Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, David Bradley, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Frances de la Tour, Hazel Douglas, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Evanna Lynch, John Hurt, Toby Jones (voice), Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall, Richard Griffiths, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Fiona Shaw, Cl�mence Po�sy, Brendan Gleeson, Andy Linden, Natalia Tena, David Thewlis, Rhys Ifans, Imelda Staunton, Miranda Richardson, Dave Legeno, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Bill Nighy, Harry Melling, Helen McCrory, Peter Mullan, George Harris
Written by: Steve Kloves, based on a novel by J.K. Rowling
Directed by: David Yates
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality
Running Time: 146
Date: 11/11/2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Horcrux in a Row

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director David Yates turns in his third Harry Potter film, the seventh overall, and the result is probably the darkest, dreariest Hollywood blockbuster since The Dark Knight. Even more interestingly, this Harry Potter is also incredibly passive and even ineffective. These are the kinds of things that may cause some critics and viewers to complain, saying that the "fun" has gone out of the series, but at the same time, this latest installment -- its second half will be released next year -- is almost Bressonian in its setup and execution. If nothing else, it's audacious.

Most of the previous movies show the trio leaving for a new school year, but this year -- which should have been their graduation -- is not like that. Most of the two-and-a-half hour running time consists of our three young heroes, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), hiding, waiting, sitting around, and trying not to get killed. Their job in this movie is to find several Horcruxes and destroy them; though they manage only to find one and do not know how to destroy it. Meanwhile they must take turns guarding it, and it has the ability to make each of them crabby and argumentative.

Each time our trio of friends ventures out, someone attacks them and they are forced to retreat, teleporting to yet another desolate location: the woods, some stony mountains, or a dreary, freezing countryside.

Beloved character actors like Bill Nighy (who makes his Harry Potter debut here), Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Helena Bonham Carter, Timothy Spall, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, and Rhys Ifans get maybe one or two scenes apiece. Ralph Fiennes, playing the noseless "he who must not be named" Lord Voldemort, gets one or two more than that. Virtually any scene that features any of them is usually interrupted by some violent event, from which our heroes must suddenly withdraw.

As a narrative and an entertainment, this is somewhat unsatisfying, but in conjuring up a mood of hopelessness and despair, it's crackerjack. There's even a scene in which Hermione gives Harry a haircut, probably out of equal parts necessity and boredom; she is unable to finish the job, and it doesn't really matter. The entire movie feels like that, aborted and depressed. Later, to hide him from some intruders, she casts a spell on him that changes his face, including a swollen, black eye. The new look is appropriate; the characters feel beaten and exhausted.

I would have given anything to be in on the meetings for this movie, as the filmmakers discussed the novel and the weird way in which they chose to adapt it. I applaud them. As gray and cloudy as the movie is, the filmmakers understand that we know these characters well. We have followed them for nearly ten years now, and we don't need anything other than a few shortcuts and odd moments to know how they're feeling. And so, even though Yates has not exactly delivered a traditional blockbuster, neither has he shorted the movie's emotional content. It's an odd, mature work, and I will be curious to see how, or if, it catches on.

Warner Home Video's Blu-Ray looks amazingly sharp and not grainy, considering the bleak look of the film. It comes with a DVD copy and a digital copy, as well as some behind-the-scenes featurettes and bonus footage. Presumably the real bonus set is waiting until the release of Part II.

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