Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1 - Theatrical Review

Release Date: November 19, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21 & IMAX
Time: 4:30 pm November 20, 2010
Projector Type: (true) IMAX 

Loves: Every one of the other Harry Potter films
Likes: The amazing and enormous cast
Neutral: Side characters getting the shaft
Hates: That the series will be over soon

The End Begins...

It is hard to believe that we have been following and watching these characters grow from the innocent yet gifted children they were way back in The Sorcerer's Stone to the burdened young adults they are here. 10 years can go by so fast, do you realize this film series started during the same exact Christmas that we got the first Lord of the Rings film? And it has all gone by so fast due to the tenacity of everyone involved in this series of films to get a new chapter out to us once every 18 months that will finally conclude this coming July. The journey has been a long one but what an amazing journey it has been and I for one do not regret one single minute I have spent in this fantastical world. The end begins indeed.

At this point it is ridiculous to even begin to explain anything that happens within in this film. You are either a fan of the books or the films or both and have seen the previous six that got you to this point or you will never see anything Potter related for the rest of your life. So I will dispense with the synopsis and how we got to where we are because I highly doubt anyone interested in this series will be starting here and if they were then someone needs to talk some serious sense into them before they go ahead and ruin for themselves what I believe to be one of the most consistent and well thought out film series to date.

The gangs all here and all grown up.
We are shown right away that this isn't the same Harry Potter we have come to know over the years. There aren't any aunts being turned into a balloon and floating away, no birthday cake being dropped on someones head, no night out at the big quidditch match. No, what we get is to see Hermione (Emma Watson) wipe her existence out of her parents minds and take from them everything and anything physical that may remind them of her. We see Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) watching from a window as his caretakers from the past six films flee for safety leaving him behind to fend for himself. Puppy dogs and ice cream are over for these "kids", their lives are in danger and for lack of a better term, school is out.

The tone of this film is one of dread, this series has been building up the tension and layering the darkness on pretty thick with each new installment ever since The Prisoner of Azkaban. By this point I have come to expect to see beloved characters die or to have these kids I have had the pleasure of knowing for the past decade naw at each others throats when they get caught up in a bad situation. But what I wasn't expecting was the huge shift from the Harry Potter formula. Gone are the days at Hogwarts and so are the days of pretending everything is alright. These kids are on the run for their lives and their only hope is to take down the man responsible for everything that has plagued Harry since the day his parents died...Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes).

Voldermort is a kind of single minded dude sometimes.
It seems that ever since the demise of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) at the dramatic conclusion of The Half-Blood Prince that the magic world of wizards and witches has been turned upside down. The ministry of magic has taken it upon itself to rid their world of all muggles and half breeds by either locking them up or disposing of them. As a matter of fact their number one priority beyond that is to capture a fugitive that is on the loose. That fugitive is not exactly who you might think it is though, that fugitive is none other than the chosen one himself, Harry Potter. The reason for the ministry's change in policy is due to its new secretive (but not to us) benefactor.

That benefactor is of course Lord Voldermort himself and his legion of death eaters including the turncoat Snape (Alan Rickman), Sirius Black's crazed and unstable sister Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) along with both Draco (Tom Felton) and his father Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs). We see during their very Untouchables like meeting that Voldermort isn't playing around anymore when he kills an instructor from Hogwarts right in front of everyone there and then sends his pet snake over for a snack. Up to this point we always heard how evil Voldermort is and how he caused a reign of terror the likes of which had never been seen before. But until now they had all been stories. This man is pure evil incarnate with one goal and one way to achieve it. To rid the world of all muggles and then rule that world with the slithery grip of a viper.

One of the very few funny moments to be found in the film.
I have to say that I was getting a little worried there for a bit that we wouldn't see Voldermort strut his stuff until the very end of the series. Because everyone can talk all day about this or that but until I see it it doesn't ever really register for me. Well, with this first part of the last film it was put up or shut up time when it came to Voldermort and thankfully they put up. All the scenes with him (mostly in a sort of flashback style still) are glorius and show you why this man is to not only be feared by his enemies but by his followers as well. Although, Bellatrix is probably the only one that doesn't fear him because my lord is that woman some sort of crazy psycho.

As I mentioned, Hogwarts is out of the picture here. So in place of that familiar setting we get...a tent. Not just any tent though, one of those magic bigger-on-the-inside-types we saw back in The Goblet of Fire. Why are they in a tent you ask? Not to put to fine a point on it but early on in the film our three heroes are split off from everyone else in a rather abrupt way and from that point forward it is made abundantly clear to both them and us that if they don't want anyone else to get hurt trying to protect Harry that they must stay as far away from them as possible. So with the help of Hermione's trusty and bottomless handbag they begin their journey to seek out the horcruxes which are needed to take Voldermort down for good.

