Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Jim provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
"These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today." --Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic
Everything comes to an end. In this case, slowly. Very slowly. Warner Bros. couldn't let one of the biggest franchises in movie history just end with a single film, so they divided the final book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," into two parts, releasing them in 2010 and 2011. Whether this was a good idea or a bad one, viewers will have to determine for themselves. Basically, you've got the slower, talkier section in "Part 1" and the more action-packed section in "Part 2." Personally, I find most of J.K. Rowling's works wordy, overwritten, so I could have done with a single movie reduction of the final chapter in the saga. But I'm not a typical viewer or a typical "Potter" fan, so what do I know. I just like the movies but don't particularly need to see any more of them than necessary.
Remember when the publishers changed the title of Rowling's first book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" for American audiences because they weren't sure Americans would know what a Philosopher's Stone was? OK, so what the heck are "Deathly Hallows"? To quote from Wikipedia, which puts it better than I could, "The Deathly Hallows refer to three legendary magical objects (supposedly obtained from Death himself) mentioned in a fairy tale: the Elder Wand, which could defeat all others in battle, the Resurrection Stone, which could bring back the souls of the deceased, and the Cloak of Invisibility, which could hide the wearer from most forms of detection and shield them from many magic spells. Together the objects were said to make their owner a 'Master of Death.'"
Harry not only has the three Deathly Hallows to sort out, he determines to continue looking for the hidden horcruxes that can defeat Voldemort. So, essentially, this final pair of episodes is a quest adventure, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione seeking or using all these objects. It becomes a sort of fantasy video game where the heroes must find their way through a maze to obtain all the needed magical articles to win. Fair enough; since Rowling freely borrows from just about every other fantasy writer in creation (leaning heavily toward Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur," with a dose of Orwell's "1984" thrown in), why not use a video-game format for the action.
But so far it sounds as though I'm just grousing. Perhaps I am. The fact is, I found much to like in "The Deathly Hallows, Part 1," but much that almost put me to sleep. Fortunately, the good outweighs the mediocre, so in the end this is one of the better installments in the series.
David Yates, who directed "The Order of the Phoenix" and "The Half-Blood Prince," also directed the final two chapters. He does so in an honest, straightforward, unmannered style; if you liked his previous work, you'll like "The Deathly Hallows." As Jim so well explains it below, Yates and director of photography Eduardo Serra create a look and feel of loneliness in the film. Sure, you'll find all the old, familiar characters here, from Hagrid to Snape to Bellatrix to the Malfoys, but they each show up only for a moment or two, practically cameos. This first half of the final book is all about Harry, Hermione, and Ron, their venture, and their ever-more-complicated personal relationships.
As he has with all the "Potter" films except "The Order of the Phoenix," Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay, this time without quite as many constraints on what he could adapt from the book and what he had to leave out. And composer Alexandre Desplat ("The Golden Compass," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The King's Speech") did the music for a change, although you'd be hard pressed to remember much of the score.
An opening scene with the Death Eaters is rather grim. An escape sequence with the Harry look-alikes is quite exhilarating. And a sequence in the Ministry of Magic is appropriately suspenseful. Then comes a lengthy chain of events in the woods and mountains that seems to go on forever. There's a little something here for everyone.
When the Wife-O-Meter and I first saw this motion picture in a theater, a man and his young daughter were sitting next to us. The daughter, who looked probably ten or under, appeared scared to death throughout the story. Beware: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" is not a children's film.
John's film rating: 7/10
The Film According to Jim:
They were so young, and innocent, and little.
Daniel Radcliffe was twelve when "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" hit theaters in 2001, while his co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were eleven and thirteen. Through "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002), "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004), "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005), "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007), "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (2009), and now the first of two "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" installments, fans have watched these young actors grow up on-camera. They've come of age, and the franchise has matured right along with them.
