DVD Release Date: April 15, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: November 19, 2010
Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality)
Genre: Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Adaptation, Sequel
Run Time: 146 min.
Director: David Yates
Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleason, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon


Seven books and six films down this road now, let's set aside for a moment the controversy over wizards and witches. Forget  author J.K. Rowling's comments about the Christian parallels in her Harry Potter novels.

The basic question that needs to be asked of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is: Does the movie tell its story well? It's the latest in a series of tales about the boy wizard, the first half of the final chapter in that saga. Some familiarity with the source material is to be expected by viewers. But will Deathly Hallows hold the attention of viewers who haven't read all the books or seen all the movies? Will these viewers be able to pick up enough of the story to follow it through this one film—and maybe even the next? Does it work on that most fundamental level?

Harry Potter fans will be dismayed to learn that the answers to those three questions are no, no and no, as most of them will come armed with the story knowledge that will allow them to follow the film. This part of the audience will leave wondering what others don't see in the film.

Still, as one of the most successful film franchises of all time winds down, Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 1 demonstrates that these adaptations have lost whatever spark of life they may have once had.

In Hallows, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) try to stay a step ahead of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). With Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) out of the way, Voldemort is on the verge of conquering the realms of magic and of Muggles. Harry and his friends seek to destroy the Horcruxes that contain Voldemort's soul, while Voldemort looks for a special wand that will allow him to Conquer All.

The perils of adapting popular literary works are on display in Deathly Hallows. The film runs two-and-a-half hours to accommodate as much of the source material as it can (and remember, this is just part one), but the film is saddled with poor pacing. Scenes of Harry, Hermione and Ron involve short discussions to sketch out story elements before a major special-effects sequence, chase or fight scene breaks out.

Watching Deathly Hallows is also to behold a great cast being little used. Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall are all featured in this dark tale, but their fleeting screen time leaves these fine performers underused. (One can't help but think of how much better they all were in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, an adaptation of dark source material that worked much better than this one does.) Everyone sacrifices for Harry, but he's going through the motions in this chapter of the story, leaving the emotional reactions to the heroes' dire situation to others. Of the three principal characters, only Ron undergoes a serious personal transformation, while Hermione is the only one who seems seriously concerned about the story's threats and dangers.

Director David Yates also helmed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but he's not given much flexibility from a script by Steve Kloves, who once made interesting films like The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone before taking on the Potter adaptations. This Potter film looks good, thanks to the work of cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Girl with a Pearl Earring) and some special effects that are appropriate to the menacing tone of some of the story's darker portions. And we can all be grateful that, for once, a big-budget spectacle is presented in the traditional two dimensions rather than in 3D. The film sparks to life not during its action sequences but rather when it shows Ron's growing struggles with jealousy and suspicion (he's given a vision of Harry and Hermione passionately kissing while apparently topless, although everything below their shoulders is obscured).

Obviously, this is not kids' stuff. Deathly Hallows has a moment or two of levity, but it's somber, at times frightening, and altogether quite dark. The darkness is suitable to the gravity of the story, but in case parents are unaware, Deathly Hallows isn't a fun-for-the-whole-family ride.