Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
The beginning of the end arrives Friday, April 15
I like the work that director David Yates is doing with the "Harry Potter" franchise. He doesn't have a playful way with visuals or a gift for spectacle, but he does know character and he makes the relationships count in his films. Which makes "Deathly Hallows Part 1" a tough film, since so much of it is about the central relationship between the friends falling apart and our plucky heroes on the run and stuck far outside the "Potter" universe.
Harry, Hermione and Ron set off to hunt for the horcruxes (if you don't what they are or why they are important, you're not following the story) alone, to draw attention from their comrades in arms in the war against He Who Shall Not Be Named and his Death Eaters, a force that is literally bringing the shadow of evil over the magic kingdom.
Yes, as all fans of the books know, this is the dark one. Beloved characters die, best friends turn against one another and a mood of doom, that shadow of death and stifling repression, falls over the entire film. Which, you know, makes this one kind of a downer, the dark before the dawn promised in "Part 2."
MSN critic Glenn Kenny gives both the series and this chapter his measured approval. "(T)he "Potter" films, considered up until this point, represent one of the most honorably executed and consistent film series ever undertaken by a studio," he writes, and "the filmmakers, led by the super-competent but not exactly divinely inspired David Yates, do not screw up here. They adapt Rowling's tale with as much fidelity as their budget, effects crew, production designers, actors, and common sense will allow."
But he too agrees that this is a downer. "One does expect a little better from the next film -- something more full-blooded and cathartic. But this is hardly bad; it's merely hemmed in by its unavoidable, self-defined limitations." Not that the fans of the series, which include about half of the kids in America under the age of 15, would have it any other way.
The film arrives on Friday, April 15 in multiple editions. The DVD comes with deleted scenes (including two that, quite briefly, humanize Petunia and Dudley Dursely). The Blu-ray features the "Maximum Movie Mode," Warner's version of the interactive audio-video track. This one is hosted by Jason Isaacs (aka Lucius Malfoy), who introduces the entire process and pops up periodically to offer bits of trivia. The rest is given over to other members of the cast and crew to spotlight scenes and various aspects of the film (the production designer on Voldemort's castle and the Ministry of Magic, the make-up creator on Voldemort's face, and so on). Actor Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) periodically appears to read select passages from the novel to compare the original text to the adaptation and Frank Dillane (Young Voldemort) comes in to give history lessons as key items from the story are re-introduced. Sometimes the featurettes and commentary run parallel to the film, other times the film is paused for a documentary detour, extending the experience to around 70 minutes. If you don't want to make that kind of investment, "Focus Points" pulls 19 minutes of featurettes from the "Maximum Movie Mode" for easy access, which you can watch individually or straight through. It's a very well-made production designed to appeal to kids and adults.
The Blu-ray+DVD Combo features all of the above plus a third disc with a digital copy for portable media devices and more supplements and (on the flip side of the unmarked disc) a collection of exclusive featurettes. "The Seven Harrys" deconstructs the production of the scene early in the film where colleagues transform themselves into Harry to distract the Death Eaters in his escape [see a clip from this piece below], and "Godric's Hollow/The Harry and Nagini Battle" and "The Frozen Lake" are brief behind the scenes pieces on these select moments from the film. "On the Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver and James" and "Dan, Rupert and Emma's Running Competition" are little profiles of the performers themselves, the former on a golf trip and the latter on the good-natured competitive streak between the three stars. There is also a brief featurette on the soundtrack and a promotional profile of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Universal theme park in Orlando.
Here's a clip from the featurette "The Seven Harrys," with a peak into how special effects created a room full of Harry Potters.