"Fair warning, it tastes like goblin piss."
The first twenty minutes tell the tale of what HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I has in store for us. Voldemort and his minions the Death Eaters have laid siege to their fantastical realm, and now have begun to stake claim to the land of Muggles (boring people like you and I). In a few unspoken scenes, Harry Potter's surrogate family moves away, while Hermione Granger casts a spell over her parents, removing all memories of her. A touching moment if there ever was one. The patchwork group of heroes have banded together; as it has been in the past, there really is only one goal: protect Harry. An aerial battle transpires, chock-full of deft maneuvers and near misses. Regrettably, a popular character dies offscreen with only a mere mention of his/her passing. A curious decision by director David Yates.
What I've enjoyed most over the last decade of wizards and witches is the change of disposition. The first installment, THE SORCEROR'S STONE manifested the now famous magic domain, all the while introducing its three main characters: Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley. Like them, we were immersed in a whimsical world. The characters were all whisked away to Hogwarts, where there lived giants, ogres, a cerberus, you name it. We met Professor's Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris. Michael Gambon later stepped in) and Snape (Alan Rickman) among others. It was quite evident was that this was a kid's work. There was no real danger involved; it was clear everyone was going to survive.
With every subsequent film getting progressively darker, my interest has only increased. The fun and joy the students experienced has been swapped with pain and suffering. That is to say that no character seems safe any longer. In the earlier stories, the most substantial threat that everyone faced was whether they could pass their 'Potions' final exam. Sure, Voldemort was around, but he was more mythical boogeyman than callous killer. Now, Dumbledore is dead, Snape is his murderer; the perils are as real as the wands they hold in their hands.
A change in the colour palette is evident. Whereas the six preceding films were filled with bright and warm hues, HALLOWS PART I remains subdued; the picture is hushed with dark blues and greys. The change in tone coincides with the complete removal of Hogwarts--the main reason it seems more adult. The desks and text books are replaced with menacing forests and bleak outlooks.
The Deathly Hallows are a triumvirate of objects, reputedly given to three brothers by the Grim Reaper himself: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility. Whomever bears these three gains immortality; they would essentially cheat Death. It becomes a race to see who can find them first, the most important Scavenger's Hunt in history.
I have not read the novels (I'm waiting for the completion of the film saga before starting), but Yates does an admirable job juggling the exhausting number of characters and wizardry terms. I admit to being confused a few times with various names and happenings; the way important objects (see: the sword of Gryffindor, a magic mirror) suddenly appear at the most opportune time flew over my head like those who ride on brooms. A refresher course by watching the previous six chapters would be recommended (if you have twelve plus hours to spare).
There are a few points when Harry and company seem to be running in circles. We are told tirelessly about the dire need to find and destroy the horcruxes--mundane objects that each contain a part of Voldemort's soul--yet for a big chunk of the film the kids go camping and dance around jovially. There is a wedding earlier on for one of the Weasley brothers. Hermione tells us that perhaps a celebration is the perfect time to cut the dire tension. Minutes later the nuptials are attacked, more lives are lost. Premonition appears not to be a learned power. As I am not yet attuned to the literature, it's difficult to determine what to attribute the lapses and peculiar plot devices to.
That being said, HALLOWS PART I is a sublime work. All the actors involved are running at the highest cylinder. When Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) began their exploits all those years ago, they were relative nobodies. The selection of child stars is a tricky one; that the producers were able to find capable and believable stars is a credit to them. One of the greatest strengths of all the POTTER films has been the supporting cast; a literal who's who of English stagecraft: Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Kenneth Branagh, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall. Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans are present for this seventh chapter, adding to the already overflowing riches.
The one to watch is the exceptional Ralph Fiennes, who plays Voldemort. His character's role has increased as the number of remaining films diminishes. As stated before, he is finally a material evil. His ghastly pale skin and oddly misshapen face are what nightmares are forged from. He coldly executes a Hogwart's teacher then sends his pet serpent to feast on her corpse. The film only hints at what he is capable of unleashing. It's captivating to think of what awaits us in the culminating confrontation in HALLOWS PART II We've all waited ten years for the inevitable Harry/Voldemort showdown. This is a genuine clash of the titans.
Like the enormous burden placed on our bespectacled champion to rid the world of the ultimate evil, so to was the hope for these films to succeed. Supposedly, author J.K. Rowling created this universe while napping on a train; the framework for the stories that made her a billionaire came to her in a dream. What she has fashioned and evolved is nothing short of marvelous. What began as a children's book is now richly laden with adult tones and repercussions. Steven Spielberg was originally offered the opportunity to adapt Rowling's works. Due to his apprehension concerning the source material and the public's reception to it, his thought was they be animated, while condensing multiple novels into one picture. What a silly decision that seemed in hindsight.