H ere's the skinny on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, aka HP7: it delivers the goods, but isn't a standalone movie. In it, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) sets out to fulfil the perilous mission entrusted to him by Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon): seek and destroy the four remaining Horcruxes that contain pieces of Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) soul. With Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters steadily rising in power, it does feel like mission impossible; still, Harry's two best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) sign on to help.
Now if that explanation didn't make complete sense, well, HP7 just isn't for you. Additionally, it employs some shorthand story telling devices — for example, when Harry and friends are in a London café, they wonder how the bad guys discovered them so quickly. Or take the mystifying montages about a particular wand and the people such as Gellert Grindelwald associated with it. For enlightenment behind these events, you would need to refer back to the book.
But, fair enough: with the previous six instalments earning some US$5.7 billion at the box office, Warner Bros, director David Yates, and scriptwriter Steve Kloves had good reason to figure that HP7 needed no back story explanations — there are enough fans out there to make the seventh, at the very least, a multi-million dollar money-spinner.
There's no Hogwarts in HP7, and the general atmosphere is one of foreboding and gloom, atmospherically filmed by cinematographer Eduardo Serra. The set pieces — the chases, the battles, the magic — are vibrantly depicted, but the first half of the movie does meander, even though it is true to the book.
For fans, as the series draws to a close, there's a special charm in seeing the principal trio of actors grow from cute kids into appealing teens hovering on the brink of adulthood. We feel protective towards them, as they step out to battle evil without the security of parents or teachers.
Fans will also enjoy the — too-brief — reunions with previous characters, such as Helena Bonham Carter as the murderous witch Bellatrix LeStrange and Alan Rickman as the enigmatic Severus Snape. It's quite the “who's who” list of British actors. British talent new to HP7 includes Bill Nighy as the Minister of Magic who, crucially, hands over the mysterious objects bequeathed by Dumbledore to Harry, Hermione and Ron. Rhys Ifans plays Xenophilius Lovegood, father of the wondrously weird Luna (Evanna Lynch); it's in his home that we are finally introduced to the titular Deathly Hallows via a delightfully animated sequence.
The animation constitutes truly magical story telling, and HP7 has several such moments. One is a standout sequence — not in the book — that occurs when things aren't going well for Harry and friends. Ron has walked off in a fit of rage and Hermione is troubled. To cheer her up, Harry gets Hermione to her feet and into an impromptu dance. It's a lovely scene full of layered emotions, when you could almost hear the collective global gasp of hope emitted by the Harry-Hermione fanclub — ie those who fervently believe that the story's romantic pairing should have been between these two protagonists. Watson herself said in an interview: “That was the scene that really divided the crew. People had very different feelings about whether it should be included or not.”
Watson's Hermione stands out as a thoughtfully nuanced performance of a girl-woman, wise yet vulnerable and caught between conflicting loyalties. Dobby the house elf also makes for great cinema, and the audience at the screening raised a spontaneous cheer for his stand on being a Free house-elf.
If HP7 largely lays the groundwork for the coming showdown between Harry and the Dark Lord in the final film, it is also an enjoyable piece on its own. Whoever in Warner Bros thought of splitting J.K. Rowling's seventh book into two parts must have been promoted several times over. In fairness, though, it feels necessary: there's so much material to deal with, that HP7 can only touch on many of the book's themes despite all the extra running time. For fans who miss the intricacies, well, Harry Potter the TV series, anyone?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Genre: Fantasy/Drama Director: David Yates Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter Storyline: Harry and friends seek the mysterious Horcruxes that must be destroyed if Voldemort is to be defeated Bottomline: Excellent fun for those up to speed with Harry Potter, parts 1 to 6