For film fans, November 19 marks the beginning of the end of the 'Harry Potter' franchise with the release of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.' We've traveled with the films, watching actor Daniel Radcliffe grow from a boy into a young man in the title role -- 'Potter' being one of the few franchises (aside from 'Star Trek') where the aging of the characters has a direct impact on their interactions. It's downright jarring to recall the golden-tinged all-ages adventure of the first film when compared to the moody, dangerous world that we find ourselves in now, with this seventh installment.
I wasn't always on board with director David Yates, whose background in pilates instructional videos made me wonder how he landed the cushy 'Potter' gig. 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' was where the series started to lose some of its charm for me (though, admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of that book either), but I started to reconsider Yates with 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.' He seemed to be finding his own distinct voice in the series, and confirmation of that voice comes in loud and clear with 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.' It's an artistic triumph for Yates, a surprisingly melancholy special effects blockbuster, where the tiniest moments of joy become huge as a relief from 'Deathly Hallows' relentlessly downbeat adventure.
There are quite a few moments of greatness in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' and you can read about my favorite things after the jump.
5. The Atmosphere
'Deathly Hallows' is bleak. There's a heavy sense of doom hanging over the entire film, and while one could easily label it with as depressing, I'm excited by the prospect that Warner Brothers allowed their number one money-maker to get so grey. Our blockbusters are supposed to feel like junk food, right? 'Deathly Hallows' feels like a death row last meal, satisfyingly final, filled with resignation and reflection, and I loved every dour minute of it.
4. Eduardo Serra
I hold cinematographer Eduardo Serra partially to blame for the film's atmosphere. 'Deathly Hallows' moves out of the dusty castles of the previous films and into the outdoors. Not the "great" outdoors, mind you, but stark, haunting locales, that are at once both breath-taking and dangerous. This is Serra's first 'Potter' film, and it may be the most beautifully shot of the entire series.
3. Peter Mullan
The Scottish character actor, familiar from 'Session 9' and 'Children of Men,' doesn't have a lot of screen time, but makes a huge impression in the few minutes he does have. He's Yaxley, one of Voldermort's inner council, and is one of those characters that you instantly want to see more of whenever he's on the screen. Yaxley's in one of the film's big action centerpieces, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, but, frankly, that wasn't enough Peter Mullan for me. I'm hoping Yaxley gets an expanded role in Part 2. He owns the screen.
Did my eyes just deceive me or did Dobby the House Elf just become one of the greatest fantasy characters of all-time? This little hero, first seen as comic relief in 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' comes back in a big way in 'Deathly Hallows.' He's funny right when the movie could use some funny, and he's heroic right when the movie could use a hero. Special note should be made of the way the actors work with the CG creation. It's one thing for the animators to make him look real, it's another thing entirely for the actors to emotionally interact with something that isn't even on the set.
1. Emma Watson
Hermione is finally given some screen time. Yes, we've all seen Harry and Ron butt heads before, and they do it again in this film -- Ron struggling with playing second fiddle to his best friend, and Harry struggling with being the reluctant center of attention in a war between good and evil. Hermione is too often used to find out information that furthers the plot along, and hasn't been given as many solid character moments as she has in this film.
From her first scene, in which she erases the memory of her birth from her parents, to her last moments in the film as she's tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange, Hermione is given a chance to shine brighter than ever before. Watson, as Hermione, stands as 'Deathly Hallows' secret weapon, adding emotional gravitas to her scenes in a way that we've never seen from the young actress before. It's about time.