The penultimate Harry Potter film is a darker affair as the teenage wizard and his friends go on the run from the forces of Lord Voldemort.
Given that this is the last stretch of the series, it is worth a brief recap of the film series so far, just in case you aren’t a devoted fan of the books.
- Philosopher’s Stone (2001): Harry enrols at Hogwarts, a school for wizards headed by Professor Dumbledore, where he makes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. We learn Harry’s parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort, who wants to become human and kill him too.
- Chamber of Secrets (2002): Returning to Hogwarts, Harry learns about a series of attacks on students and a secret chamber where he has to kill a large serpent and defeat Lord Voldemort’s ‘memory’, which is in an enchanted diary.
- Prisoner of Azkaban (2003): Harry hears an escaped murderer named Sirius Black is after him but realises Black was framed and is actually his godfather.
- Goblet of Fire (2005): Harry enters the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts and witnesses the return of Lord Voldemort to human form.
- Order of the Phoenix (2007): Harry forms a secret student group after Hogwarts comes under the influence of a new teacher and ends up having to fight Voldemort’s followers (Death Eaters) at the Ministry of Magic.
- Half-Blood Prince (2009): Harry learns how Voldemort has been using special artefacts (‘Horcruxes’) to become immortal and sees his mentor Dumbledore killed by Severus Snape, a teacher at Hogwarts who Harry has had suspicions about.
With The Deathly Hallows, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) leave Hogwarts and – following clues left by the late Dumbledore – go in search of Horcruxes which will help them kill Voldemort, whilst avoiding the clutches of his followers.
Although there were financial benefits gained by splitting the final book into two films, given its length and sprawling nature, it also allows the filmmakers to do it justice.
But if you are planning on catching the latest film without having seen all the others, don’t even bother: director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have constructed this so that knowledge of the series (either book or film) is a pre-requisite.
This is also considerably darker in tone as the threat of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) lurks around every corner, forcing Harry and his friends to go on the run as they search for the elusive Horcuxes across the land.
Danger and threat are a constant and the impressively staged set-pieces include an opening mission to escort Harry to safety; a wedding that gets horribly interrupted; an audacious raid on the Ministry of Magic and lengthy stretches in the countryside, where the characters grapple with their various frustrations.
The huge fanbase and family audiences around the world are going to lap this up and there is no doubt that another Potter-fuelled box office bonanza is on the cards, even though the climactic Part 2 next summer will probably be the bigger hit.
Like the more recent films it is proficiently made, with handsome production values and another addition to what is now the most profitable franchise in film history.
But at this point, the series represents an intriguing paradox.
Their colossal success has meant they have become longer and potentially more of a slog for those who aren’t committed Potter fans.
At the same time they have become technically more interesting as the production resources have grown and allowed the directors greater creative scope.
It was a trend that kicked in on the third film (which was visually a step up from the first two) and the last two directed by David Yates, which have employed more adventurous visuals and production values.
Yates has demonstrated his ease with the material and it will be interesting to see where he goes post-Potter: these films with their mix of character and spectacle suggest he could make CGI-driven blockbusters or smart, upscale dramas.
For this kind of film, audiences automatically expect the special effects, production design and costumes to be of a high standard and this doesn’t disappoint, blending them seamlessly in with the drama.
Despite this, the most memorable sequences involve some old fashioned trickery: a Mission Impossible-style break-in to the Ministry of Magic provides laughs and tension through clever use of actors and sound, whilst old-school animation powers a striking episode explaining the Deathly Hallows of the title.
Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is especially impressive in the outdoor sequences, which includes an exciting chase in the woods and some neat matching of real life environments with CGI backdrops.
Another interesting aspect, which clearly came from the source material, is the allusions to a totalitarian state, racism (the oppression of Muggles), the media (is The Daily Prophet some kind of Daily Mail clone?) and even torture.
J.K. Rowling has been vocal about her dislike of right-wing governments, but is this final instalment some kind of masked parable about the might-is-right mantra of the Bush and Blair years?
Clearly this isn’t going to register with large chunks of the audience just there for some wizard action, but it may be something older viewers chew on when they reconsider the series.
But as someone who has never read the books and only experienced the stories at a cinema, coming out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 raised questions about the longevity of these films.
Will they be as beloved in years to come, or will they be seen as creatures of this decade which just happened to cast a spell on audiences at a particular moment in time?
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> Find out more about the Harry Potter series at Wikipedia
> Reviews at Metacritic