REVIEW: Less Magic, More Brooding in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Movieline Score: 8

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga began as a series of children's books and evolved into young-adult ones: The series grew up right in step with that first group of readers, even though, of course, people of all ages continue to love them today. The movies based on those books have offered a concurrent, dovetailing kind of pleasure: The joy of watching young actors grow up on-screen, learning as they go and, quite surprisingly, finding new dimensions in their characters each time out. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint -- as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley -- haven't become worn out by their roles, as the admittedly older Twilight stars have. Who knows what their post-Harry Potter careers will bring? The body of work they've already amassed -- up to and including this almost-final installment in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 -- can stand by itself. Over the years, the magic in their bones has only grown stronger.

That's a good thing, because David Yates' Deathly Hallows: Part 1 requires them to work harder than ever. With the series rounding to a close, there's less magic and more brooding in the air, further complicated by the extremely intricate plot mechanics of Rowling's seventh and final Harry Potter book. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is as fleet and as skillful a movie as it can be, given that Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves are pretty much dancing as fast as they can. They do a great deal of condensing, eliding and tweaking as they try to cram 759 pages worth of doorstop into two big-event movies.

It's a testament to their skills that Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is, in the span of its two-and-a-half hours, rarely boring. The movie opens, literally and figuratively, with gathering storm clouds. Dumbledore is dead (played by Michael Gambon, he appears here only in very brief flashbacks), and his demise has further strengthened the powers of the reptilian, unnervingly noseless Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Voldemort has called a meeting of his cronies, where he lays out a plan for the vanquishing of Harry Potter, complete with human sacrifice: A semi-conscious woman is suspended above the meeting table, whimpering in fear. She's a Hogwarts teacher -- her subject is Muggle Studies -- who is not just pro-Muggle but who also believes it's a good thing for Muggles and Wizards to mate. This teacher's convictions gravely offend Voldemort's ideas of racial purity, and as a symbolic prelude to his regime of ethnic cleansing -- the goal is to destroy all Muggles -- he murders her, offering the remains (off-screen) to his snake familiar, Nagini.

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