The first three Potter films, based on the popular book series by J.K. Rowling, were rated PG. But "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" earned a PG-13 rating, as did the next installment. After a brief return to PG-land (no doubt in response to some complaining parents) with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the final two films followed the same dark trajectory as Rowling's books. And that means PG-13 with a twist. While the films to this point have neatly fit into the fantasy-adventure mold, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1" comes closer to the mystery-thriller genre. It's darker in every single way: visually, emotionally, tonally, and metaphorically.
Hogwarts is nowhere to be seen in "Deathly Hallows," and Voldemort, the evil wizard whose name was not to be mentioned in early installments and who was shown only briefly over the course of the series, gets more no-nose air time in this second-to-last film than ever before. In fact, a lot of things that had limited exposure get more air time, like his minions, the Dementors and Death Eaters. And some old familiars--like Dobby and Kreacher, who always reminded me a little of Gollum from "Lord of the Rings"--also get time in front of the camera.
Rowling drew liberally from many sources while crafting this series. You'll recognize Arthurian legend, Greek and Roman mythology, and especially references to fascism. Young Harry Potter survives an attack by Lord Voldemort, who leads a force of wizards determined to keep wizard bloodlines from mingling with "Muggles" or common humans. That, of course, echoes the "Master Race" obsession of Hitler. Harry's parents were part of a group who tried to stand up to Voldemort, and the series charts Harry's discovery by wizards as the chosen one who survived Voldemort's magic, and his subsequent education as a wizard-in-training at Hogwarts, where he meets good friends like Hermoine (Watson) and Ron (Grint). But the forces of evil have gradually been working to gain a foothold again, and each episode has seen an increase in conflict, with more characters dying. This time even more people die. A Hogwarts' teacher is tortured and killed for maintaining that wizards and muggles can interbreed. And the Minister of Magic is killed, replaced by a government that is suddenly and subversively loyal to Voldemort. That makes Harry "Undesirable No. 1," and a wizard who's suddenly in need of protection more than ever before.
The first part of the film concerns the good wizards' attempts too get Harry to safety, because the Chosen One is their only hope for eventually combating the gigantic evil that Voldemort represents. Then it becomes largely a tale of Harry (Radcliffe), Hermoine (Watson), and Ron (Grint) on the lam, but also on a quest. They've been willed objects by the late Dumbledore, and those objects come into play as they try to solve the riddle of a missing locket, a repeating sign, and the legendary Deathly Hallows--three objects that possess the most powerful magic on Earth because they were conveyed by Death itself. It's simple, really: if they solve the riddle, they get the tools to defeat the Lord of Darkness, who has hidden parts of spirit inside horcruxes that the young wizards still must find and destroy.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" is the scariest of the Potter films, in part because of its unrelenting structure. Patterned after horror-thrillers, the film deliberately goes for scare-related tension and pop-up terror. The cinematography and musical backdrop reinforce that emphasis in almost every frame. Always, there's the chance of evil knocking at the door. Or breaking it down. The dark-and-stormy-night palette is fortified by interior scenes that are droop-heavy with shadows. And cinematographer Eduoardo Serra uses more foreshortening and isolated figures in long shots to heighten the sense of loneliness--and one of the first rules of horror-thrillers is to get them alone and away from a crowd. There are considerably more "alone" scenes this outing--quiet moments where we see the characters alone with their thoughts, especially when the three friends are in the forest. If they were tiny again, it might play out like a wizard version of Hansel and Gretel, but Rowling's books change in tone to keep pace with her maturing characters, and the films follow her lead.
Gone are the Hogwarts' fun and games, or the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slitherin. The magic classes are behind them, and the only competition isn't for Quiddich honors. In this final installment, the kids are playing for keeps. How can they not, with an underlying theme of genocide bubbling to the surface? Besides, they're not really kids anymore.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" should please Potter fans. In fact, they might even forgive Warner Brothers for making them wait to see Part 2 because it prolongs the inevitable. When you've grown right alongside this bunch of young wizards, like the stars themselves you just don't want it to end.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" is rated PG-13, but parents should know that there's really some intense stuff here--blood, included. At some point one of the three main characters just about has his arm ripped off, and if your child was frightened by the Dementors in earlier films, that poor kid is going to be afraid throughout much of this one. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" is for adults and older children, really, or those young ones who've read the books and have some sense of what's coming. It may be the scariest, but it's also one of the strongest in the series.
