Gloomy 'Deathly Hallows' sets the stage for Harry Potter's final spell

  • Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is on a quest for hidden pieces of Voldemort's soul in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."

    Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is on a quest for hidden pieces of Voldemort's soul in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."

  • In hiding and living in a tent, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione (Emma Watson) search for pieces of the evil Voldemort's soul in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."

    In hiding and living in a tent, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione (Emma Watson) search for pieces of the evil Voldemort's soul in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."

  • Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) visits Hermione (Emma Watson), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."

    Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) visits Hermione (Emma Watson), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."

 
 
Updated 11/17/2010 8:57 AM

Maybe Harry Potter could cast a magic spell over us before we see his new movie.

He could point his magic wand and utter an incantation like "NoDozeium Offem." Or "RedBullium Energizus."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That might help get us through "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," a mystical slugfest of gloom, doom, death and dysfunction, a wearying tale of color-bled, never-ending scenes of isolation and despair, mistrust and miscalculation.

Hard-core Harry fans will not be deterred by the meandering plot and bleak parade of expository sequences piling into each other.

But how else could "Deathly Hallows: Part 1" be anything beyond what it is: a beginningless, endless warmup act that lays the foundation for the climactic Battle of Hogwarts in Part 2, scheduled for release July 15?

Director David Yates has already supplied us with two well-crafted "Harry Potter" films: "The Half-Blood Prince" and "The Order of the Phoenix." Screenwriter Steve Kloves has performed a masterful job of translating and condensing J.K. Rowling's epic novels to the silver screen.

Only after Part 2 comes out will anyone be able to gauge if breaking Rowling's seventh and supposedly final Harry Potter novel into two movies was the best decision.

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Meanwhile, Yates and his crew should be commended for sticking to Rowling's literary vision and not dumbing down the material for "Harry Potter" neophytes, who won't have a clue what's going on in some of the character-driven plot developments.

With the sinister Snape (Alan Rickman) apparently in the camp of Harry's arch nemesis Lord Voldemort (the serpent-like Ralph Fiennes), our intrepid trio of Gryffindorians has a quest: to locate and destroy a series of "Horcruxes," objects that contain bits of Voldemort's dark soul.

Voldemort devotes himself to finding and killing Harry (Daniel Radcliffe). So he and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) take drastic, sad measures to protect their families as they go on the lam to stay alive long enough to find the Horcruxes and the magical sword that can destroy them.

Despite frequent attacks by the Death Eaters and occasional scenes of bravery Harry's friends volunteer to become Harry clones to distract assassins "Deathly Hallows: Part 1" is a measured, leisurely movie.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Its showcase sequence is an extended, dramatically arid stay in the woods where the trio hangs out, and because of the influence of a Horcrux (or something else?), Harry and Ron bicker over the perceived affections of Hermione.

There's actually a fairly steamy moment when an emotionally ravaged Ron, looking like an extra on the set of "The Walking Dead," sees Harry and Hermione in a sensuous naked embrace, a hallucination inspired by the Horcrux.

"The Deathly Hallows: Part 1," opening at midnight Thursday, marks the darkest, most violent Potter film so far. John Williams' familiar and comforting Potter theme barely surfaces in Alexandre Desplat's subtle, appropriate score. This is not a familiar and comfortable film.

Neither is Part 1 a completely dull movie with long, lingering shots of monochromatic vistas. It packs a few narrative surprises here and there, and brandishes moments of quietly exploding drama that give Watson, Grint and Radcliffe the best acting workouts of their lengthy Potter careers.

Originally, Warner Bros. wanted to convert this first film into 3D, but canceled the plan because time did not permit the process to be done properly.

Too bad, because I can think of at least three shots in Part 1 where the 3D effects would have jolted viewers into the rafters.