Even though I like to think of this two-part final chapter as being just one very long movie, I'll still share my thoughts on the first half:
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt.1 is the very best film in the series. I know a lot of people reserve that title for PRISONER OF AZKABAN and while that film was special at the time of its release, a little hindsight reveals a ton of flaws and lazy plotting. My personal favorite prior to this was the 5th film, but even that is blown out of the water by DEATHLY HALLOWS. Why is this one so much better? I believe the answer lies firmly with the decision to split the book into two parts. Even the best HARRY POTTER films suffer from the above-mentioned laziness in storytelling. Even if you don't read the books, the films always have a pace and plot that telegraph the fact that they are adaptations of far more in-depth stories. Granted, that is a potential pitfall of any book-to-film adaptation, it's no excuse as it is not an inevitability. DEATHLY HALLOWS doesn't so much solve this problem as much as it circumvents it by doubling the time in which to tell the story.
This first half of the final installment mixes action and drama in a patient way that the previous films could not. The striking and emotional sequences in the film's first act are great. The suspense and fun are there, but so is a life-and-death seriousness that sometimes evades the series. Voldemort's villainy is also pushed to new levels that put Fiennes' performance legitimately in reach of the antagonist big-leagues for the first time in the series.
My biggest concern going into this film was how Yates would depict Harry, Ron and Hermione's time on the road considering how much sickening levity was present in HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Frankly, I found it a bit boring to read, but the film gives this section of the tale an atmosphere and feel that the book failed to. An even more appropriate title for this movie might have been: HARRY POTTER AND THE END OF THE WORLD. At times, I felt as though I was watching a post-apocalyptic film about the wandering survivors of society's collapse and, in a sense, I was. The wizarding world, as it were, is crumbling and threatening to take everything else with it. Understandably, this is an incredibly serious situation for our protagonists and the film truly captures the essence of that seriousness. The scenery is both beautiful and grim and the tension of their travels is present in the actors' performances. Grizzled Harry Potter is quite a sight to behold. Over the last decade, these three young actors have clearly built quite a repoir, but never is it more apparent on screen than it is in this installment. For me, these three characters reach their full potential when removed from all the light-hearted distractions and superfluous, milksop classmates that the walls of Hogwarts provide.
The film ends on a somewhat depressing note, but in a way that is a great lead-in for the second half. The music builds, signifying that the end will be coming soon and we are treated to a damn-near brilliant scene of Voldemort robbing Dumbledore's grave. The effects-laden shots that precede the credits are both stunning and frightening.
I also forgot how much I enjoy House Elfs. Dobby plays the tragic hero in a surprisingly powerful series of events and Kreacher is back with his humorous curmudeoning.
Never once did my viewing experience sour from that dreadful sense that something is getting brushed over or excised completely. All the necessary information from the book is there and much more. Certain parts were even clarified for me, including the titular Deathly Hallows, which were explained in a stunning animated sequence that avoids the cheap feel of standard exposition. Having a 4-5 hour window in which to tell the story makes a world of a difference.
I applaud Yates' willingness to make such a dark film. Most of the negative reviews will likely stem from the lack of whimsy present in his style (just as they did for his first outing - HARRY POTTER 5), but such criticisms are misplaced. The world of Harry Potter is no longer a place for play. The children this series was initially meant for have grown up with it and require a more sophisticated telling of the tale, such as the one this film provides. To some, THE DEATHLY HALLOWS does not match the expectations for what a Harry Potter film should be, but, speaking as one of the above-mentioned childhood fans: this is my Harry Potter. If you want light-hearted fun, then visit the amusement park. I, however, will be patiently waiting out this extended intermission.
And here's a little of what we have in-store for us in part 2: