"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is at least 1/2 of a proper conclusion. The seventh book in author J.K. Rowling's wizard phantasmagoria, "Deathly Hallows" has been chopped into two feature films to capture the full lung capacity of the material, and perhaps yank some additional revenue along the way. But that's cynicism, and there's nothing cynical about this gorgeously crafted, perilous journey with three heroes who've grown up before our eyes over the last decade, iconically repelling evil with the support of a miraculous, focused production team. The first half of this final battle is a tonally unstoppable creature, blessed with a startling sense of stamina and grandeur to support the epic tale of a boy wizard facing a dire journey towards manhood.
Dumbledore is dead. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has grown in power, with his Death Eater army sent out into the world to eradicate all Muggles. With the Ministry of Magic in the Dark Lord's pocket and Hogwarts without their influential leader, it appears all hope is lost. For Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), the time has come to abandon the life he once knew and begin the hunt for special Horcruxes, pieces of Voldemort's soul that, if destroyed, can end his heinous reign. Facing horrific threats from all sides, Harry takes off with friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) into the wilds of the world, armed with their Hogwarts training and special gifts from Dumbledore's will, used to combat attacks from Voldemort's minions, trackers, and the Horcruxes themselves, which extract dreadful thoughts out of anyone who possesses them.
The crucial element at play here in "Deathly Hallows" is time. The rest of the "Harry Potter" cinematic saga has been racing against the clock since 2001, cleaving away entire subplots and characters to fit an average running time of 150 minutes. The snipped corners have been noticeable, but never problematic, with even the average fan who's never picked up one of the books (a.k.a. yours truly) able to chart the dramatic progression of the story, following the characters as they mature, watching the tales erode from wizarding enchantment to doomsday horror. Instead of placing the vast narrative of "Deathly Hallows" into a snug three-hour shell, the two pictures provide roughly five hours of screentime to page through the quest, patiently absorbing the resplendent and harrowing details of the book, slowing down the entire effort in a marathon manner that might leave those weaned on the movies alone slightly disorientated.
With the tempo cooled, director David Yates (back for his third film) and screenwriter Steve Kloves pore over the nuances of character and environmental changes, delighting in the opportunity to kick the kids out of Hogwarts (nowhere to be seen in this installment) and into the treacherous Muggle world, staging much of the action in outdoor locations that open up the scope of the series. Instead of hallway antics, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are forced to trek through the forbidding coasts and forests of the countryside, shot with inhospitable magnificence by Eduardo Serra. The newfound texture of the film is a knockout punch, reinforcing this new reality for our heroes, off on a wintry adventure to confront the past and secure what's left of their future, with the tenuous interplay between the trio making up the core of "Deathly Hallows."
Now adults, the young wizards are struggling with a different evil during the picture, with Yates depicting a frighteningly violent realm of casualty and jealousy, upping the bloodletting and sexual unease to communicate mature fears, far removed from the endearing childish antics of the previous installments. "Deathly Hallows" earns its PG-13 rating with a swell of actual dramatic stakes, as characters are killed off unexpectedly to sustain the surprise and the triangle of pubescent wizardly valor engages in furious wand shoot-outs with assassins, including a spectacular "gunfight" inside a London café where Harry first learns there are no safe havens in which he can hide. Voldemort and the Ministry of Magic have summoned the world against the boy wizard and this time they shoot to kill. Anyone that dares to stand in their way? Dead.
While there's plenty of room to tell a bleak story of impending war, Yates and Kloves equally appreciate spots of silent reflection, permitting the characters opportunities to sit down and contemplate the journey ahead, with the passage of time emphasizing the doubt that's developing within them. Any other compacted pass at "Deathly Hallows" would've jettisoned these preciously internalized moments without a second thought, but the extended adaptation here permits stillness to the movie that I trust aficionados will appreciate. After six motion pictures of breathless exposition, it's refreshing to sit a spell with Harry, observing him coming to terms with his purpose, while offering unexpected acts of friendship (and impromptu dances) to his loved ones. The deliberation and general caution of the picture is a perfect way to say good-bye to this amazing run of feature films.
While the pace is slowed and the characterizations enjoy some challenging obstacles, "Deathly Hallows" remains a tremendously engaging fantasy film, with a few comedic beats from Grint that bring laughs, a showstopping midsection where the team infiltrates the Ministry of Magic (production designer Stuart Craig outdoes himself here) after downing some Polyjuice Potion, an animated sojourn that explains the origin of the titular elements, and a revival of romantic business with an appearance from Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). In fact, a horde of famous faces from the franchise return here to fill out the community of wizards, villains, and ghouls, though nobody sticks around for too long. New additions Bill Nighy (as Rufus Scrimgeour) and Rhys Ifans (as Xenophilius Lovegood) pop in and out all too quickly, and there's little room in the tale for darling Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), Harry's endearing classmate who brightened up the last few pictures with her daft charm.
