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HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 (2010) (***)

This is the least rewarding of the cinematic HARRY POTTER experiences mainly because it doesn't satisfyingly work as a film on its own. Unlike the LORD OF THE RINGS series, each film worked as a solo film, while setting up the continuing journey. DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 tries to find its EMPIRE STRIKE BACK moment to end on, but without making Voldemort declare he is Harry's father, this film left me wanting more, but not in a good way. And yet I want more.

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This is the least rewarding of the cinematic HARRY POTTER experiences mainly because it doesn't satisfyingly work as a film on its own. Unlike the LORD OF THE RINGS series, each film worked as a solo film, while setting up the continuing journey. DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 1 tries to find its EMPIRE STRIKE BACK moment to end on, but without making Voldemort declare he is Harry's father, this film left me wanting more, but not in a good way. And yet I want more.

This PART 1, PART 2 nonsense will mean nothing after July 2011. After that DEATHLY HALLOWS can be enjoyed on DVD or Blu-ray or whatever comes next in home entertainment as one complete film. But because I am not clairvoyant I can't comment on the complete DEATHLY HALLOWS, because I have only seen half the film. PART 1 is kind of like the equivalent of tantric sex; all build up and no climax. But for POTTER fans, it's still sex… unless they're kids, because it's a family franchise, right?

The best part of the HARRY POTTER series, especially the books, is the characters. Each book dealt with issues that the characters would be dealing with at that age, but on a grand scale. For the films, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX attained the greatest accomplishment by brilliantly paralleling Harry's teen angst with his internal struggle with the evil of Voldemort. HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, while the least successful to date by focusing more on snogging and less on Harry's mentorship with Dumbledore, at least had the characters dealing with hormones. Here Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are gone from Hogwarts and thrown out into the wilderness of adulthood. Literally the wilderness, they spend most of the film in a tent.

That said it seems like a hated PART 1, but as you can see from my mandatory star rating, I'm still recommending it. The pieces of the film are done very well. And in the end, the splitting of the film in two parts theatrically will give fans the five-hour epic that DEATHLY HALLOW deserves. The film economically sets up its massive cast of characters, both old and new. At times it's throwing around names and unless you're a Potter-phile you won't know who they're talking about. Even Harry says who's that from time to time.

The complex mythology of the horcrux and how Voldemort broke his soul into them and our heroes search for the remaining ones is given the time that is needed to understand. Then the plot weaves in the deathly hallows via a brilliantly CG animated sequence telling the legend of the Three Brothers. A one film DEATHLY HALLOWS would not have afforded this film within the film.

So where is the character development in all this? The problem in splitting one story into two is you don't get the full arch. Harry, Hermoine and Ron are now adults and must act like them. This is highlighted in a great scene where they are ambushed by Death Eaters at a diner. This is no longer a Defense Against the Dark Arts test, but the real thing with real consequences and there isn't anyone there to help them. Development-wise Harry takes a back seat to Ron and Hermoine, because his journey to the adult hero doesn't come until PART 2. Ron isn't as mature as the others and this comes out in the way he reacts to the peril that surrounds them. His greatest fears manifest themselves in a great sequence where he tries to destroy one of the horcruxes. And I forgot how much of love the elf Dobby (Toby Jones, FROST/NIXON), who gets some of the film's best and most emotional moments.

It's moments like these that I wanted more of. The film as a 2 ½ hour film seems waited too heavily on plot. But what will it feel like as a five-hour film? You get my point. But for the plot, director David Yates makes the proceedings very dark. The opening sequence where Voldemort meets with his minions has the Dark Lord torturing a Hogswart's teacher who dares say mere humans should breed with wizards and witches. Many of the action sequences build real tension, because the film has the time to do so. There is something very unsettling when they go to visit Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans, NOTTING HILL). He is more off than usual.

Fans should be first in line for this film, because the first half of DEATHLY HALLOWS is a harrowing and handsomely mounted adventure. The less you know about the world of HARRY POTTER, the less rewarding the film will be though. This story wasn't meant to be chopped in half, but it's done the best I guess it could have been. Check back in July 2011 for my full review.

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Rick DeMott
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