Jim's film rating: 8/10
The Warners video engineers do another excellent job transferring the 2.40:1 ratio film to Blu-ray, this time using an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a dual-layer BD50. The engineers don't appear to have fussed with it too much, leaving a thin veneer of natural print grain intact and eschewing much or any DNR or edge enhancement. It's an extraordinarily dark film, even for this series, so don't expect to see many bright colors or revealing details. Still, there is decent definition, about what I remember from seeing in a movie theater; good contrasts; and solid black levels that, nevertheless, admit a fair amount of particulars to show through. When the picture is good, it is very, very good, and even in the shadows it looks fine.
Warners use lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio to reproduce the soundtrack, which is splendid in almost every way. You'll hear some splendid surround sounds during the more action-oriented sequences, as well as more-subtle, environmental noises throughout the film, things like leaves rustling, breezes whispering, thunder faintly rumbling, and voices making themselves known from all around the room. Strong dynamics, a wide frequency range, and a clear, quiet midrange round out an impressively nuanced audio experience.
There are a number of items exclusive to the Blu-ray disc, most of them, in fact, so we'll start there on disc one with the "Maximum Movie Mode," a picture-in-picture affair hosted by Jason Isaacs with Focus Point featurettes along the way. Next, you can access the Focus Points separately, and there are six of them, totaling about nineteen minutes, their titles fairly self-explanatory: "The Last Days of Privet Drive," "Hagrid's Motorbike," "Magical Tents!," "Death Eaters Attack Cafe," "Creating Dobby and Kreacher," and "The Return of Griphook." Also on disc one, you'll find a BD-Live feature for those viewers who have player access to the Internet.
On disc two, also a Blu-ray, there is an array of featurettes. The first is "The Seven Harrys," a five-minute look at the sequence in which seven of the movie's characters must all appear as Harry. Next is "On the Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver and James," thirteen minutes with Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, and Oliver and James Phelps on the golf course discussing their roles over the years; followed by "Dan, Rupert and Emma's Running Competition," three minutes with the director discussing the team's competitive spirit. Then, we have "Godric's Hollow/The Harry and Nagini Battle," six minutes; and "The Frozen Lake," four minutes, more making-of material.
Finally, we get eight additional scenes totaling about eleven minutes; "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1: Behind the Soundtrack," four minutes on the film's music; a promotional trailer for "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," six minutes at the grand opening of the Universal Orlando, Florida, resort and amusement park; a Sneak Peek at "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2"; thirty scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
And, because this is a Combo Pack, on disc three, a DVD, we find a standard-definition edition of the movie and a digital copy for iTunes and Windows Media, the offer expiring on September 13, 2011. The three discs come housed in a regular Blu-ray case, not an Eco-case, further enclosed in a handsomely embossed slipcover.
For fans looking to find almost every last detail from the final book in the "Potter" series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," and its companion, "Part 2," should provide them everything they could want, which is not to say everything I wanted. At almost five hours, the final two-film fling seems a little too much, just as the book seemed inflated. But who am I to complain. If you don't like parts of the movie, use the forward button. The parts that do work, however, are as enjoyable as anything in the series.
Of course, Hollywood may not still not let the "Potter" books go, even with two final movies for the one final book. As of this writing, the folks at Warner Bros. were considering going back to the beginning of the book series and making several more movies featuring new young actors in stories involving parts of the books that the earlier motion pictures left out. By which time, no doubt, Ms. Rowling will have written another "Potter" adventure or two, which the studio can also film. No, we haven't heard the end of the Hogwarts epic yet and probably won't for quite some time to come.