By NEIL POND
The latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise comes to the big screen with a darker, denser, more ominous overtone than any of its six cinematic predecessors.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” is based on the seventh, and concluding, Harry Potter novel by J.K. Rawlings, an epic wrap-it-up yarn so sprawling and spread out it had to be split into two separate movies. “Part II” will be released in 3-D next July.
For now, however, fans of the boy wizard will have to be content with feasting on the elaborately structured, two-dimensional set-up for what promises to be one heck of a smackdown between good and evil.
As “Part I” unfolds, darkness has crept into the lives of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). The sinister Lord Voldmort (Ralph Fiennes) controls the Ministry of Magic, the government over the magical world in Great Britain. Harry, the young wizard prince, is the main obstacle standing between Voldmort and immortality in an empire under his vile domination.
The Harry Potter novels, and the movies made from them, have created a rich, teeming make-believe world of characters, lingo and mythology, one that would likely prove most nearly impenetrable to anyone just now climbing onboard the HP train. Harry’s mission in “Part I” involves finding and destroying Horcruxes, evading swooping Death Eaters, and discovering the crucial relationship between the mysterious objects that make up the so-called Deathly Hallows.
If you know what all those things are, you’re already washed in the blood.
Everyone else, however, will just have to hang on as the saga races along to its grand finale, with no time now to explain itself for the uninitiated.
There are a couple of standout sequences, neither of which (refreshingly) relies on bombastic computer-generated effects. One involves Harry, Ron and Hermione’s stealthy visit back to the heavily guarded Ministry of Magic, using a magical spell that lets them assume someone else’s physical appearance. (Other, “grown-up” actors portray them, to often hilarious effect.) Another terrific moment comes with a storybook tale depicted as a marvelously creepy animation about three brothers and the deal they make with Death.
It was just a couple of movies ago that Potter fans were buzzing about Harry’s first kiss. Just wait ’til they see the smoldering, bare-torso-caressing, tongue-knotting lip lock that smokes up the “Deathly Hallows” forest. It’s a real eye-popper that might have parents scrambling to cover the wide eyes of their little wizard wannabes.
Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, the young actors who play Harry, Ron and Hermione, have literally grown up before our eyes, from wide-eyed kids to adults now in their early 20s---alongside their Harry Potter audience. The three main actors, and many of the other cast members, have appeared in all the movies.
What does Hollywood hold for them next? We’ll find out when Harry Potter’s magic wand finally goes out, in what’s expected to be a blaze of glory, out next summer.