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MOVIE REVIEWS Fantasy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Genre Fantasy
Year: 2010

It's old news, but "the magical kid with glasses" has become an international phenomenon. Remember when HP used to be a sauce and Indiana Jones was the only character worthy of a "character name and adventure" movie title. Glasses, reading and obscure pockmarks used to be dorky until Potter added a little pizazz to the art of being a nerd. Add a little magic and it seems you can transform any half-wit into a hero. Perhaps that's the charm of Harry Potter, he's a ordinary kid in extraordinary circumstances with the added benefit of his little dark wand to avenge his enemies. Phallic imagery aside, J.K. Rowling has created an empire from the humble beginnings of a hard-to-publish novel to an indomitable blockbuster franchise endorsed by millions of fans.

It's not surprising that its principal stars are some of Hollywood's top earners at the age of 20. This series has been at it for more than a decade, roping in some of Britain's finest acting talents along the way. In the latest installation, Harry Potter and the Deathly Marshmallows: Part 1, Potter is targeted by Lord Voldemort. After narrowly escaping an aerial assault on a motorbike, the magical man-child retreats to the comfort of his peers only to set on an epic adventure in a quest to retrieve three of the most powerful objects in wizardry known as The Deathly Hallows.

The same trio return with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in fighting form with a bulkier Grint standing almost a head taller than Radcliffe. They're no longer teenagers with one Harry Potter movie poster unabashedly displaying Radcliffe's stubble. The actors have come a long way since the early days of The Philosopher's Stone and have brought much depth to their recent performances thanks to excellent writing and a creeping familiarity with their famed characters. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 takes a more introspective approach to the story and the characters.

They're no longer kids and have entered what may be called their wilderness years in something akin to Where the Wild Things Are without the big monster puppets... sorry Spike. The journey sets them apart from the wizard fraternity we're used to seeing them in and a clear line has been drawn between the trio and their past. This breaks with the Harry Potter franchise formula, which usually bases the adventure at Hogwart's. The lead three have essentially been cut loose from their families, their school friends and their teachers. There's no Quidditch, practical jokes or mild peril anymore... things have become darker, more serious and more independent, vulnerable even.

We follow Harry, Hermione and Ron as they wind their ways from intricate urban settings to beautiful natural landscapes. The conflict is between good and evil, urban and rural, night and day, friend and foe. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 stands out from the series as something completely different - even engaging in an uncharacteristic animated sequence to recount the story of the Deathly Hallows. It's true... the final chapter in the series has been divided into two, but for some reason they still felt the need to draw the film out over two-and-a-half hours.

The overall feeling is that it's still entertaining, although there's a stronger focus on the core ensemble making each scene feel a little repetitive without the added assistance of the magic school. The tone is darker with a grim atmosphere reminiscent of Excalibur with swords, sweeping landscapes and witchcraft. This adds some weight to the production, although it's not as much fun with fewer laughs than The Half-Blood Prince. The narrative almost seems to lose itself at some points in the wilderness as the story unpacks the triangle between Harry, Hermione and Ron as they make sense of their predicament and struggle onward. Although without an overriding sense of danger or urgency as they trek across the plains, the momentum is lost on the audience making it seem a little stagnant.

It's difficult to say why David Yates opted for a more deadpan build-up to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Perhaps downplaying the saga in the second last film will only make the final chapter even more fulfilling. There are also questions surrounding the franchise's decision to switch from shooting for 3D back to normal 2D in line with the rest of the series. There are several scenes, which would have worked well with the format. This was probably done in reaction to the sluggish, drama intensive midriff, following a quick-paced introduction and a more energetic conclusion. The production values are high and in keeping with the rest of the series, which gives the film a rich, classic Harry Potter quality.

Overall, it's just a little disappointing. From choosing to split The Deathly Hallows into two movies, dropping the 3D gimmickry, delivering an "into the wilderness" type sequel and ending quite abruptly on a "cliffhanger"... it just seems a little uncertain. This uncertainty creates an underlying tension, which works well for the relational dynamics, but not so much for the big picture. If anything, they should have probably gone for a 4 hour finale with an old school interval like Peter Jackson did for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 won't do too much damage to the franchise in the long run, but has tarnished the saga with its uncharacteristic traits and uncertainty.

The bottom line: Adrift.


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