NEW YORK (CBS) Director David Yates ushers in the beginning of the end in the final chapter of the most successful motion picture franchise of all time.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" is probably the darkest and least exciting of all the Potter adventures to date. It's also the hardest one to keep up with if you haven't read the book or seen the other films.
Yates, who also directed "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" makes little attempt to welcome newcomers by bringing them up to speed. As a result, those who will enjoy this penultimate installment in J.K. Rowling's book series the most are the fans who have seen previous episodes and can relate to the flashbacks liberally sprinkled throughout.
Much of the final book, split into two films (the finale will release next year), focuses on Harry, Hermione and Ron's perilous mission to locate and destroy a series of Horcruxes - the key to Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) immortality. For the first time, the three are without the guidance or protection of any of their professors from Hogwarts and must rely on one another for support.
At the film's open, intercut scenes show the Death Eaters seizing control of the Ministry of Magic, and simultaneously we see Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) looking nervously to the heavens in search of Death Eaters with orders to bring him before Voldemort. At the same time, Hermione (Emma Watson) is erasing any trace of her life with her family as she prepares to accompany Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint) on a mission that might not see her return home. On their travels the trio learns about an old and almost forgotten tale about the legend of the Deathly Hallows.
The long-feared war now being waged weighs heavily on Potter's shoulders, with the result that there are few moments of levity as he prepares for the ultimate battle he has been tasked with since birth: defeating Voldemort.
Each of the three main characters turn in smart performances, more layered than in previous films when they were younger. Grint and Watson, in particular, are able to develop their on-screen romance. The film, considered the most artistic of the series, also reveals some passionate moments, particularly in one almost carnal sequence between Harry and Hermione's characters. Fiennes, too, as the Dark Lord, turns in a bone-chilling performance.
Yates, under pressure to stay true to the book, does a good job keeping track of all the salient elements, but isn't able to linger as much as one would like to fully develop his characters. The need to keep things moving takes precedence. The results are scenes that, at times, seem choppy and lack a certain poeticism. Not so with the cinematography, which captures vivid, breathtaking imagery in the hands of Oscar-winning cinematographer Eduardo Serra. One scene in particular, depicting the tale of the Deathly Hallows, is nothing short of immaculate.
Not to beat Yates down. One does not become cavalier and veer away from accurate storytelling when living up to a multi-billion dollar franchise. Yates is deliberate and capable in moving the story along. And it is immensely difficult to end this movie, as he did, at precisely the point that the end of the whole Harry Potter saga rears its head.
Stunning visuals and larger-than-life battles, mixed in with the pleasure of seeing the three heroes grow up and engage in some teenage angst and drama, help viewers stay connected to the Muggles and wizards they've come to love. This movie will keep fans going until the final chapter is served up.