It's that time again. It's time to get out your wand, put on your Hogwarts uniform, and dust off your broom because the worldwide phenomenon that is Harry Potter has returned to theatres for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the penultimate installment of the film franchise.
If you haven't already heard, The Deathly Hallows, the final book in the Harry Potter series, has been split into two films. I'm part of the small majority of those Potter film lovers who haven't read all the books already, but in case you need a little refresher, I'll rundown the story for you. The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Half-Blood Prince with everyone still in shock from the death of Professor Dumbledore. Harry now knows there is some kind of connection between him and the dark lord Voldemort. With Dumbledore out of the picture, Voldemort and his followers start going after Harry. However, Harry can't stand idly by while his friends and the Order of the Phoenix put their lives on the line protecting him, so he decides to go it alone to find the last of Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. And, in typical Harry Potter fashion, both Ron and Hermione tag along for the ride.
The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a good film, but unfortunately not a great film. With the majority of the film's action taking place within the first 30 minutes of this 146-minute movie, its pace slows down as the film goes on. Since the total running time for both parts of The Deathly Hallows will end up being over 5 hours long, Part 1 mainly acts as a set-up film rather than a standalone picture. While I get the luxury to enjoy the wonder and spectacle of this story for the first time, the trade-off is that I don't get to fully appreciate the little details from the book. The separating of this last book into two feature films enables director David Yates to showcase the minutiae from the book that would have been cut out if the book had been one film. Unlike most book to film adaptations, this film will definitely be received better for those who have read and enjoyed the books; while leaving the fans of only the film versions, like myself, to decode certain parts and play catch up.
Although the film's pacing will be a little sluggish for the average moviegoer at times, the film makes up for it with its stunning visuals. With Part 1 mostly taking place in remote locations as Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run, it becomes the first time in the film franchise that Hogwarts is never visited. This gives the film a fresh look, as the previous films had started to become procedural at times. Most of the film's locations set the three main characters in beautiful picturesque landscapes, from bare mountain tops to dense forests, making each shot visually superb. Some of the film's wide-angled shots have a Lord of the Rings look and feel to them. However, even though the locations place the story in some spectacular settings, the film fortunately maintains its gritty feel throughout.
The cast of The Deathly Hallows pretty much includes every big or small name British actor. And I mean everyone. After the success and quality of the first Harry Potter film, it seemed like every British actor had to be a part of this franchise before it was too late. Some of the biggest names in today's British cinema were reported as asking producers for whatever role they could get, no matter the size. Bill Nighy, for example, makes his first appearance in the Harry Potter universe and has less than five minutes of screen time. Nighy even quoted this fact in an interview before filming began, saying, "I am no longer the only English actor not to be in Harry Potter."
However, none of those big name stars matter if the film's leads can't carry the story. Fortunately, that isn't the case, as Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have all become wonderful actors in their own right. You get over the fact that all three of them look much older than their 18 year-old characters, as their performances overshadow that fact and help focus the audience on the story.
Because this is only Part 1 of this franchise's final chapter, the ending doesn't give you that feeling of closure. Part 1 acts very much like Empire Strikes Back, as the audience must wait patiently for that Return of the Jedi conclusion that will be realized in Part 2 (minus the Ewoks, of course). The entire Harry Potter film franchise is closing in on George Lucas and his Star Wars Empire, which currently has the top spot for highest all-time franchise earnings. With The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 being released in 3D, as well as Part 1's estimated millions, the Harry Potter brand will inevitably take that top spot. That is, until Lucas re-releases, again, all six Star Wars films in 3D to force choke his four-eyed wizard nemesis back down the line.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.