They do a lot of traveling this time around.
I was hit immediately with an image in my head of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with this film. It was more due to the structure of the film than anything else. The three of them traveling somewhat aimlessly across these huge sprawling landscapes, then setting up camp and packing up and heading forward once again the next day. Even the first horcrux they get a hold of has a huge Rings vibe to it because whenever any of them hold on to it for too long it begins to corrupt them and put bad thoughts into their heads. Heck, they even wear the dam thing around their neck for goodness sake. I wouldn't call this a negative though, more like a very easy observation.

The dynamic between the three leads is also at the forefront here more so than ever. I don't think we have ever gotten to spend this much time with just the three of them. And despite a really awkward and unnecessary dance scene it is all the better for it in my opinion. I really like seeing Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoinie show some true affection for one another beyond the usual puppy love. There comes a moment about half way through the film where something happens to Ron and you see how much it affects Hermoinie. I don't believe I have ever seen her character get that upset over anyone else in the series to this point and it helped cement their relationship even further for me. Then you have the issues that Harry must deal with. This kid has been tormented from the first day we met him and we finally start to see him come to grips with a lot of it.

Say hello to the new ministry of magic.
Harry has pouted in the past about his responsibilities and what he is meant to do. He has always been faced with a crucial and sometimes detrimental situation where his actions could mean life or death for not just him but the ones he loves as well. However, he has always had someone to go to with these issues, someone to mentor him and tell him how to proceed (usually in very cryptic ways though). This time out though he is on his own for the most part. Sure, he has Ron and Hermione there for emotional support (and for Hermoinie's gifted magic prowess) but they don't hold the answers to his questions. As a matter of fact, they become even more frustrated than him when he doesn't have the answers for their own questions. He must figure out to how deal with his destiny on his own from here on out.

Here is a kid that has only known death and despair most of his life and now he must stand against everything that has caused it. We see by the end of this first part that Harry will need some sort of miracle to come out of this the victor. Voldermort is a monster, he has seemingly limitless power and has already cheated death once before. How is a young 17 year old boy supposed to defeat something like that? Well, Harry doesn't know either but we learn of something that Voldermort is seeking out that may help Harry in this task. Voldermort is after the Deathly Hallows, three magical items that will grant him even more power than he already possess. We are shown through a clever and beautifully realized animated segment the history of the Hallows and how they each came to be.

They are in for some tents days ahead...get it...?
This film though is not too worried with the Deathly Hallows, this first part of the final film is all set up. Preparing us for the battle of the century where it looks as though all manner of shit will hit the fan. And because of that there may be some people out there left feeling like they were cheated when this film "ends". I can't say I blame them, but I think any argument like that is in the same league as the complaints leveled at the Fellowship of the Rings ending which is completely unfounded. Just like Fellowship, anyone seeing this film must know there is another one right around the corner so why all the fuss? I for one thought the film ended on a perfect note.

We see Voldermort become more powerful than ever (after a rather chilling scene at the resting place of Dumbledore) and then we have Harry at probably the lowest emotional point ever after losing a very close friend. Some have been calling this the Empire Strikes Back of the series and I can't really argue against that, although this isn't really a middle chapter. More like a first chapter of a two chapter story in the 7th film of a decade long film series. Regardless of that though I was always looking forward to the next film but this ending really got me intrigued. I want to see that hateful wench Bellatrix get her come-uppins and see Snape pay for his indiscretions as well.

Being the chosen one seems like a lonely and sad life.
Problems I had with the film are superficial at best. I got a little tired of seeing our three heroes hanging out in the tent after a while but completely understood why we had to see it played out that way. Ron has always been the weak link of the group (ever since he grew up and wasn't the cute funny kid any more) but that is seen ten fold here with him tagging along for the ride. When Harry returns to his hometown where his parents were murdered I was expecting a little more time there and that whole segment ended with a huge WTF moment that made no sense (in the film version anyway). I would have liked to see more of Harry and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) instead of all this false romance built up between Harry and Hermione. It would have been nice to have someone other than just a friend for Harry to confide in for once and have someone else to stand by his side. Lastly, I wasn't too keen on how the ads for this film make it look like some sort of action extravaganza. Most of the action beats come at the very beginning of the film and (while amazing) were gone before you know it. Here is hoping that we get the action promised in this installment in the next part.

Overall I can find no real faults to anything we are presented with here. While it still isn't my favorite of the Potter films, that honor goes to The Prisoner of Azkaban, it all serves its purpose rather well with the lead up to the (hopefully) bombastic finale we have been preparing for over the past 10 years. Now is the time for all those promises made from all the build up from past films to be made good on and give us an epic final chapter in what will go down as (if they don't royally f**k it up that is) the grandest and most widely praised film series of all time. If you haven't gone to see this yet then I highly recommend the IMAX experience (a true IMAX that is) and take this film in using the best presentation available. For this series I pull out all the stops and think you should too. Without further ado I will put my stamp of approval on it and say...



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