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Harry Potter Whets The Palate For The Final Chapter
Friends, left to right, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) face the perils of life outside Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves had a gargantuan task, to split up the final book of “Harry Potter” and not make the first part feel like a wind up for the finale, and instead, a fully formed film on its own. They have achieved their goal with a fast moving, emotional and gripping thrill ride. Armed with fluid cameras, jolts and shocks and just enough humor to keep audiences invested in our heroes’ quest, “Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows, Part One”, is an exhilarating mythical crusade.

With the death of Hogwarts’ lead wizard, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the magical world has been usurped by the dark lord (Ralph Fiennes).  Muggles are being butchered along with Muggle sympathizers and enemy number one is Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliff).  With his best friends Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), Harry searches for the remaining horcruxes, hoping to destroy the only power that makes Valdemort invincible.  The stress drives the friends apart, but a mystery, a legend of three powerful horcruxes forged by Death, could be the key to saving the world.

Yates, who has directed the last two chapters, fills “Deathly Hallows, Part One” with many edge-of-your-seat moments, that may be frightening for young children and will cause adults’ hearts to race. The villains play for keeps this time with murderous rampage, including unleashing a snake with a healthy appetite. When henchmen chase our heroes through the woods, there’s genuine fear, since we’ve seen several beloved characters violently eliminated already. Yates does pull back from detailing Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) torturing Hermoine, but the end result of our battered favorite female wizard is no less traumatic.  Yates builds the suspense using Alexandre Desplat’s epic sounding score to heighten the tension as Spielberg did with John Williams’ famous theme on “Jaws.” 

Accompanying the thrills are several humorous moments, including a break-in to the enemy’s lair disguised as minions. The middle aged actors who play Harry, Ron and Hermoine in “disguise” walk as a child would wearing a suit five-times too big, except instead of wearing a father’s outfit, they’re wearing a stranger’s body.  As expected, the daffy characters, particularly loony Luna Lovegood (perfectly played with airy innocence by Evanna Lynch) and the Weasly twins (James and Oliver Phelps) are always around for a genuine laugh.

Because this one film loses the commanding Dumbledore character and the significant locale of Hogwarts, screenwriter Kloves capture the same essence as past films by focusing on the three protagonists’ relationships, which gets rocky as insecurity takes hold and each feels at a time like a third wheel.

The cast develops exponentially as a talented unit.  Watson, Grint and Radcliff have grown up together and in every film, their innate chemistry gets stronger.  The characters’ love and admiration for each other only makes the latter films resonate greater. The threesome is supported by the best that British cinema can offer, including Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Julie Walters and Imelda Staunton, who inhabit their roles with a kitchen-sink realism no matter how fanciful the situation.  Deliciously vicious as the insane Lestrange, Bonham Carter continues to dazzle instead of turning the madwoman in a beastly caricature.  Her unpredictability makes her a more exciting villain than the main baddie played by Fiennes, who looks monstrous in his snake-like make-up, but isn’t given much to do but look ominous in this episode. Fiennes takes center stage in part two and hopefully, he’ll chill audiences as much as Bonham Carter has in the past three films.

No expense was spared on the scenic design particularly in the bureaucratic worked of the ministry of magic and the apropos dwellings of the Lovegoods which look like they bought the house from the old lady who lived in a shoe.  The special effects continue to bring magical elves, spells and whimsical locales to modern England without showing the seams. 

Now if only we had some of Hermoine’s magic spells that would flash-forward us to next July and the opening of the final chapter.  Grade: A-

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