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Friday, Nov. 19, 2010

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1'

Latest Harry Potter film takes the series one dark step closer to the end

Somewhere, deep in the offices of Warner Bros., one can faintly hear the sound of gnashing teeth and torn hair; something equivalent to postpartum depression is setting in as the "Harry Potter" franchise nears its final chapter. The series has been an incredible cash cow for Warner, with a reported $5.4 billion box office take on six films so far (with two left to go), and one can imagine some studio suit wishing he could just wave his magic wand, chant "persevero infinitio!" and make the good times last forever.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Rating: (3 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Three for all: Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) in the penultimate chapter of the "Harry Potter" series. © 2010 WARNER BROS. ENT. / HARRY POTTER PUBLISHING RIGHTS © J.K.R. / HARRY POTTER CHARACTERS, NAMES AND RELATED INDICIA ARE TRADEMARKS OF AND © WARNER BROS. ENT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Director: David Yates
Running time: 146 minutes
Language: English
Opens Nov. 19, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Alas, all stories require an ending, both for satisfying dramatic resolution, and also because projects that go on forever tend to wind up like one of those newspaper comic strips that may have been funny once, but no one can exactly remember when. (Did somebody say "Garfield"?) Better to bow out while you're on top than to wait until you've been embalmed in your own reputation, entombed by the strictures of "what worked before."

It doesn't take a Seer's Orb to predict an eventual "Harry Potter" prequel (on the young Dumbledore, or the death of Harry's parents), but in the meantime, the last book in the series will be milked for all it's worth: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" comes out this week, while "Part 2" is slated for July 2011. Anyone who's stuck with the series this far will know that this will involve the final confrontation between the boy wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his evil nemesis, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). If you're just coming to the series, don't even think about starting here.

"Order of the Phoenix"/"Half-Blood Prince" director David Yates is back again for the last two, and while he proves adept at managing the special effects — a massive cloudlike specter that emerges from a Horcrux is particularly impressive — under his tutelage, any pretense at making the films comprehensible to people who haven't read the books is tossed to the wind. This critic still isn't sure what the hell the significance was of Severus Snape being unmasked as the "Half-Blood Prince" (he's barely present this time), and the new film's exposition is full of similar "WTF?" moments; Harry's nightmares about Voldemort and characters we haven't met yet are particularly impenetrable.

The series has been trending darker for quite some time, but "Deathly Hallows" feels particularly like a horror movie with a PG rating. One scene where a pack of Dementors frantically try to grasp our heroes through an elevator gate is straight out of the zombie movie playbook, while the Muggle world, under attack by the Dark Lord's minions, resembles the same postapocalyptic desolation as "The Road."

There are still moments of whimsy and humor, however, such as the scene where "Mad-Eye" Moody uses a potion to turn all Harry's friends into Potter look-alikes, or its visual opposite, where Hermione, Harry and Ron take on the forms of middle-aged bureaucrats to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic. There are also the unintentional laughs: Apparently magic can teleport you into a faraway forest, or allow you to fly through the air, but it still can't get you decent reception on an AM radio.

One of the film's stranger moments comes when Ron Weasley, on the verge of being lured to the dark side, sees a vision of Harry and Hermione in a passionate embrace, buck naked. The viewer, like Ron, will want to scream, "Don't go there!" and it's a jarring reminder of how these characters will always be identified with youthful innocence, no matter how dark and "adult" the series may become. One gets the feeling that teens who know how to deep kiss have already graduated to the "Twilight" series, with its beefcake werewolves and pent-up passions.

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are interviewed in next Friday's Japan Times.

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