The curtain finally has begun to fall on the Harry Potter series, drawing a dark veil over the story of the young wizard. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 has a forbidding feel that settles over the story like an ominous fog.
But (with me there's usually a but) there's only so much time one productively can wander in a fog. The next-to-the-last Potter movie - J. K. Rowling's final Potter book has been broken into two parts for the screen -- amounts to an awfully long build-up to a finale that's bound to surpass it, if only because it will once and for all settle the battle between Harry and the evil Lord Voldemort.
This 2-hour and 26 minute helping of Harry interruptus features action, dry stretches and nuances that probably will elude those who haven't immersed themselves in the books. Of course, Potter enthusiasts are so many in number, they have made the series the most financially lucrative in movie history, and probably don't give a hoot what the rest of us think.
Say this, the Potter movies have provided a well-deserved payday for some brilliant actors. The opening scenes of this edition benefit from the presence of Bill Nighy (as Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic) and Brendan Gleeson (as Alastor Mad-Eye Moody), two actors who can't be overwhelmed by the abundant if slightly repetitive special effects that director David Yates applies to the proceedings.
Is it me or did the numerous wand fights in this edition bear an unfortunate resemblance to old-fashioned gunfights?
The movie opens in a climate of fear and apprehension. Dealing from a position of strength, Lord Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters are on the verge of triumph. Can they be stopped? Will Harry find the Horcruxes? Has anyone got a glossary?
Yes, there are amazing scenes. An early-picture meeting at Voldemort's retreat plays like a board meeting presided over by an abusive chairman, and gives Ralph Fiennes, as Voldemort, a little noseless face time. A late-picture bit of animation - the crucial Tale of the Three Brothers - ranks among the finest set pieces of the entire series. The use of Nick Cave's song, O Children, allows Harry and Hermione to share a moment of dance.
The trio that has carried the series deserves our appreciation. Daniel Radcliffe makes a convincing Harry even now that he's beginning to show traces of five o'clock shadow. Rupert Grint retains the spark that makes Ron Weasley appealling, although his character has begun to vent jealousies about what he perceives as a developing romance between Harry and Hermione. And Emma Watson has grown into a Hermione whose girlish steadfastness has begun to show signs of womanly assertiveness.
Relations among the trio hit a rough patch in an overly long segment in which Harry, Hermione and Ron wander through dense forests or camp on a rocky cliff in a tent that looks small from the outside, but expands once its inhabitants have entered. Why not? This is, after all, a J.K. Rowling universe. Magic rules.
Reaction to Hallows may boil down to whether one is a zealous fan who regards Rowling's work as holy writ. If you are one of those, you may lament some of screenwriter Steven Kloves' excisions. Kloves does, however, weave in emotionally charged plot business involving two elves, Kreacher and Dobby, as well as enough plot currents to breed exhaustion in readers were I to make an attempt to recount them. All I'll say is that I would have welcomed more pruning.
My wife told me she overhead a telling comment in the women's restroom after the preview screening. "At the rate this was going, I thought we'd be here until midnight," said a woman who evidently knew precisely how much of the story was still to come and who must have momentarily forgotten that Warner Bros. had opted to split Rowling's final Potter book in two.
Another friend said he found this edition to be action-packed, a description that did not jibe with my impression.I felt the gathering of forces that should lead to a smashing finale, but too often thought the movie was dragging its feet.
For that finale, we must wait until next summer, when - as another fan assured me - we'll see the payoff of much of what transpired in Part 1. I hope she's right. Although it's well crafted, I couldn't shake the sense that Hallows, Part I is -- at least a little -- the cinematic equivalent of spending 40 years in the desert without reaching the Promised Land.
I left the theater trying to sort out some of the movie' s many details, cataloging the parts of the movie I found impressive and harboring one overriding thought, "For heaven's sake, let's get on with it."