DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
The blockbuster series of films based on J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" novels continues with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1." It's based on the first half of Rowling's seventh and final "Harry Potter" book. The three young heroes are no longer at Hogwarts School for Wizards and the dark wizard, Voldemort, is eliminating his enemies and, of course, Harry is at the top of the list.
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: 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. I needed a refresher course in Horcruxes.
The Harry Potter Wiki site says they're objects quote "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 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 Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, and are 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 when they all get Harryfied(ph), 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.
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 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, Rupert Grint's Ron finally breaks and attacks Daniel Radcliffe's, Harry and Emma Watson's, Hermione.
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Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE (Actor): (as Harry) What's wrong?
Mr. RUPERT GRINT (Actor): (as Ron) Wrong? Nothing's wrong, according to you anyway.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Look, if you've got something to say don't be shy. Spit it out.
Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) All rights, I'll spit it out. But don't expect me to be grateful just because now there's another damned thing we've got to find.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) I thought you knew what you signed up for.
Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) Yeah. I thought I did too.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Well, then I'm sorry. I don't quite understand. What part of this isn't living up to your expectations? Did you think were going to be staying in a five star hotel? Finding a Horcrux every other day? You thought you'd be back with your mom by Christmas?
Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) I just thought, after all this time, we would've actually achieved something. I thought you knew what you were doing. I thought Dumbledore would have told you something worth while for you to plan.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) I told you everything Dumbledore told me. And in case you haven't noticed, we have found a Horcrux already.
Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) Yeah. And we're about as close to getting rid of it as we are to finding the rest of them, aren't we?
Ms. EMMA WATSON (Actor): (as Hermione) Come on. Please take, please take off. You wouldnt be saying any of this if you hadn't been wearing it all day.
Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) Don't know why I listened to that radio idea, to make sure I don't hear Jenny's name or Fred or George or Marla.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Oh, you think I'm not listening too. You think I don't know how this feels?
Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) No, you don't know how it feels. Your parents are dead. You have no family.
(Soundbite of fighting)
Ms. WATSON: (as Hermione) Stop. Stop.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Well, then go. Go then.
EDELSTEIN: That's excellent psychodrama. And it's a vivid reminder that with 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 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, Michael Gambon and John Hurt. On one level it's a waste. On another, hail to Warners 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, Warners might order up a reboot and do it all again.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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