Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

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For those people who are into Harry Potter, the complete book series may be out, but with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (HP7.1) it signals the start of the end for the visual depiction of J.K. Rowling's epic saga. With the complexity of the 784 page book, Warner Brothers made the decision to split the final segment of the saga into two movies. Some will say it was greed that made the decision, but in all fairness, with all the detail that the books provided and the complexity of the plot, book seven earned the right for the approximately five hours of screen time that it will receive between the two films. It's a shame Warner Brothers couldn't have provided books four thru six the same treatment.

At the end of the last movie, Dumbledore has died, He Who Must Not Be Named is regaining complete power over the wizarding world and our trio of heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione have been given a task to complete to try to defeat the Dark Lord. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, (Harry, Ron and Hermione) have grown up on the screen and developed their acting skills. They give us their best Harry Potter performances to date in this film.

David Yates who directed the previous two movies, Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Pheonix is at the reins once again. The editing was done differently this time really playing up the dark and sinister tone the book relays. I did have an issue with the tone that laid out via the color pallete. Overall it was extremely dark which was necessary to evoke and convey empathy for the feelings our characters are experiencing but visually it sometimes hid and obscured the detail of the finely laid out sets and costumes. This movie is far more intense and menacing than any of the previous ventures into the world of Harry Potter.

The movie moves quickly in its pacing. Each of the books is about a calendar year in length for the story line. At 146 minutes (2 hours and 26 minutes) we are taken on the journey from July just before Harry's 17th birthday until approximately February-March, the coldest part of winter and in the story, the lowest point when Lord Voldemort appears to have brought his magical powers to the strongest they could be. This is where the movie breaks for Part 2 which is expected to be released in July of 2011. Luckily for the length of this movie, my regular theater offered a coupon giving you a free small soda with a purchase of popcorn. The bad thing is that no matter what size of soda you bought, you were probably going to need to leave the theater for a few minutes to use the restroom.

Toward the latter part of the film when the tale of the name sake deathly hallows is told the film makers chose not to go live action. Instead the section from The Tales of Beedle the Bard used animation to give the origin story for the hallows with the whys and hows to great effect. The abstraction the animation provides is a wonder atmospheric backdrop for this crucial point of understanding to the entire series. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up as a separate short on the DVD/Blu-ray release.

The final set of Harry Potter movies had originally been promoted as being released in 3D. Warner Brothers announced in early October that HP7.1 would not come in 3D because they didn't have time to do the conversion process properly. It was noticeable in the film where they would have used the 3D on several points to jump out into the audience. By keeping the film 2D, I think they made a wise choice rather than upset the fan base by shifting the release date.

The movie is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. In some ways, I don't think it was intense enough. There were a couple of scenes that I was expecting from the book that had me with tears in my eyes and yet when they played cinematically they didn't carry the same power. I had fully steeled myself ready for the waterworks even bringing extra napkins from the concession stand but they sat on the seat next to me reaming unused. Does this mean it was a bad movie? No, in fact I expect it to break box office records. At the AMC theaters at City Walk in Universal Orlando Resort, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Islands of Adventure Theme park all 20 theaters were to be used for the midnight showing of HP7.1. It was reported that on the midnight shows alone, the movie pulled in $24 million making it the 3rd highest grossing midnight opening after two of the Twilight movies. If they had the 3D surcharge, it would have been greater and maybe have taken the top spot.

The question was asked if you needed to have read the books to enjoy the movie. Based on what has been shown so far they have written the movie in such a way that no, you don't. You should have seen the previous movies to know the characters and they build on that foundation. Although there are some scenes where if you have the book knowledge you'll know more about the names of some of the characters who appear in a shot but as presented there is enough to suffice.

Some people will stay away from the movie this weekend to try to avoid the crowds and watch it later in the release week or over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Will the numbers be caused by the number of Harry Potter fans? Probably but it stands on its own as a well made and very enjoyable movie. Just make sure that you hit the restroom before the movie starts and when it is over, you might want to stay through the main portion of the credits to see a glimpse of one of the deathly hallows before you run to the restroom for a second time! Based on what was given to us in this movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 should be very exciting!

The Movie Monkey

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