Silver Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I ***
Is it just me, or have the Harry Potter movies and books been coming out steadily for the last thirty years?
With an almost unending stream of hype over the release of one new chapter or another, either in the book series or the film adaptations, J.K. Rowling's boy wizard has become an inevitable and inescapable facet of pop culture, which is wearying. Considering that, for the most part, there's precious little difference between any given installment of the series (Harry goes to school, a new teacher turns up, they're probably an asshole, Snape is mean, Voldemort tries to come back, Harry saves the day despite ominous suggestions of future troubles), those who've read the books and watched the movies have essentially partaken of the exact same story fourteen times over-- with a bonus coming in the second half of this bisected finale.
There's at least some reprieve this time around in that the formula has changed. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows doesn't open with a look at muggle life before shipping the kids off to Hogwarts, but instead finds our post-pubescent heroes on the run following a takeover of the magical world by Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his disciples.
Following Dumbledore's demise, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) set about searching for a series of Horcruxes, mystical objects imbued with a part of Voldemort's mangled soul. To vanquish him, they must destroy the talismans-- which proves more difficult than it seems.
Which is why about half of the movie consists of the three stars wandering around in the woods and glowering at a haunted locket. If that sounds like boring cinema, well, it is. The seventh book is, in many ways, the least cinematic of the series, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings: a lot of aimless wandering in the woods. There's some more mature character conflict here (a mostly harmless love triangle between the three leads) and some effective quiet scenes, like the dance between Harry and Hermione, but most of the movie after the action-packed opening is dull.
The seventh Harry Potter flick shares another thing in common with the Lord of the Rings movies: As an individual film apart from the rest of the series, it utterly lacks structure. There's no real logical midpoint in Rowling's novel, so, in their quest to stretch the novel into two movies, presumably with the intent of both appeasing fans by not doing much cutting and also of course to make another few hundred million dollars, director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves pretty much just let the movie end. It has no arc, and after sitting through nearly two and a half hours of film, the viewer is given no satisfaction. The implication is that we must come back for the next one, which seems likely; if you've made it this far, you're probably not quitting now. But it's that same confidence in the fans' slavish devotion that makes this round of Potter, although one of the more impressively shot and acted installments, also one of the worst.