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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Finally this hour, we can say farewell to Harry Potter. Don't worry. It will be a very long farewell. Tonight, the movie version of the first half of the last Harry Potter book opens. The second half, the real end, comes out next summer. It will add 3-D to its magic tricks. But this midnight, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" begins in only 2-D.

And our critic Bob Mondello says that that does not mean it lacks depth.

BOB MONDELLO: At the beginning of all the other Harry Potter movies, Harry and his buddies bid farewell to their families and head off for magic school. In this one, Harry bids his creepy Muggle family farewell, and the family heads off to hide; nobody wants to be around when the noseless Voldemort, whose name is apparently sayable now, finally catches up with everybody's favorite teen wizard.

Happily, Harry's protectors have a plan. They've gathered a bunch of his classmates - I guess it's senior skip day or something - and cooked up a potion to confuse the issue of their lightning bolt boy's whereabouts.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1")

Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE (Actor): (as Harry Potter) No. If you think I'm going to let everyone risk their lives for me...

Mr. RUPERT GRINT (Actor): (as Ron Weasley) I've never done that before but...

Mr. BRENDAN GLEESON (Actor): (as Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody) Everyone here is of age, Potter. Fair warning. It tastes like goblin piss.

Mr. OLIVER PHELPS (Actor): (as George Weasley) Have lots of experiences with that, do you, Mad-Eye? I'm just trying to defuse the tension.

MONDELLO: As they swallow, they all start to change - the tall ones shrinking, the fat ones skinnying, and all of their features starting to look an awful lot like Harry's features.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1")

Mr. O. PHELPS: (as George Weasley) Wow, we're identical.

Mr. JAMES PHELPS (Actor): (as Fred Weasley): Wow, we're identical.

MONDELLO: Now, a neat sight gag is clearly not going to solve the problem of Voldemort. For that, the characters will have to deal with Horcruxes, Dementors, Death Eaters and, of course, the odd basilisk. If you're not up on your Potter babble, don't worry. It's all clear enough on screen, especially once our heroes - Harry, Ron and Hermione - head off on what seems to be a really long nature hike. You got to figure the filmmakers saved a fortune by shooting half this installment in the woods with just the three of them -though isolation does seem to have made everybody cranky.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1")

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry Potter) You think I don't know how this feels?

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron Weasley) No, you don't know how it feels. Your parents are dead. You have no family.

Ms. EMMA WATSON (Actress): (as Hermione Granger) Stop. Stop.

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron Weasley) Let me go.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry Potter) Go then.

MONDELLO: Things get complicated enough that it's easy to see the storytelling logic of not shoehorning the whole novel into a single film. Presumably the more pressing reason was the extra billion dollars or so that Warner Brothers stands to make, but give everybody credit. They led with the existential part of the story - teen angst and inner turmoil.

Director David Yates is restrained about brightening the gloom, though he came up with some nifty shadow puppet animation when Harry and his buds turn into "Da Vinci Code"-style symbologists, trying to decipher a weird triangle-circle doohickey they keep seeing.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1")

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry Potter) What we wondered is what is it?

Mr. RHYS IFANS (Actor): (as Xenophilius Lovegood) Well, it's the sign of the Deathly Hallows, of course.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry Potter) The what?

Ms. WATSON: (as Hermione Granger) The what?

MONDELLO: Lots of exposition in this series, which is still Potter-training audiences, even this late in the game. Fortunately, the little wizards have learned to act in the decade or so they've been with us and have done so in the company of nearly every great British thespian of our age. So it's hard to begrudge them a few dry patches of storytelling.

"Deathly Hallows: Part 1" actually manages to be involving and kind of artful about the boredom and loneliness of heroism, while sounding a long throbbing drumroll for next summer's grand finale. You'd think there'd not be much plot left after 17-and-a-half hours of Pottering around, but happily for the legions of fans who are no doubt already lining up for tonight's midnight shows, there still seem to be a number of Horcruxes to go.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

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