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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 04:15 am

Potter stumbles at the finish line with Hallows

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Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I.

Hollywood is not above gouging filmgoers every chance it gets (see the current 3-D scam for proof) and it’s obvious Warner Brothers Studios is out to squeeze every last dime from the fans of the Harry Potter franchise by splitting the last of J.K. Rowling’s novels into two features. Still, I held out some hope that these movies would be solidly made and entertaining, as the film series has steadily improved and Rowling’s material is undeniably compelling. Unfortunately, greed has gotten in the way of David Yates’ artistic vision as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a cumbersome, plodding piece of work that runs in the face of the previous entries.

When last we left Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), he and his cohorts Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) had fled Hogwarts School of Magic as it had been taken over by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his minions. In search of the five remaining Horcruxes, each of which contains a piece of Voldemort’s soul and could render him vulnerable when destroyed, this frantic trio find themselves on the run because various assassins have been sent to kill them before they succeed.

While this might seem to be an overly simplistic summary of a 2-½ hour film, nothing more than this happens. The movie does little but run in place, as the search that should drive the story becomes a millstone of repetitious events that in the end covers very little ground. Harry and his friends end up achieving less than half of their quest by the film’s end and instead of setting up a feeling of anticipation for the series’ final part, there’s a sense of dread that there’s far too much ground to cover, especially if its approached with the same deadening pace that’s applied here.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the film is that there’s not an overpowering sense of urgency or tension. The assassins on Harry’s trail are lightweights and lack menace. With the exception of an early sequence, easily the best in the film, we only get glimpses of Voldemort, while this is the only appearance of the turncoat wizard Snape (Alan Rickman). That being said, it’s quite a moment as we get a true sense of Voldemort’s evil with him feeding an instructor from Hogwart’s to his pet snake. There’s a palpable feeling of horror here that the film never recreates and it suffers for it.

To be sure, fans of the series will likely have few objections and as with the other entries in the series, this one is a delight to look at. However, in brushing aside the strategy they’ve built their success on – film the highlights of Rowling’s novels and scuttle the minutiae – the producers of Hallows, Part 1 have abused the good will of their fans, foisting upon them a movie that spins its wheels and fails to provide a compelling end that viewers and the series deserve.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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