting to eradicate every last Horcrux from the planet. (A Horcrux is a vessel containing vestiges of Voldemort's broken soul – such as it is.) In the midst of much hubbub, there are reposeful, disquieting stretches when the trio seeks refuge in the woods.
I suspect there will be few such stretches in Part 2, when all the stops will be let out. All the more reason to savor the scaled-back moments in this one. Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images, and brief sensuality.)
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