Paranoia, Psychodrama Dominate 'Deathly Hallows'

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Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe

Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, left), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) face their hardest task yet - finding the Horcruxes that give Lord Voldemort his immortality, while staying hidden from the dark wizard. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

  • Director: David Yates
  • Genre: Drama/Family/Fantasy
  • Running Time: 146 minutes

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.

With: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes

There's nothing wrong with the two-and-a-half-hour Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 that couldn't be solved if this weren't, in fact, Part 1 — if the saga ended here instead of stopping at the climax and saying, in effect, "See you in 2011, suckers."

But two years ago, Warner Bros. got antsy about losing its so-called "tent poles" — multi-part properties that prop up the studio — and decided to split J.K. Rowling's seventh and last book into two films. I'm surprised they didn't split the second part in two, and the second part of that in two, and on into infinity.

The movie has no satisfying finish — but to be fair, it has no satisfying beginning, either. Wander in without having seen another Potter film, and you won't have the faintest idea what's going on. For instance, I needed a refresher course in "horcruxes."

The Harry Potter Wiki says they're objects "in which a Dark wizard or witch has hidden a fragment of his or her soul for the purpose of attaining immortality." You need to know that, since the whole movie is about the dark wizard Voldemort's nasty hordes chasing Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron as they try to find and destroy various horcruxes.

The first hour of Deadly Hallows is virtually a video game, and it's deadly, alright. Voldemort's followers have taken over both the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Ministry of Magic, and they're on the hunt for Harry. Director David Yates does a poor job on the opening action sequence, in which Harry's friends and allies transform themselves into Harry lookalikes to confuse the onrushing villains. It's a funny scene, but Yates stays with the real Harry during the aerial chase, missing the obvious sight gag of bad guys thrown into confusion by so many bespectacled young men of small stature.

Ralph Fiennes and Jason Isaacs i

Lord Voldemort, played by Ralph Fiennes, left, and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) plot to bring down Harry Potter and take over the wizarding world. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures
Ralph Fiennes and Jason Isaacs

Lord Voldemort, played by Ralph Fiennes, left, and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) plot to bring down Harry Potter and take over the wizarding world.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Then Harry and friends sneak into the Ministry to steal one of several horcruxes, and the sequence is so badly staged and goes on for so long that the filmmakers appear merely to be filling out the running time.

The surprise is how much better the second part of Part 1 is — when the action stops dead. Harry, Hermione and Ron go on the lam and drift around the English countryside, across barren landscapes under low, gray skies, getting on one another's nerves. In an invisible tent they've erected, Ron (Rupert Grint) finally breaks, attacking Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione (Emma Watson). It's excellent psychodrama.

And it's a vivid reminder that for all the enchanted-kingdom imagery of Rowling's first books, her real subject is deadly serious. In common with her fellow Brits Tolkien and Orwell, Rowling is haunted by harbingers of fascism — in this case, race-based fascism. Voldemort's allies are "purebloods" obsessed with rooting out both nonmagical Muggles and mongrel "mudbloods." The film's feel is paranoid and post-apocalyptic, and it's no wonder the central trio's well of affectionate banter has run dry.

The rest of the actors are practically extras: It's like a Royal Shakespeare Company Halloween party. Helena Bonham Carter shakes her fright wig, Brendan Gleeson models his eye patch. Alan Rickman has a line or two. So do Michael Gambon and John Hurt. On one level it's a waste. On another, hail to Warner Bros. for subsidizing their low-paying stage work. The series is a British-actor tent pole, too.

Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort provides the scares. He looks like a flesh reptile and declaims like Captain Hook, if the crocodile had bitten off his nose instead of his hand. I sure hope he gets a good sendoff in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — or, who knows, Warner Bros. might order up a reboot and do it all again.

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