How much of a godsend has Yates been to this franchise? The most welcome presence in the picture is Dobby, the bothersome, screechy house elf last seen in "Chamber of Secrets," who returns here to protect his dear friends from harm. Now that's some directorial magic.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation reveals a more intensely darker visual event (even greater than the theatrical presentation), displaying a deep sense of blacks and blues, looking to summon a bleak atmosphere of encroaching evil. Shadow detail is a little disappointing, with scenes varying in their ability to pull out true visual information, though much of the image is crisp enough to successfully articulate screen activity. Skintones lean toward the gray side, while colors are permitted only a few moments of true HD explosion, instead keeping to a muted feel that's keeps in line with the mood of the film. Ministry of Magic encounters shine with a bold mixture of golds and concrete gray, while costuming offers a thorough read of hues. Clarity is generally comfortable throughout the picture, allowing for a generous look at the textures of the enormous sets, while characters retain strong facial representation, allowing the visual effects to work their magic. Outdoor adventures truly push the HD experience along, with forest and travel sequences looking lush and real, while the animation detour retains its stunning artistry.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix brings out all the terror and intrigue of the feature film, with a sweeping read of the blockbuster bustle that's pumped into the sound design. Dialogue is of primary concern, with a healthy, crisp presentation of voices to help follow the story, with most attention placed on frontal presence, while group efforts feel out more circular activity. The characters sound firm and purposeful, with wonderfully portioned scoring cues assisting in the dramatic mood, remaining a quieter, supportive element until called upon to supply needed thrust. Atmospherics are superb, generously detailing outdoor and indoor movement and environmental developments, while sound effects for wizard encounters are crackly and authoritative, providing a low-end presence that supplies a convincing foundation of depth. Though this installment of the "Harry Potter" saga is perhaps the most subdued, the Blu-ray retains subtlety and roar, delivering a vigorous sonic experience. French, Spanish, and Portuguese tracks are also available.
English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are provided.
Maximum Movie Mode (1:67:56) is a WB Blu-ray presentation of the special features, allowing the viewer to watch the feature film with host Jason Isaacs, who occasionally pops up onscreen to present featurettes and interviews covering the making of the feature. Perhaps best accepted as a visual commentary, the experience includes appearances from producer David Heyman, production designer Stuart Craig, make-up effects supervisor Nick Dudman, actor Tom Felton (who reads passages from Rowling's book), producer David Barron, actor Frank Dillane (who played the young Tom Riddle in "Half-Blood Prince"), and actor Nick Moran. The track is an explosion of production information, covering an enormous portion of the filmmaking effort, though post-production insight is missing. There are deleted scenes (The Dursleys are finally offered an appropriate departure), astounding BTS footage (including the last day of shooting for the three stars), articulate design discussions, and a needed straightening of key components that make up the ongoing mythos. It's quite an informational journey.
For those who want to get to a few of the goodies right away, there are Focus Points, a separate menu of extras that are more easily accessed.
"The Last Days of Privet Drive" (2:36) covers the final day of shooting for Harry's adoptive family, with actors Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw and Harry Melling conveying their feelings about one another and their experience on the "Harry Potter" franchise ride. BTS footage from the first film is shared to convey the distance in time between installments.
"Hagrid's Motorbike" (4:01) showcases the design effort required to bring the groundskeeper's ride into a brand new film, also touching on the creation of an early escape sequence, introducing the world to Marc Mailley, Radcliffe's stunt double.
"Magical Tents!" (2:18) chats up Stephenie McMillan, set decorator for the film, and production designer Stuart Craig, who offer their thoughts on the various tent achievements of the movie.
"Death Eaters Attack Café" (2:51) isolates the stunt effort required to bring a wand showdown to life, exploring various poses of trauma and extensive planning to make the moment real.
"Creating Dobby and Kreacher" (3:48) demonstrates an amazing leap forward in technology, observing the on-set presence of actual actors used to create a feeling of personality to the CG creatures. Previously, Dobby was a tennis ball at the end of a stick. For this film, he's a professional little person employed to provide a human element for the actors to bounce off of. Dobby voice actor Toby Jones is also featured, talking about his experiences playing the part.
"The Return of Griphook" (3:45) spotlights eternal charmer Warwick Davis, who discusses his various roles in the "Harry Potter" series, with special attention paid to the banking goblin and the make-up effort required to transform the actor.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Deathly Hallows" doesn't invest much in a whiz-bang cliffhanger, instead pausing the action as Voldemort attains a prized wand that will lead evil into battle...this July, at a multiplex near you. A deliberate, nervy sequel that wisely matures with the fanbase, perhaps it's best "Deathly Hallows: Part 1" takes some time to settle into the system, building some delicious momentum before it returns with a furious final stand, soaking up every last moment of Potter minutiae along the way.
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