This isn’t your kids’ Harry Potter movie. Well, it is, but your kids aren’t children any more.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the first of two films based on J.K. Rowling’s grand finale to the seven-book series, takes fans of the wizarding world on their darkest journey yet. The fantasy of Quidditch matches, chocolate frogs and butterbeer has been shattered, replaced with the blood and fire that heralds the brutal reign of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
When the pressing gloom of Voldemort’s rise finally boils to a head and his legions of Death Eaters make their move, it spoils a rare joyous occasion for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends, forcing the destiny-touched boy wizard and his best pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) to flee and take refuge in the mundane world. Thus begins a quest to collect and destroy the horcruxes — relics in which Voldemort has invested parts of his life force to prevent anyone from killing him permanently.
In a very real way, the magic is gone — and that’s what makes Deathly Hallows such a satisfying journey, though viewers will have to wait until July 15 to see the story concluded in its doubtless epic fashion. In the meantime, we see our young heroes — not so young anymore — grappling with disaster and isolation … something that won’t feel too alien to a generation that has experienced fear and uncertainly since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone debuted in theaters barely two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Director David Yates effectively uses imagery reminiscent of World War II propaganda to illustrate the Death Eaters’ campaign against the nonmagical muggles (i.e., us) and “mudbloods,” or those unfortunate enough to have both muggle and wizard ancestry. Fans still emerging from a global recession will briefly see the down-at-heel family of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry’s chief rival at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — but aside from the ominous hijacking of the school train by Death Eaters, the always-enchanting visit to Hogwarts by viewers will have to wait for Part 2: This film concentrates on the trio’s journey and their struggle to trust again after losing everything, including their faith in themselves and each other. It’s a difficult film to watch, both for its abysmal theme and long stretches without the typical spellbinding action. (A highlight is an animated sequence illustrating a wizard fairy tale crucial to the overall plot of Voldemort’s machinations.)
Overall, it’s an exploration of what happens when the most compelling elements of fantasy — magic, hope and flights of fancy — are stripped away and the world becomes all too real. The reward is the promise of the inevitable final showdown between the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality. Running time: 146 minutes. Grade: A-